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.


Sherman Clarke said...

Today's RA quotes, from Roberta Smith's review of Maurizio Cattelan's retrospective at the Guggenheim, N.Y. Times, Nov. 4, 2011:

* Displayed helter-skelter, for instance, are Conceptual pieces from his early "relational aesthetics" years, when he subverted various social transactions and art-world conventions, yielding works that often make sense only if you know the back story.

* Mr. Cattelan's exhibition is in many ways the exact opposite of the funhouse of participatory claptrap that Carsten Höller, his fellow traveler in relational aesthetics, has mounted at the New Museum.

Dennis Bellone said...

Curious to how you are familiar with the Joseph Beuys Is Underrated video, very few people know it here in the U.S.

Sherman Clarke said...

I first met the video at the inaugural exhibition of the modern art museum in Ghent, lucky enough to be there when that exhibition was happening.