headlines | about |

Guggenheim's Brave New World: RA or MT?

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY, Oct 24 - Jan 7

Angela Bulloch, Maurizio Cattelan, Liam Gillick, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Douglas Gordon, Carsten Höller, Pierre Huyghe, Jorge Pardo, Philippe Parreno, Rirkrit Tiravanija

organized by Nancy Spector

I have not yet seen the Guggenheim show on relational aesthetics (RA), due to the fact that the museum no longer maintains an aesthetic relationship with me. But who knows, I might drop by one of these days and actually view it.

Meanwhile, all accounts I have read or heard on what I prefer to call theanyaestheticwhatever show indicate that, in addition to being nominally RA, it also feels rather MT. Frank Lloyd Wright would probably not mind: by default this allows greater attention to be paid to his shell. But I do understand that you can have a cup of coffee there (no Thai curry this time - darn!), catch an old timey movie, sit in a padded, carpeted video lounge and watch interviews with the artists, or on various S-shaped red benches and listen to biographical factoids that are mnemonically intoned on Acoustiguide.

You can view (and even book a night in) a revolving hotel room under a domed skylight perpetually blanketed by a starry night sky. There is a drowned Pinnochio in the pond, lots of text stenciled on the floors and walls and even done up in free hanging black painted aluminum letters (like a pawnbroker sign). And as one leaves, there is a pile of small giveaway booklets filled with iron-on transfer images - of the museum itself.

Is this institutionally self reflexive or merely self regarding? Democratic and inclusive or cliquey and arrogant? Austere and pedagogic or just plain trivial? And having said all that, do I now even need to bother going?


The idea of laziness is stimulating, but not just in reference to RA as a “lazy term” or as subject to “lazy branding”. Rather in the very model of artistic practice encouraged by RA, a built-in posture of slackness or purposeful incompleteness, analogous to the folksinger who encourages the audience, halfway through the number, to “all join in”. We feel good after that rousing group rendition of “Kumbaya”, but might be reluctant to call it art. Or perhaps it does resonate as a form of “social sculpture”, after Beuys, who is the obvious precursor of RA, twenty years before Bourriaud’s treatise.

Not to be (too much of) a curmudgeon, but one of the cautions I bring to RA is that it requires audience participation to achieve wholeness. This is often seen as an essential strength, going beyond performance art to incorporate the viewer as an active agent. From this perspective, RA is open ended, democratic, interactive, unfinished. It conspicuously leaves a theoretical door ajar, an invitation to outside intervention.

But it can also suggest a certain sloth, with artists who are loath to commit to a final statement and execution, who happily fall back on halfway gestures, advancing only the suggestion of structure and situation, which must then be inhabited by the audience in order to fully connote. The international movable feast of RA requires the assent of an itinerant fan club, ready to travel from art capital to art capital, populate the installations and cheer.

It is interesting that the RA of the 1990s was contemporary with slacker movements in music and fashion, and that all were potentially influenced by bad economic times, when a pristine, finished product was not so essential, because it was not likely to be financially rewarded - so why not experiment in the realm of the incomplete, in hanging out and hanging on? Perhaps our current economic meltdown provides a particularly suitable climate for a reexamination of RA. Have the Guggenheim and Nancy Spector arrived at a prescient moment in the zeitgeist? theanyspacewhatever is years in the making. Back in fall 2004, when planning for the show began, the good times were still very much a-roll.

The press opening, which I did not experience, but which I imagine (like most media previews) was only sparsely populated, undoubtedly accentuated the emptiness of the installations. There were no crowds, none of the usual acolytes to add a frisson of artworld heat. No strength in numbers. Without this noise and activity, the work must have seemed thin, dry, half baked and lost in space.

Earlier version of these texts were posted on Artworld Salon.

my further commentary on the same Artworld Salon thread.

My further commentary appears on the same thread.


Although I did not experience the Miereles piece, I enjoy your discussion of the added resonance some artwork can achieve by enlisting “unwitting participants”. My particular comment led you to the converse, that of “witting non-participation”, in which the artwork is experienced or actualized in a manner not originally intended by artist or institution.

It’s true that the chattering classes, those who do not necessarily attend an exhibition but are still able to understand it via received media coverage, are an expansion of the population that is “party” to the work. The dissemination of information online tends to enlarge this population exponentially.

Call me old fashioned, but I believe that artist, institution and audience are best served by the traditional model, by the actual presence of bodies, brains and eyes to directly experience an exhibition. The basic fact, the physical presence of the spectator/participant, is obviously that much more vital in the realm of relational aesthetics.

On a practical, operational level, if the museum does not encourage direct access to the exhibition, or even somehow manages to obstruct same, it commits a great disservice and betrays a large part of its cultural mission. In the special case of media access, which has the potential to exponentially expand the population that is “party” to the work, as discussed above, the problem is aggravated.

Sadly, this is a problem for the Guggenheim, but not attributable to RA or MTness. Rather to NS. As in BetC.

Have We Missed Something?

The original Upgrade Group (me, Yael, The McCoys, MTAA, GH, Cary Mark and others) was doing this stuff ten years ago though, at the time, RA hadn't been published in English so we didn't reference it. We did the project at the Kitchen in 2000, that night at the loft that I didn't participate in and we talked about an idea I had called Time Share but it never went anywhere but sounds a lot like this show. Sorry I don't have more detailed info but it all seems to have been lost on the web.

Then, of course, there was PORT-MIT, which never gets mentioned anywhere.

I'm not bitter, just, oh, what's the word ... sanguine, maybe? There were plenty before us who deserve to be bitter about lack of recognition but, um, what does that recognition matter anymore. Things happen when they happen then disappear. The adept grab the screen, meanwhile the rest plug on or go away. As Remo liked to say if you don't leave food they don't come around. What kind of food was The Gugg leaving around?

To be fair, the Guggenheim has been one of he more accepting institutions all along and it's good to see this exhibit there even though I don't intend to spend twenty bucks to see it.

You do the work, it goes out "there" and someone else reaps the profit.

What is MT? Just asking.

MT. Say it out loud, murph.

MT. Say it out loud, murph. What does it sound like? Hint: it's an adjective, with MTness its associated noun.

Out Loud

Oh, tee hee, I get it.

Yeah, from what I've seen and read it's MT. Nancy Spector obviously didn't do her homework. She was probably too busy flying around and chugging Thai soup to notice what was going on. Hopefully, with the economic meltdown, detritus as she will find themselves on the breadline where they belong. I'll flip her a quarter though I'm not under the delusion that those who now call the shots will ever, ever, cede their little scrap of acerage. They'll kill you rather than have to actually do their job.

Oh, I wouldn't blame Nancy that much.

Oh, I wouldn't blame Nancy that much. Her essential concept was to give the space over to the ten RA stars, to let them wing it without excessive interference. They are all well known quantities, and have been indulged on the international circuit for years. How do you tell them if they are just coasting on their reputations? If the results seem a bit thin (or at least thinner than the last similar exhibition), this is possibly due to a law of diminishing returns, or the dictum that "familiarity breeds contempt".

Perhaps the lack of regulation in the banking and equity markets, which has led to the current credit crash and financial meltdown, can be extended (by example, if not by fiscal necessity) to a new austerity, to greater responsibility in the art world, to the calling in of bad aesthetic credit: an end to the irresponsible packaging of ideas and the unwarranted, unquestioned privileges bestowed upon a certain class of artist. If theanyspacewhatever show is in fact bankrupt, this could be a hopeful sign: the last gasp of the same old, and a possible new beginning.

Then again, I have not yet seen the show; my judgment needs to await an actual visit. My main gripe is neither with Spector nor with the artists, who at least deal with issues of interest and foment a dialog that I might find stimulating. It is with a certain type of Guggenheim functionary, who has made access a distasteful and petty concern. As noted above: BetC NS.


OK, I'm getting the hang of this. There is someone with the name Betsy who won't give you press credentials to view the show for free. Unfortunately the Gugg web site doesn't have a list of employees, which is odd, so I have no idea who you are angry with.

But that is neither here nor there for me since I haven't had an in there since Matthew Drutt left. Hence I've only been there on the odd free night and have never found the experience worth the price of the subway fare. theanyspacewhatever sounds like a missed opportunity to explore the brief history of RA in a significant way and if the museum is being stingy about access they probably sense that, too.

On a brighter note: I left work early because it was dead and I was getting increasingly miffed and stressed. Walking down Seventh Avenue to cool off I found a bag of books by a phone booth around 28th with "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" on top. I'd meant to reread it as part of my research into whatever happened to cybernetics so I looked for an owner and, seeing no one, took it and read the first chapter on my way to Brooklyn. Funny, but it now reads like a speech by Sarah Palin with it's love of the "real" America "out there".

That little bit of coincidence plus my recent visits to the Banksy Petshop, Chanel Art Container and Democracy in America at the Armory re-enforces my suspicion that the Gugg is the least likely place to find RA these days. You just find it on the streets these days and don't have to pay.

Actually murph, I do have "press credentials..."

Actually murph, I do have "press credentials to view the show for free", right there in my wallet: a Solomon R. Guggenheim Press Card with my name, on which is inscribed the following: "Expires December 2009. Admits bearer and one guest. Present this card for free admission to the Guggenheim Museum."

It would seem a fairly straightforward matter, then, to attend a press opening for an exhibition at the museum. But it has somehow become more complicated, in a way that only BetC NS understands.


Betsy Ennis! That sounds familiar. You and she didn't have a bad hookup during an opening did you, you dogg! Or is this a subplot to Peter Plagens' online novel?

I love word games, especially one that involves not pronouncing or writing the names of the art gods. Yikes, was that a lightening bolt above my head? Pretty!

I wish I had credentials instead of being just another art customer: doors would open, rose petals would scatter, virgins would make themselves available, flutes of champagne would magically appear to quench my thirst after devouring the latest institutional delicacies on view...

Simple access

Just seeing the exhibition would have been fine. Simple access, tea and pastry optional.

with tamed relational aesthetics, just add hot sauce

I'm in Mexico City reading this string and it strikes me that lame/tame relational aesthetics are in need of an injection of hot/craziness.

Just add some hot sauce:

MT indeed

I dunno if you're familiar with Claire Bishops work. She wrote an interesting piece, Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics. Which y'all have probably already read. But just incase:

Bishop curated a pretty interesting show at the ICA in London earlier this year called Double Agent. which is now on tour.
The exhibition notes say that it was an approach, which uses others as agents in the work, raises questions of authorship, but in the end, for me, the question was really how much this displacement of authorship ultimately serves to lead us straight back to the artists themselves because of a gallery setting, ya know?

I'm always interested with "art on the street". there is alot more to be said about the theme of noticing, the lure of the ordinary.. the idea that it's art without the recognition or implication of the gallery. it stands on its own. And in all of its slipperiness of it being art in the street, or the everyday, lies a good deal of its power.