The Artistic Bling-bling: From Flashy Accessory to Social Critique

Sylvette Babin

The interest for bling-bling art, like kitsch art which it resembles in some regards, is far from unanimous, since the aesthetic of excess, flash and glitz is generally viewed as superficial. Fron the outset, it bears mentioning that there is, strictly speaking, no such thing as a bling-bling trend in contemporary art. The term, which was initially associated with the hip-hop movement, has been taken up to describe various forms of ostentatious behaviour on public or artistic stages. It is often employed to name works that use a profusion of flashy materials, or make reference to fashion or pop culture. It also designates the phenomena of celebrification or life politics. Even though nowadays such practices abound in artistic projects presented in galleries and large international art fairs, most of the artists who make use of “glitz,” on occasion or regularly, do not call themselves bling-bling artists for that matter. Furthermore, it would be incorrect to limit the bling-bling phenomenon and works derived from it to a mere display of wealth. Although the approach proposed in this issue provides an analysis of bling-bling's aesthetic manifestation, it also widens the horizon to include various reflections on different so-called bling-bling attitudes in contemporary society.
Several texts in this issue directly examine some of our postmodern behaviour by focusing on commodity fetishism, cynical mercantilism, the excesses of contemporary art and its cult of celebrity or of financial speculation. A number of artists presented here also take up this critical position, sometimes through works whose style has nothing flashy about it. Conversely, other artists personally use bling-bling codes or exuberant staging strategies to question the figure of the artist or certain of the art market's excesses. This approach also raises questions regarding the pitfalls of using such strategies. All things considered, the use of glitz as a parody or as a means to critique the tactics of art’s mediatization reaches (or attempts to reach) similar goals to those of the works it denounces, more specifically that of receiving recognition by way of an exacerbated showiness. Whatever the case may be, it is of course with much humour that such bling-bling parodies insinuate themselves in the art system, and if they at times succeed in reaching the market they parody, their market value will most likely be closer to that of zircon than diamonds.
This publication, overflowing as it is with golden bling-bling glitz and chains, provides plenty of space for texts that are unrelated to the issue’s theme. Approximately fifteen essays or critical reviews covering various works from many disciplines and exhibitions presented in Canada and on the international scene thus complement the magazine.

[Translated from the French by Bernard Schütze]

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