31 October 2011

obsessed with relational art

A year or so ago when I was at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College for a week of cataloging, Bronwen Bitetti (assistant librarian) asked somewhat innocently if there shouldn't be an LC subject heading for relational art, aka relational aesthetics. She was not having much trouble wrapping her parameters around it but was with conceptual art. For me, it was the other way around but then I got involved with reading art criticism in the heyday of conceptual art, the 1960s. Many conversations, live and online, have happened since then and I think I'm beginning to get a sense of relational art. Now I see it everywhere.

This morning over my breakfast cereal, I was reading the Weekend Arts section from Friday's New York Times. Karen Rosenberg was visiting the Carsten Höller show at the New Museum and said in her review that "Curators tend to place Mr. Höller under the umbrella of 'relational aesthetics,' which, as defined by the critic Nicolas Bourriaud, is all about transforming the museum into a 'festive, collective and participatory' space." She goes on to say that Höller's show isn't really that similar to Rikrit Tiravanija's cooking at MoMA or Maurizio Cattelan's conversation piece sculptures. Each does involve considerable relating between the artist and the audience. And all the sliding down tubes in the Höller exhibition reminds me of the ARLIS/NA-VRA conference reception at the Children's Museum in St Louis. But was that art?

Also in the Friday paper, Carol Vogel wrote about Tiravanija's installation at MoMA which involves serving Thai curry at lunch time. Fire regulations prohibit cooking in the gallery so, alas, the food must be prepared elsewhere in the museum. Still, Vogel quotes curator Ann Temkin: "It's part of what has been called 'relational aesthetics.' Joseph Beuys created social sculpture; it's the act of doing things together, where you, the viewer, can be part of the experience." That brings us back to Bronwen's and my first discussion of relational art and conceptual art.

Dropping "participatory" and "social" into the words above reflect what Bronwen and I are now grappling with. Much of art criticism uses these and LCSH doesn't have anything that tidily reflects "social practice" as it is regularly used by artists and art critics. LCSH does have a reference from "Participatory art" to "Interactive art." To me, "interactive art" sounds rather like interactive multimedia or video gaming; on the other hand, most every essay I've read recently that talks about participatory art uses "interactive" within 25 words of the mention of participatory art.

Art terminology changes over time and it makes it hard for us catalogers who want some sustained literary warrant before we establish a heading. A heading used a few times over a short period of time is probably handled better otherwise and our users probably aren't going to try to retrieve on little-used terms.

In my LibraryThing tagging, I'm a little loose with "conceptual art" and maybe with "artists books" but that's the good thing about personal cataloging. You can be selective and a bit idiosyncratic, though consistency still helps.

I know you're dying to know if Bronwen and I did anything about proposing a subject heading for relational art. As we were working on it, we discovered that LCSH already had "Relationism in art" and the title listed to justify it was actually CAP : art relationnel. We've proposed that that heading be changed to "Relational art" and we've added a scope note (thanks to Roberta Smith) and a couple more references and titles to justify it.

Life is relational and participatory, and both words are getting used pretty widely these days, e.g., participatory librarianship, relational acupuncture. I wanted to find a good picture to somehow represent this posting but ended up being reminded of Dennis Bellone's video of "Joseph Beuys is underrated" in which Bellone faces a fierce cat in imitation of Beuys's and the wolf. I couldn't find a still image on the web but you can watch the video at the link.

23 October 2011


This morning at breakfast at the Collegiate, I heard "Bronzino" and thought of the great painting at the Frick Collection ... which I'd seen just days earlier in a quickie trip to the city. Then I heard words that made it clear they were talking fish, not painting.


My dearest Sammy,
The Mix master came Easter Sunday, and we have not had time to more than read the literature put it together and gloat, oh so beautiful is the Mix master, so beautiful ... we are very happy to have it here, bless you Sammy, Madame Roux said oui il est si gentil, et en effet he is dear little Sammy, Easter morning, what a spring, lovely as I have never seen anything lovely ... Alice all smiles and murmurs in her dreams, Mix master

[Letter from Gertrude Stein to Samuel Steward, 1940, quoted in Secret historian: the life and times of Samuel Steward, professor, tattoo artist, and sexual renegade by Justin Spring, p. 76-77 in FSG paperback edition, 2011]

Leads one to wonder or reflect:

* Did Alice make her famous brownies with the Mixmaster?

* Are lovely days more dreamy? In the early days of World War II for Gertrude Stein. Or terrifying? The clear skies of 9/11 in New York City and the next few days.

* Steward mailed the Mixmaster by parcel post in November 1939 after having been with Gertrude and Alice at Bilignin, and leaving quickly in August when war seemed imminent.

* Gertrude Stein's words are musical. I'd love to see a revival of "In circles" by Al Carmines from Gertrude Stein's opera "A circular play" which I saw in 1968 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. We got the album and I copied it onto cassette and sometimes sing more or less every word as I'm driving somewhere.

18 October 2011

Meissen ≠ Messiaen

Bitter in the mouth by Monique Truong has been a wonderful read. I was not familiar with synesthesia and there was a wonderful section about artists, writers and musicians who sense things in extra ways. It starts on page 216 of the Random House paperback edition (just in case you want to go read it). The protagonist in Bitter is reminded by words of particular foods. Truong talks about Wassily Kandinsky who saw colors when he heard music. Messiaen saw "musician colors, not painter's colors" when he composed. Scriabin also saw color in music, inventing a clavier à lumières for his Prometheus which Lindamint dreams of seeing at its New York performance in 1915. I read this passage during the course of a day of gallery-hopping in New York City. After the Frick galleries, I was in the bookshop and there was a book on Meissen porcelain ... which I read as Messiaen. I didn't see colors, taste particular foods but it was sensational.

The picture? It's Kandinsky's "Composition 7" from a synesthesia blog.

17 October 2011

planning ahead

Lunch today was a lovely surprise for Heidi as she faces one of those zero birthdays. We celebrated and chatted and had a lovely time. Even Heidi realized hitting such a milestone didn't need to be the end of the world.

I hadn't seen GraceAnne DeCandido for a number of years though we occasionally exchange Facebook interactions. We were talking about aging, freelance employment, retirement, and other things appropriate for a zero-birthday lunch gathering. She said that some doctor or whoever had told her that she should always have two trips in the planning stages. What a good idea. My recent trip planning has been too amorphous and should involve more action. For example, I'd really like to go see Prospect 2.0 in New Orleans. Heidi said go. I whispered to myself: for Prospect, for everything I love about New Orleans.

All this reminds me that a couple times recently I've realized that my retirement planning wasn't full of dreams. Linda Cuccurullo said that she dreamed of being in Italy a lot when she retired, and her Facebook status recently indicated she was there. And there was a similar experience involving someone else though I can't place it at the moment.

And now I'm reading Bitter in the mouth by Monique Truong and we're learning about how the protagonist's great-uncle, Baby Harper, a retired librarian, started his traveling to those places he read about: Colombia for One hundred years of solitude, Chile for The obscene bird of night by José Donoso, Uruguay for The book of embraces by Eduardo Galeano, Rio de Janeiro for The hour of the star by Clarice Lispector.

Now I should stay home and fix the house so it doesn't look like the wonderful market building in New Orleans pictured above ... but I'd rather go to somewhere that I've read about, or not read about.