Contemporary art and museum studies: Relational Aesthetics and Its Discontents

Participation and Social Practice: Relational Aesthetics and Its Discontents

This lecture explores the influential yet contested theorization of art produced in the 1990s by French curator Nicolas Bourriaud, first manifested in an exhibition, Traffic, held in Bordeaux in 1996, and then in his book Relational Aesthetics (1998). Bourriaud gathers together a varied selection of artists and artworks under this new banner, with which he designates a new mode of practice which uses the gallery space to foreground modes of interactivity and conviviality as opposed to both an emphasis on the contemplation of stable art objects. We examine both Bourriauds ideas and a selection of the artworks he prioritized, before exploring the virulent critique laid out by Claire Bishop, who denies the radical potential of Relational Aesthetics and instead promotes the notion of antagonism as a politically more useful concept. We will focus on the work of Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn, whose Muse Prcaire Albinet would seem to align with a relational paradigm in some crucial respects (but not others, as Bishop argues).

Presentation Question: Argue for or against the curatorial premise of Traffic (1996).

The 2,500 words essay should be developed from the question you addressed in the presentation. You need to provide full footnotes and a bibliography, which should include at least three texts with which you have actively and demonstrably engaged, which do not appear on the recommended reading for the presentation.

Set Readings: Altshuler (Traffic), Bishop

Recommended reading:
1. Altshuler, Bruce, Biennials and Beyond: Exhibitions that Made Art History. Volume 2, 1962-2002. London and New York: Phaidon, 2013.
2. Claire Bishop: Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics, October, vol. 110, Fall 2004. pp. 51-79.
3. Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics, Paris: Presses du rel, 1998.
4. Day, Gail and Steve Edwards, Global Dissensus: Art and Contemporary Capitalism, in Edwards and Wood (eds.), Art and Visual Culture 1850-2010 Modernity to Globalisation, London 2012, pp. 285-299.
5. Gillick, Liam and Claire Bishop, Letters and Responses, October Vol. 115, Winter, 2006, pp. 95-107.
6. Wilson, Mick, Autonomy, Agonism, and Activist Art: An Interview with Grant Kester, Art Journal, Fall 2007, Vol. 66 Issue 3, pp. 106-118.
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