Three prominent American artists came to Yale’s Center for British Art yesterday to talk about the difficulty of being an artist working within the context of American museums and the expectations of the modern art historian. Jennifer Gross, the moderator of the panel, and Seymour H. Knox, Jr., curator of modern and contemporary art at the gallery, said the contemporary artist has lost the freedom of creating art without taking into account how his work will be received.
The panel, titled “Artistic Practice as Institutional Critique,” considered ways in which each of three artists critiques art institutions and culturally defining institutional hierarchies through their work. Sam Durant, Hans Haacke and Andrea Fraser took turns talking about their own art — explaining their motivations and what they hope to achieve through their work — and then participated in a panel discussion during which audience members were called upon to ask questions.
Durant’s talk focused on his sculpture installation, titled “Proposal for White and Indian Dead Monument Transpositions, Washington, D.C.,” which was on exhibit last October.
“‘Proposal’ is about the asymmetrical power relationship between Whites and Indians that existed during the colonizing of this country,” he said.
Durant proposed that monuments from around the country that honor both Whites and Native Americans who died in battle be relocated to Washington, D.C., flanking the reflecting pool around the Washington Monument. The sculpture installation contains scaled-down versions of many of these monuments, with those honoring dead White Americans separated from those that honor deceased Native Americans.
Durant said he hoped to show that even monuments dedicated to Indians serve the interests and contribute to the commemoration of the White settlers.
Hans Haacke, originally from Cologne, Germany, spoke after Durant, and explained that his art is meant to explore the relationships between power, art and money. Haacke spoke of art as a channel through which artists, patrons and museums are able to gain prestige and money — and, therefore, power.
“The business of art knows the art of business,” he said.
Haacke focused on works of his that comment on corporate and political influences on art, the pieces including quotes about the relationship between business and art from such giants as Philip Morris and Rudolph Giuliani.
Haacke said that through his work he hopes to shed light on the question of what defines art.
“What is the psychology behind endowing an object, action, or behavior, as a work of art?” he asked.
The question was taken up by the final speaker, Andrea Fraser.
A performance and video installation artist, Fraser departed from the norm and declined to be introduced by Gross. Instead, she approached the podium and announced herself that “the next presenter will be Andrea Fraser.” Fraser cycled through a series of personas, commenting on the work of her fellow panelists and calling attention to the hypocritical (and sometimes paradoxical) behavior of many contemporary artists.
After her entertaining introduction, which evoked suppressed sniggers from many audience members, Fraser assumed her “real” persona and explained that her work is meant to examine the relationships between artists, collectors and museums.
“My work exists at the intersection of research-based analysis and the performance-based investigation of interpersonal relationships and the subjective interests that people bring to art,” she said.
All three artists — Durant, Haack and Fraser — expressed the desire to call into question the symbolic value that art, artists and society at large have attached to the institution of the museum as representative of the apogee of human achievement.
“Values such as fame and celebrity are seeping into the art world and pushing out other values that used to define the art world, such as dissension and questioning,” Fraser said. “It makes art and what we aspire to be and achieve as artists inherently political.”