One weekend two talks

This weekend I attended two talks; one is in fact more of a lecture (took place in a university) and more formal than the other one of which took place inside of a contemporary art museum, yet both of them struck me to be fitting within the framework of an institutional critique.  While, I do not meant that the presenters positioned their presentations in such a light, but more that through their presentations it became evident to me that any birth of a new art form often first starts with a form of institutional critique, and with something that challenges the already established system.  

While art is a cultural product, yet not all cultural product could be called art.  But why not?  This is where the institution and its formally established rules and standards sort of come in.  I use 'sort of', though it sounds as if lacking full confidence.  That is because institutions are made up of people who are assigned as judges and jurors though not necessarily saying that the same people are assigned with both roles at the same time).  Therefore, the views and criticisms applied to certain works could not have always presented themselves as entirely just nor completely objective.  For the reason that people are not always 100% emotionally or intellectually stable, and that many different factors (both external and internal) could contribute to the fluctuations from time to time.  


Then, of course the two talks I mentioned are not to be so rigidly categorized as being just institutional critiques, for that was just one of the ideas came to my mind as I am sitting here trying to sum up my impressions.

The first talk/lecture took place at Stony Brook Manhattan on Friday presented by Stony Brook Art History & Criticism Lecture Series 2013- Thierry De Duve: The Invention of Non-art.  The second talk took place at New Museum of Contemporary Art organized in collaboration with ICI (Independent Curators International)- "do it": Hans Ulrich Obrist and Massimiliano Gioni in conversation, moderated by Kate Fowle.  


At a quick glance, the two do not seem to have an obvious link to each other.  For Thierry De Duve is an art historian whom during his presentation brought forth historical exmaples of the jury system of Académie des Beaux-Arts and its artist inclusion (and more often exclusion) into the salon.  While on the other hand, the "do it" conversation was about a two-decade long curatorial project started by Hans Ulrich Obrist in the 1990s, of which has now partly become a book-style compliation of artist instructions to be carried out by other peole.  Here, not only do the topics seem to have a huge time gap in between but also that the latter seems to be more about the making of an art and curatorial project than about emphasizing a strictly critical stance of the "art-system".  

Image courtesy Stony Brook Art History & Criticism Lecture Series 2013

Here is where my impressions come in to highlight why I felt the two talks complemented each other, in despite of the obvious differences and interests.  Going back to the idea that all art is a social product in one form or another; for this reason the role of an art historian is by implication linked to the study of sociology or anthropology both of which involve the study of human cultural development.  In order to better understand a work of art of any time period, the historian also seeks to be familiar with the cultural environment of the time.  By this simple implication one similarity with the role of a curator could be established is that- an art historian examines and pursues his thesis by research of existing documentations of human cultural development, while at the same time, the curator also seeks to examine human cultural development by means of trying to establish new rules and standards in the realm of exhibition-planning. Therefore, both are involved in the changes and development of social customs and the beliefs of mankind.  


The difference however, an art historian deals with history and a curator mainly deals with contemporary events (although at times inevitably referencing back to historical events, depending on the nature of the project.)  During De Duve's presentation Marcel DuChamp's ready-made was used as an example for the "invention of non-art".  De Duve made clear that he did not imply that DuChamp invented the idea of non-art, but rather DuChamp's work served to support his thesis.  No one can say for certain who first invented non-art or the concept of non-art.  Except in the1960s when some artists began intentionally making objects or non-objects that they preferred to be put into the category of non-art (for example the conceptual artists who did not make physical objects or those that made objects but in crude industrialized process of which could be easily emulated or re-produced by someone else).  But the actual invention of non-art goes far more back in time than the 1960s.

Now the question lays itself bare, when does an object or non-object become art?  Does the artist need to be present while it is happening?  From the New Museum Conversation Series, Hans Ulrich Obrist did not seem to think that the artists' physical presence was necessary in order for his or her art to happen.  For his project do it, first initiated based on his inquires on the possibilities of different exhibition formats beyond the conventional.  The attempt and experiment was to see how flexible can an exhibition space be?  In other words, can it be happening all over the world rather than in one fixed space?  How can it actively engage spectators and participants?     


Image courtesy google image search

Over a period of twenty years, do it featured in fifty different places all over the globe asking artists from Europe to Asian to provide written instructions.  Because each do it exhibition was site-specific, the result often integrated improvisations and various interpretations that involved local communities and residents.  By implementing only written instructions for the exhibitions, the interpretations of each set of instructions also became the focus of the exhibition.  During the talk, I asked Hans Ulrich Obrist about "authorship".  My question mainly aimed to understand his perspective as a curator on how to identify which aspect to emphasis more- on whether the original instructions given by the artists or on the interpretations carried out by other artists?  For this, his reply was more or less that in each case it would vary, depending on the instructions and the artists who will be carrying out the instructions. For in most cases an internal conversation would take place between him and the artists.  I guess this meant that he himself could not absolutely be sure of a specific answer to my question.  For it sounded to me that do it was like a kind of a testing ground or a lab for experiments.  While we can predict what is going to happen and have a hypothesis, but in the end the result is just about anyone's game.

Just as the ICI website stated as the driving force behind his do it exhibition by quoting something once said by Marcel DuChamp: "art is a game between all people of all periods."  This applies to not just the exhibition but also seem to contain pertinence in any attempt to fully understand the art-system.  

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