– Spring 2014

Responding to the Relations and Conditions of Exhibitions: The ‘Services’ Working-Group Discussion Forum

Eric Golo Stone

Installation view, ‘Services: The Conditions and Relations of Service Provision in Contemporary Project Oriented Artistic Practice’, Kunstraum of Lüneburg University, 1994. Photograph: Michael Schindel. All images courtesy Kunstraum of Leuphana University of Lüneburg

From the vantage point of institutional critique, I define criticism as an ethical practice of self-reflective evaluation of the ways in which we participate in the reproduction of relations of domination.

— Andrea Fraser1

Socrates, who only spoke and never wrote, can be seen as the first psychoanalyst: does he not insist upon the link between truth and individual discourse, forcing individuals to renounce the security of generalisations to disclose where they stand in person facing truth?

— Jean-Michel Rabaté2

Individual and collective efforts to establish standards, regulations and protections governing art exhibitions have a long, if fragmentary, history.3 Current efforts are particularly challenged by the escalated competency demands, entrenched divisions of labour and profoundly precarious and alienated working conditions that characterise today’s global field of exhibition practices. Additionally, these efforts are often challenged by practitioners who view establishing such standards, regulations and protections as contradicting their understanding of artistic practice, or who refuse to acknowledge that any contradictions exist between the claims made by an artistic work and the relations and conditions governing its context for display, reception and consumption. However, the identification of these seeming contradictions as a site of fruitful contestation is crucial for an understanding of criticism that remains attentive to the differentiation between and interdependency of artistic activity and efforts to govern exhibitions. This text considers how

  1. George Baker, Benjamin Buchloh, Andrea Fraser, Hal Foster, David Joselit, Rosalind Krauss, James Meyer, Helen Molesworth and Robert Storr, ‘Roundtable: The Present Conditions of Art Criticism’, October, no.100, Spring 2002, p.214.

  2. Jean-Michel Rabaté, Jacques Lacan: Psychoanalysis and the Subject of Literature, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001, p.213.

  3. In the US this history includes: the American Artists’ Congress (AAC, 1936—42), the Artist Equity Association (AEA, 1947—present), the Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC, 1969—71), Seth Siegelaub and Robert Projansky’s ‘The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement’ (1971), the Professional and Administrative Staff Association of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (PASTA, 1971— present) and Artists Meeting for Cultural Change (AMCC, 1975—77).

  4. ‘Services: The Conditions and Relations of Service Provision in Contemporary Project Oriented Artistic Practice’, organised by Andrea Fraser and Helmut Draxler, Kunstraum der Universität Lüneburg, 24 January—20 February 1994. The exhibition travelled to Künstlerhaus in Stuttgart (1994), Kunstverein Munich (1994), Depot in Vienna (1995), Sous-sol in Geneva (1995) and the Provincial Museum in Hasselt, Belgium (1995). ‘Services’ was then carried further at the Clocktower Building in New York (1997) under the title ‘Parasite’.

  5. See A. Fraser, ‘Services: A Working-Group Exhibition’, in Beatrice von Bismarck, Dieter Stoller and Ulf Wuggenig (ed.), Games, Fights, Collaborations: The Game of Boundary Transgression; Art and Cultural Studies in the 90’s, Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 1996, p.210.

  6. Fraser has frequently, in published interviews and writings, described her own artistic endeavours as interdependently related to a research practice that builds upon feminist, psychoanalytic and sociological theory. See A. Fraser, ‘Dear Stephan’ (1994), Society of Control [blog], available at http://www.societyofcontrol.com/akademie/fraser.htm (last accessed on 15 October 2013); G. Baker, ‘Fraser’s Form’, in Yilmaz Dziewior (ed.), Andrea Fraser: Works 1984 to 2003, Cologne: DuMont, 2003, pp.50—77; Y. Dziewior, ‘Interview with Andrea Fraser’, in ibid., pp.78—89; and A. Fraser, ‘Feminism & Art: 9 Views’, Artforum, vol.42, issue 2, October 2003, p.142. Within the theoretical framework of sociology, Fraser has particularly focused on the writings of the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.

  7. A. Fraser, ‘Services: A Working-Group Exhibition’, op. cit., pp.210—11.

  8. The artists who were sent the questionnaire were Vito Acconci, Dennis Adams, Fareed Armaly, Michael Asher, Judith Barry, Tom Burr, Mel Chin, Martin Guttmann, Critical Art Ensemble, Stephan Dillemuth, Dan Graham, Renée Green, Group Material, Hans Haacke, Amy Hauft, Louis Hock, John Knight, Silvia Kolbowski, Renée Kool, Joseph Kosuth, Louise Lawler, Simon Leung, Christian Philipp Müller, Dan Peterman, Gerwald Rockenschaub, Lincoln Tobier, Lawrence Weiner, Fred Wilson, Krzysztof Wodiczko and Heimo Zobernig.

  9. See A. Fraser, ‘Services: A Working-Group Exhibition’, in Games, Fights, Collaborations, op. cit., p.211.

  10. Seth Siegelaub’s research was also a reaction to a collective demand, as it resulted from the Art Workers’ Coalition hearings in New York in 1969. The open hearings were the culmination of months spent negotiating with executive administrators at the Museum of Modern Art to implement various reforms, such as equal representation of artists, museum professionals and patrons on museum boards; royalties paid to artists when their work was exhibited; and free admission. Representation of women artists and artists of colour was also a principal issue of contention. Siegelaub began speaking with artists, specifically Conceptual artists, to gauge the particular interests they sought for their artistic work once it entered the exhibition and market context. See Maria Eichhorn, The Artist’s Contract (ed. Gerti Fietzek), Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2009, p.39.

  11. It is worth mentioning that today one hears the fallacious argument that fees need not be demanded for project works because there is a cultural capital and prestige value raised through these projects resulting, eventually, in grants, awards of prize monies, invitations to lucrative speaking engagements, commissions, promotion via academic affiliation, etc., all of which may also bolster the sale of attendant objects for the art market. These arguments fail to disclose the fact that these results are not attributable to the vast majority of practitioners labouring to produce project works. The danger of this argument, particularly today, is that it supports the exploitation of unestablished practitioners.

  12. Helmut Draxler and A. Fraser, ‘Services: A Proposal for an Exhibition and a Topic of Discussion’, in Games, Fights, Collaborations, op. cit., p.196.

  13. See A. Fraser, ‘What’s Intangible, Transitory, Mediating, Participatory, and Rendered in the Public Sphere’, Museum Highlights: The Writings of Andrea Fraser (ed. Alexander Alberro), Cambridge MA, and London: The MIT Press, 2005, p.50 and accompanying footnotes on pp.53—54. The bibliography discussed by Fraser includes: Jonathan Gershuny and Ian Miles, The New Service Economy: The Transformation of Employment in Industrial Societies, New York: Praeger, 1983; Jean-Claude Delaunay and Jean Gadrey, Services in Economic Thought: Three Centuries of Debate (trans. Aart Heesterman), Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992; Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital:The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974; Daniel Bell, The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting, New York: Basic Books, 1973; and Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism (trans. Joris De Bres), London: Verso, 1978.

  14. The participants in the working-group discussions at the Kunstraum der Universität Lüneburg are listed in the working-group discussions programme: Judith Barry, Ute Meta Bauer, Jochen Becker, Ulrich Bischoff, Beatrice von Bismarck, Iwona Blazwick, Susan Cahan, Michael Clegg, Stephan Dillemuth, Helmut Draxler, Andrea Fraser, Renée Green, Martin Guttman, Renate Lorenz, Christian Philipp Müller, Fritz Rahmann, Fred Wilson and Ulf Wuggenig. See A. Fraser, ‘Services: A Working- Group Exhibition’, in Games, Fights, Collaborations, op. cit., p.197.

  15. See A. Fraser, ‘Services: Working-Group Discussions’, October, no.80, Spring 1997, p.117.

  16. In 1971 the director of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Thomas Messer, refused to include 
Haacke’s work Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real-Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971 (1971) in the artist’s exhibition, which was cancelled as a result, and curator Edward Fry fired.

  17. See A. Fraser, ‘Services: Working-Group Discussions’, op. cit., p.117.

  18. Ibid., p.118.

  19. A sampling of recent discussions would include: Brigitte Oetker and Nicolaus Schafhausen (ed.), 
Attention Economy. Jahresring no.60: Jahrbuch für moderne Kunst, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2013; ‘TIMING — On the Temporal Dimension of Exhibiting’, conference at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig, 19—21 January 2012; Paul O’Neill, The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s), Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2012; Afterall's symposium ‘Artist as Curator' at Central Saint Martins, London on 10 November 2013; and the conference ‘Institutions by Artists’, organised by the Pacific Association of Artists Run Centers, Fillip and the Artist-Run Centres and Collectives Conference, and held at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, 12—14 October 2012.

  20. The students from the Universität Lüneburg were only permitted to attend the introductory working- group sessions.

  21. A. Fraser, ‘Services: A Working-Group Exhibition’, in Games, Fights, Collaborations, op. cit., pp.212—13.

  22. Discussants frequently called into question organising structures and theoretical ideas conceived for 
‘Services’ by Fraser and Draxler. See J. Barry, U.M. Bauer, J. Becker, U. Bischoff, B. von Bismarck,
I. Blazwick, S. Cahan, M. Clegg, S. Dillemuth, H. Draxler, A. Fraser, R. Green, M. Guttman, R. Lorenz, C.P. Müller, F. Rahmann, F. Wilson and U. Wuggenig, ‘Serving Institutions; Serving Audiences; Serving Communities’, October, vol.80, Spring 1997, pp.128—48.

  23. See J.Barry, R.Green and F.Wilson, ‘Serving Institutions’, October, vol.80, Spring 1997, pp.120—27.

  24. The great majority of published writing reflecting back on ‘Services’ is authored by Fraser.

  25. Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.); State of the Arts, organised by Joseph del Pesco and commissioned by The Present Group; Arts and Labor, an Occupy Wall Street working group; and the newspaper and website Art Work: A National Conversation About Art, Labor and Economics, available at http://www.artandwork.us (last accessed on 18 December 2013), are just a few of the recent organised efforts that come to mind in the US context. It should also be noted that Fraser is
on the Board of W.A.G.E.