Tate Britain's Altermodern is a mixed bag. Some of it is great. Darren Almond's full-moon long-exposures in China are beautiful (he's always good), and Tacita Dean's photogravures of shipwrecks and war landscapes reportage are lovely novelistic storyboards.
Mike Nelson's The Projection Room (Triple Bluff Canyon) (2004) installation slowly draws you in by presenting an obsessive's study, every detail placed precisely. Gustav Metzger's Liquid Crystal Environment is a remake of a 1965 piece that uses liquid crystals and rotating polarising filters to create a mesmeric/brain-washing kaleidoscope. For a moment it looked like we'd lost Antimega to a chroma-coma.
The find of the show is an excellent draughtsman, Charles Avery - his drawings have the confident graphic line of comics, and his island world is an interesting story machine. He's like a cross between Paul Noble and Barry McGee. One to watch much more closely.
Some of it is very poor: Franz Ackermann, Spartacus Chetwynd, Marcus Coates, Rachel Harrison... tiresome. And some of it is in between: Simon Starling's second- to fourth-generation copies of a desk Francis Bacon made - ok, but as with antiques you get only so far with repro furniture. Nathaniel Mellors's excremental installation raises a chuckle. Subodh Gupta has a striking borderland mushroom cloud of stainless steel domestic implements.
The theoretical underpinning is confusing though. Here are three of Bourriaud's descriptions of "altermodern". On the show's website, behind a friendly EXPLAIN button, is a manifesto:
A new modernity is emerging, reconfigured to an age of globalisation – understood in its economic, political and cultural aspects: an altermodern culture
Increased communication, travel and migration are affecting the way we live
Our daily lives consist of journeys in a chaotic and teeming universe
Multiculturalism and identity is being overtaken by creolisation: Artists are now starting from a globalised state of culture
This new universalism is based on translations, subtitling and generalised dubbing
Today’s art explores the bonds that text and image, time and space, weave between themselves
Artists are responding to a new globalised perception. They traverse a cultural landscape saturated with signs and create new pathways between multiple formats of expression and communication.
The Tate Triennial 2009 at Tate Britain presents a collective discussion around this premise that postmodernism is coming to an end, and we are experiencing the emergence of a global altermodernity.
Second, altermodern as translation and trajectory:
Thirdly, as post-historicist era:
(Oh and there are some more here, critiqued.) So Bourriaud proclaims that the post-modern era has ended, and been replaced by a post- (or is it hyper-?)globalisation, anti-commercial, post-geographic, post-historic ("heterochronic"), rootless, nomadic altermodernism. And this is the bit that confuses me: if the theoretical positioning is an attempt to confidently stake out a new territory and era, wouldn't that gesture immediately undermine the claim that the altermodern sweeps aside specificities of space and history? But perhaps I don't understand it - my art-theory synapses are atrophied. Maybe I should read Bourriaud's Relational Aesthetics or his new book Radicant (whose organising metaphor is surely a rhizomous echo of D&G?).
Most of the show doesn't look like a new new thing, which is the other thing complicating the claim to a different trajectory.