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ARTH408: Contemporary Art

Unit 5: Art and the Public Sphere   *The term “public sphere” is used to describe different public spaces, not necessarily physical spaces, where people can congregate freely to discuss and form their opinions. Art museums, galleries, cities, and city plazas but also the media are some examples of the public sphere. In the late 1980s, many artists became increasingly concerned with the commercialization of the public sphere, which they felt threatened the arts and impeded people to think freely and make their own decisions.

As a result, a number of artists examined the role of museums and the way they represented or plainly misrepresented the public interest they were supposed to serve. This type of artistic practice is called “the institutional critique.” Other artists addressed the perils of gentrification and the way city centers or entire cities lost their public when people were forcibly evacuated or simply could not afford the rent anymore, creating a series of works that is often identified as “public art.” Most importantly, all these developments took place against the backdrop of the so-called “culture wars” in America, when a set of events and exhibitions, such as the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition or Richard Serra’s public sculpture Tilted Arc, resulted in a heated debate and a very hostile environment for the arts, threatening their survival and forever changing the art world.

Before starting to work on this unit, revisit Unit 6 in ARTH301, especially subunit 6.2, and Unit 8.*

Unit 5 Time Advisory
This unit will take you approximately 22 hours to complete.
 
☐    Subunit 5.1: 5 hours

☐    Subunit 5.2: 5 hours

☐    Subunit 5.3: 5 hours

☐    Museum Visit: 2 hours

☐    Writing Assignment: 5 hours

Unit5 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:

  • Explain the reasons for the emergence of culture wars.
  • Describe and discuss the controversy surrounding Tilted Arc.
  • Define the main characteristics of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work and the way it became used in culture wars.
  • Identify and discuss the role of public art.  
  • Identify major works of public art.
  • Explain and discuss a relationship between the gentrification of big cities and the involvement of contemporary artists.

  • Describe the way museums, museum collections, and museological operations influenced and informed contemporary artistic practice.
  • Define and discuss institutional critique.
  • Identify major contemporary artists whose work is representative of institutional critique.

5.1 Culture Wars   5.1.1 Richard Serra and Tilted Arc (1981–1989)   - Reading: PBS: Culture Shock: “Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc” and Arizona University: “Richard Serra: The Case of Tilted Arc” Links: PBS: Culture Shock: “Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc” (HTML) and Arizona University: “Richard Serra: The Case of Tilted Arc” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please read these entire webpages for an introduction
to a case that many believed triggered the culture wars.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpages above.
  • Web Media: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA): “The Trial of Tilted Arc” Link: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA): “The Trial of Tilted Arc” (HTML and Adobe Flash)

    Instructions: Please watch this entire video (approximately 3 minutes) for arguments for and against the removal of Richard Serra’s public artwork.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.1.2 Robert Mapplethorpe and The Perfect Moment (1988–1989)   - Reading: Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Philadelphia: Janet Kardon: “The Perfect Moment,” Janet Kardon: “Robert Mapplethorpe Interview,” and David Joselit: “Robert Mapplethorpe’s Poses”; MIT: The Tech: Deborah A. Levinson: “Robert Mapplethorpe’s Extraordinary Vision”; and the Cincinnati Enquirer: Jackie Demaline: “Mapplethorpe Battle Changed the Art World” Links: Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Philadelphia: Janet Kardon: “The Perfect Moment” (HTML), Janet Kardon: “Robert Mapplethorpe Interview” (HTML) and David Joselit: “Robert Mapplethorpe’s Poses” (HTML); MIT: The Tech: Deborah A. Levinson: “Robert Mapplethorpe’s Extraordinary Vision” (HTML); and the Cincinnati Enquirer: Jackie Demaline: “Mapplethorpe Battle Changed the Art World” (HTML)

 Instructions: For the ICA readings, please scroll down to the
“Download Essays from the Exhibition Catalogue” box, where you can
find PDFs for all three readings.  Please read these entire webpages
and PDFs for an introduction to Robert Mapplethorpe’s retrospective
exhibition The Perfect Momentand the controversy it created.    

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpages above.

5.2 Public Art: The City for People and Creative Consumption   - Reading: Gilles Ivain [Ivan Chtcheglov]: “Formulary for a New Urbanism” Link: Gilles Ivain [Ivan Chtcheglov]: “Formulary for a New Urbanism” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please read this entire webpage for an introduction
to the ways artists envisage creative and often poetic uses of a
city.  Although written in the 1950s by one of the members of the
Situationist group, this reading encapsulates desires and
aspirations of artists critiquing the gentrification in the 1980s.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

5.2.1 Jenny Holzer   - Reading: PBS: Art21: “Jenny Holzer: Biography” Link: PBS: Art21: “Jenny Holzer: Biography” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please read this entire webpage for an introduction
to Jenny Holzer.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: MoMA: Jennifer Roberts: “Jenny Holzer: Truisms” Link: MoMA: Jennifer Roberts: “Jenny Holzer: Truisms” (HTML)

    Instructions: Please read this entire webpage for information on Holzer’s public artwork entitled Truisms.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: PBS: Art21: “Protest” Link: PBS: Art21: “Protest” (Adobe Flash)

    Instructions: Please start watching this video at the 40th minute for an introduction to Holzer’s work.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.2.2 Krzystof Wodiczko   - Reading: PBS: Art21: “Krzystof Wodiczko: Biography” and “Architecture & Therapy” Links: PBS: Art21: “Krzystof Wodiczko: Biography” (HTML) and “Architecture & Therapy” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please read these entire webpages for an introduction
to and an interview with Krszystof Wodiczko.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpages above.
  • Web Media: PBS: Art21: “Power” Link: PBS Art21: “Power” (Adobe Flash)

    Instructions: Please start watching this video at the 30th minute for an introduction to the work of Wodiczko.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.2.3 Alfredo Jaar   - Reading: PBS: Art21: “Alfredo Jaar: Biography” Link: PBS: Art21: “Alfredo Jaar: Biography” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please read this entire webpage for an introduction
to Alfredo Jaar.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Lecture: iTunes U: Columbia University: Alfredo Jaar: “Strategies of Representation” Link: iTunes U: Columbia University: Alfredo Jaar: “Strategies of Representation” (iTunes U)

    Instructions: Please scroll down to #15 and then listen to this entire lecture (approximately 85 minutes), in which Alfredo Jaar discusses his work, which he calls “a public intervention.”

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.3 Art and the Museum: The Institutional Critique   - Reading: MayflyBooks: Brian Holmes: “Extradisciplinary Investigations: Towards a New Critique of Institutions” Link: MayflyBooks: Brian Holmes: “Extradisciplinary Investigations: Towards a New Critique of Institutions” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please click the “Download” link and then read pages
53–61 in the PDF.  This reading should give you an introduction to
the main ideas and issues related to the Institutional Critique.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

5.3.1 Hans Haacke   - Reading: Tate Gallery: Eva Meyer-Hermann: “Hans Haacke: Biography” Link: Tate Gallery: Eva Meyer-Hermann: “Hans Haacke: Biography” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please read this entire webpage for an introduction
to Hans Haacke’s work.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Web Media: Tate Channel: “Hans Haacke: Talking Art” Link: Tate Channel: “Hans Haacke: Talking Art” (Adobe Flash)

    Instructions: Please watch this entire video (approximately 68 minutes) for an interview with Haacke, who provides a good introduction to his work.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.3.2 Andrea Fraser   - Reading: UCLA: Department of Art: “Andrea Fraser” Link: UCLA: Department of Art: “Andrea Fraser” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please read this entire webpage for an introduction
to Andrea Fraser.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Lecture: iTunes U: Carnegie Mellon School of Art: “Andrea Fraser” Link: iTunes U: Carnegie Mellon School of Art: “Andrea Fraser” (iTunes U)

    Instructions: Please scroll down to #11 and then listen to this entire lecture (approximately 126 minutes) for more on Andrea Fraser’s work.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.3.3 Fred Wilson   - Lecture: iTunes U: Seton Hall University: “A Day with Fred Wilson” Link: iTunes U: Seton Hall University: “A Day with Fred Wilson” (iTunes U)

 Instructions: Please scroll down to \#1 and then listen to this
entire lecture (approximately 7 minutes) for a quick introduction to
Fred Wilson’s work and the way the artist works with museum
collections.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Web Media: PBS: Art21: “Structures” Link: PBS: Art21: “Structures” (Adobe Flash)

    Instructions: Please watch this video from the 14th to the 26th minute for an introduction to Fred Wilson’s work.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Activity: Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc Links: Harvard Law School: “Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc” (HTML) and Smithsonian Institution: “Maquette for Tilted Arc” (HTML and Adobe Flash)

    Instructions: Please read these entire webpages for additional information on Tilted Arc.  Use information to write an essay on the way Serra’s work unwittingly got engulfed in administrative discussions and debates.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

  • Activity: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA): Jenny Holzer “I Am a Man” Link: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA): Jenny Holzer: “I Am a Man” (Adobe Flash)

    Instructions: Please click the “Launch” button to view I Am a Man.  This exhibition uses Holzer’s work from 1987 as a starting point of an in-depth exploration of the artist’s work, clearly explaining what is at stake in artistic interventions in the public sphere and what was and still is the goal of public art.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.