February 1, 2007

One Art Fair After Another

Administrator’s note: This week’s topic is by Rebecca Jones, who provokes an inquiry into the relationship between site specificity and the ubiquitous “art fairs.”

In Miwon Kwon’s “One Place After Another: Notes on Site Specificity”, Kwon lays out a chronological history of the types of sites that site specific works have worked with and within. The text was written in 1997 and an interesting new phenomenon to discuss in the context of sites for art is the more prevalent than ever Art Fair. The nomadic location of the Art Fair is not the same set of limitations for the artist to work within as a gallery or museum because it is not a physically grounded site. However, the Art Fair carries with it the same framing function that the gallery does, by being in a fixed and enclosed context, politically, geographically, and culturally. The context shifts from location to location of course, and so the same work is read differently each time, like a traveling exhibition. But now the work has a new set of restrictions unique to the concept of the Art Fair.

The institutional critique of the 1970’s that began the pronounced emphasis on subversion in site specific works (with Mel Bochner’s “Measurement Series”, as an example), as well as the prevailing resistance to commodification (as discussed by Kwon) has more potential than ever in the Art Fair, which now directly manifests the heightened capitalism and nomadic “societies of power” of our times (as in Gilles DeLeuze’s “Postscript on the Societies of Control”). It will be interesting to see whether or not, as it grows and continues, there will be a resurgence of such subversion with the site of the Art Fair as its main focus.

A second aspect of the relationship between the Art Fair and site specific work is the opportunity to be specific to a new physical site, not just a new political or theoretical site. In the Art Fairs in Miami concurrent with Basel, hotels in the heart of South Beach are used as stand-in galleries, as well as elaborately constructed tents in lower class areas. This leaves lots of room for irony and contrast in the work that’s included. As Kwon concludes in her essay, the difference of adjacencies and distances between fragments and people is the new territory to be explored for site specific artists. (As opposed to exploring the serialized and linear differences promoted by Modernism). These Art Fairs bring together a wide variety of galleries and artwork in various institutions and in different class typified areas within one city. This sets the stage for artists to raise socio-political issues, address the connotations of the institutions they occupy, and to study the resulting incidental juxtapositions that occur in the Art Fair environment.

Kwon asserts that “artists are inevitably engaged in the process of cultural legitimation” despite an intent or stated position against it. And so the question presented by the new prevalence of Art Fairs, is whether artists will succumb to the extreme commodification of their works they participate in by having them taken around from one hyper-commercial fair to the next, or if they will start to take command more of the commercial process through the work that gets passed around.


Reading for 7 February: Chapter 7: “YBA as Critique: The Socio-Political Inferences of the Mediated Identity of Recent British Art” by James Gaywood.

10 comments:

patrickjdonovan said...

This posting makes an interesting point. Art fairs would seem to provide a context about which artists could create site specific works. Also, as Miwon Kwon points out with respect to galleries and museums, the art fair as an institution would seem likely to cooperate or even encourage artists site-specific critiques even if quite negative.

I not sure that I accept Miwon Kwon's characterization of issues or aspects of culture or politics as a "site" about which artists may create site specific art. This seems unnecessarily indirect. Artists can make art about issues, but why is it useful to describe this as site-specific? It would seem more direct to simply refer to art that is about an issue as art that is about such-and-such an issue, or more generally, art that is about some subject. Referring to it as site-specific doesn't seem to aid an understanding of this art.

mm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mm said...

These nomadic art fairs certainly do provide artists with a unique opportunity to take advantage of a space. But….what if they don’t care? Some artists will always have to consider the installation space, whereas some find it simply unimportant and choose never to engage within the given space. Maybe I make little paintings and they are going to be hung the same way no matter where they end up. To my recollection this is most often the case with the occasional change of pace. Maybe one out of 25 booths really took advantage of their little white cubicle. In the future as the fairs get bigger and more widely visited I think the work will become more integrated and elaborate within the given space.

Antea Roberts said...

I don't feel like art fairs are really a good example of a site specific area- art is created to be sold as a commodity there- not to be viewed in a gallery settingor made for a certain landscape. Whether the artist chooses to sell certain pieces based upon this fact might be able to be considered site specific, but I don't think art fairs are site specific in themselves... Am I contradicting myself? Are the people that attend art fairs able to be considered a form of site specificity? Is artwork made and displayed according to the audience that will be attending? What about arts and crafts fairs??

Jessica said...

Antea: I agree with your point that art fairs might not be the best example of the future potential for site specific art.

Everyone has such a limited space and you go from one artist to the next and so on. But I suppose that in itself could be the point.

Randolph said...

I believe that site specificity is important to the intent of the artist. if speaking in a broader sense, where the work is not specific to a room, but rather a city the language created by symbols can be as specific as that of the spoken word. In this belief I think site specificity is necessary for the creator as a means of communicating his or her idea. Even the the orientation of the work(s) makes a difference , especially when dealing with images not as iconic as a company logo. Context has everything to do with how we read certain images, and creating work for a specific place could be the difference between a lowercase 'T' and a crucifix.

Nicholas said...

At the Freize in London, there were a suprising amount of full gallery installation work - but it seems like that type of things is more of a dressed up billboard advertisement for the gallery hosting the installation piece. the installations at art fairs are hardly "site specific" and really serve to peak the interests potentional new clients, by demonstrating their sensibility to a new "hip" type of art making. There are however expceptions to this, but they seem few and far between at the moment. Ill explain further in class about one particular installation that was very site specific to the Freize in London.

Jacqueline said...

Becky: From your post, you have identified the art fair as a budding extension of the art institution, and it sounds like you are waiting to see art at the art fairs that is critical of what exactly is going on. I think you're right when you talk about the potential for artists to be critical of art fairs and its process (which I think would def. make it site-specific Antea and Jessica), but at the same time, who wants to criticize and complain about the potential for an artist to make a year's salary in one weekend? Aren't there plenty of other things to be critical and gripe about?
Do you want our cynical, deconstructive critical attitudes to infiltrate every art intstitution? PS: I might be playing devil's advocate.

Tiffany Mamone said...

giving an artist a limited space, i feel cheats them out of creating an awesome piece, but it could be nice to have a limit b/c it forced and you have to accomodate something. sometimes with a boundary the installation could turn into something completly unexpected and great.its annyoing but it could be beneficial.

Liana said...

I found it interesting how these artists who use site specificity say that the rooms and walls of a museum are "active" and are purposefully isolating the space of art. this is something that i never thought about when viewing art in museum spaces.