Perniola’s Sex Appeal of the Inorganic as the Underlying Principle of Art and Capitalism

Daniel Buren, Monumenta 2012, Grand Palais, Paris, France, May 16, 2012 | © Courtesy of Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/Flickr.
Daniel Buren, Monumenta 2012, Grand Palais, Paris, France, May 16, 2012 | © Courtesy of Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/Flickr.

In his philosophical works Mario Perniola unfolds an approach to cultural and capitalist accumulation that parses their paradoxical aspects, as value becomes detached from its production in both the artistic and economic spheres, to be reconstituted as surpluses that singularly extract themselves from relations of exchange.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


The background to Perniola’s Sex Appeal of the Inorganic: Philosophies of Desire in the Modern World, published under the title of Il sex appeal dell’inorganico in 2000 and translated into English by Massimo Verdicchio in 2004, can be said to derive from the continued circulation and production of art after multiple modernist, avant-garde and post-modernist attempts to declare the end of art, its death and the abolition of its distinction from everyday life. Nevertheless, especially in recent decades the world had seen a proliferation of art biennials, the rise of mega-scale art museums, the popularity of blockbuster art exhibitions and the globalization of art fair. In other words, art and artworks have managed to maintain an uncanny attraction. From a more economic perspective, one can argue that the field of art is befallen with commodity fetishism, despite its theoretical criticisms that date as far back as Karl Marx and in parallel to the emergence of modern industrial capitalism.

From a philosophical perspective, such as that represented by Mario Perniola, the works of art as objects continue to exercise an ever-growing libidinal pull, which derives to no small extent from their commodity status. However, as Perniola also suggests, important further parallels between art and capital exist, due to their externality to the relations of production, as its objectified outcomes in the form of surplus or excess. In other words, the exceptionality of art and capital in the age of modernity lies, from this perspective, in the hold that their accumulation, in the form of exhibitions, museums and fairs, as the precondition and consequence of art collecting, has over art appreciation, making and interpretation.

Similarly, the critique of capitalism as a negative condition loses out of sight the constitutive role of capitalist accumulation for the articulation and existence of economic value of products and processes in the first place. Thus, the sex appeal of the inorganic is reflective of the unflagging hold of the commodity fetishism with which capitalist, and by theoretical extension cultural, relations invest all that is trapped in the webs of their signification, as their enigmatic, ecstatic surpluses. Therefore, the continued existence of art as a distinct sphere of relations, experiences and objects is less due to the presence of ideology as a false consciousness than to the true, sensual reality of material, digital and virtual things integrated into urban spectacles, cultural landscapes and translocal flows which endow these with aesthetic and economic significance.

This is demonstrated in Agnes Petho’s article on Eastern European art-house avant-garde, modern and contemporary cinema the painterly aspects of which draw attention to the object-like, aesthetic nature of its images as charged metaphors and allegories in their own right.


Featured Image Credits: Daniel Buren, Monumenta 2012, Grand Palais, Paris, France, May 16, 2012 | © Courtesy of Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/Flickr.

Cite this article as: Pablo Markin, "Perniola’s Sex Appeal of the Inorganic as the Underlying Principle of Art and Capitalism," in Open Culture, 11/05/2018, https://oc.hypotheses.org/966.

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