In her text A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition, critic Rosalind Krauss expands Clement Greenberg's description of the modernist desire for "pure" art forms in order to encompass the forms and issues of art today, the art of the "post-medium" age. She argues that while this drive for purity of art forms still exists, the forms of art themselves have evolved in such a way that the search for purity can no longer follow the same tenets. Instead of searching for painting or sculpture, the media have become so conflated that the artist must strive to attain a purification of Art itself. She mentions Joseph Kosuth's idea that as painting and sculpture begin to come together, i.e. as different media become indistinct, the project of art will become more general, and modernist art must locate the "essence of Art itself" (10).
Krauss traces three "narratives," beginning with the rise of Conceptual art, in order to historically contextualize post-media. She cites the paradox of abstract art, which attempted to engage with a pure, separate, artistic realm, while actually conforming to the societal discourse of commercialism. Rather than denying commercialism, Conceptual artists engaged with this commodification, hoping to evade industrialism by working within its system (11). However, Krauss recognizes that Conceptual art's reliance on art theory insinuates the art into the commercial discourse of self-promotion (15). She examines these trends through artist Marcel Broodthaers, who she locates "at" and "for" the complex of the post-medium condition (45), citing his random assignations of "Fig. I," "Fig. 2," etc. to random objects as examples of the post-medium's conflation of art and modern life.
In her other two narratives, Krauss emphasizes the increased sense of media heterogeneity that disallows the previous conceptions of the wholeness and purity. The first of these narrative ends with television, a medium in which any notion of an artistic "core" diminishes with the medium's embrace of heterogeneous activity, ranging widely in space and time (31). The other narrative traces poststructuralist theory, citing Jacques Derrida's arguments for the individual's dependency on and constitution through external sources (32). Thus, poststructuralism presents a philosophical representation of Conceptual art in its recognition of interdependence and thus intermediation.
While Broodthaers engaged in the discourses of Derrida and Michel Foucault, he also predicted how the institutional critique posited by "art as theory" would dissipate with its eventual dependence on the support of the criticized institution, such that every artistic avant-garde becomes fodder for its enemy (33). Here, Krauss's reasons for focusing on Broodthaers become clear: his understanding of the post-media paradox allowed him to engage in a redemption of the art post-mediation seems to render indistinct. She cites Walter Benjamin's idea that a form's most positive potential, its most redemptive characteristics, chiefly prevail first with its moment of birth and finally with its obsolescence (41). Thus, Broodthaers's attraction to outmoded forms, such as the techniques of early cinema, became an engagement with this site of redemptive potential (43). In these cinematic origins, untainted by the theories of structuralism, he recognized the inherently "aggregative" nature of film (45). These discoveries led to Broodthaers's dependence on fiction as way of revealing that which reality hides (47), namely, its dependence on constitutive layers rather than a solid, unitary foundation.
Broodthaers enacts this revelation through fiction in his poetic revision Charles Baudelaire. Je hais le mouvement qui déplace les lignes and in his film "A Voyage on the North Sea," both of which allow a journey through the manifold layers interacting within the media (52). Fiction narrates the "impossible attempt to transform succession into stasis, or a chain of parts into a whole" (53) as one attempts to reclaim the wholeness of the original source, the outmoded. The moment of obsolescence, of becoming outmoded, thus allows for a recognition of how these older practices interact with the newer practices of which they constitute a layer (53).
Krauss delineates the progression from the modernist drive toward pure art forms, realized in Greenberg's discussions of "specificity," toward the post-medium in a way that articulates the negative and positive ends of post-mediation (postmodernism and "differential specificity," respectively). She distinguishes between postmodernism (e.g. the video installation, intermedia) and what she calls "differential specificity," revealing the former as complete indulgence in capital enterprise and the latter as the potential for the salvation of an artistic realm. Locating its origins in Broodthaers, Krauss articulates the promise of engagement in "differential specificity," an idea that recognizes and articulates the complexities of the post-medium through a contemplation of the outmoded forms it combines (56). In this way, Krauss establishes a new artistic realm that allows for notions of art, art theory, and aestheticism involved with, but not indistinguishable from capitalistic society.