Dr James Hellings’s first monograph, Adorno and Art: Aesthetic Theory Contra Critical Theory, appeared recently with Palgrave Macmillan (2014). Hellings’s book shows how radical and revolutionary Adorno’s aesthetic theory of art’s double character remains, and how complex, imaginative and oppositional forms of art offer, perhaps, the best hope for overcoming damaged life. The caricatures of Adorno, his politics and his aesthetics, are well-known errors of judgement – widely repeated both by the academy and the Left. Adorno’s aesthetics have been accused of failing to keep pace with progressive artistic practices and for being socio-politically aloof. Despite the persistence of these caricatures, Hellings’s book shows how significant images and themes in Adorno’s theory remain relevant to the current situation of art, aesthetics, and politics. The Adorno on show in the book was no bourgeois mandarin, no arrogant aesthete, no esoteric mystic, no melancholy pessimist, and no academic expert holed up in the proverbial ivory tower.
Adorno and Art received a favourable (and unsolicited) review in the November issue of Art Monthly (2014). David Ryan wrote, “[O]ne senses throughout that Hellings is testing his own ideas and critical persuasions through, and with, Adorno, which is illuminating in the light of his rather good discussion of subjectivity and objectivity within both aesthetic theory and art making in general.’ ‘[Hellings] makes Adorno’s thought vivid for the present, especially in his attempts to think through contemporary artistic and political practices.”
Alongside his extensive teaching commitments between two art schools (Camberwell College of Arts and Birmingham School of Art), Hellings is currently researching and writing an article, which presents a clear and distinctive overview of Adorno’s materialist-dialectical aesthetic theory of art’s aura, together with Walter Benjamin’s critique thereof, in relation to contemporary art (Susan Hiller, Tacita Dean, Hito Steyerl). The article revises this important historical debate for the present situation of art and theory (Jacques Rancière, Peter Osborne, Jörg Heiser).
Hellings is particularly interested in working with progressive contemporary art practices and his research interests include: political (Marxian) social histories and theories of modern and contemporary art, aesthetics and continental philosophy (especially the critical theory of the Frankfurt school), the avant-garde, newness and contemporaneity. Hellings is interested in manifesting his ideas in a variety of forms and promotes the interdependency of art and theory through teaching and publishing.
Hellings will be launching his book and participating in a discussion event entitled Art, Aesthetics and Politics, Now! at South London Gallery on Friday 13th March. Professor Esther Leslie (Birkbeck), Dr Yaiza Hernández (CSM), and Professor Malcolm Quinn (CCW), will join Hellings in conversation about Frankfurt School legacies in contemporary art, aesthetics and politics.