Artistic Subversion: Setting the Conditions of Display

By Angela M. Bartholomew.

Featured image above: Santiago Sierra, Removal of a Museum’s Glass Windows, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle, Belgium, 2004. Photo by Guy Braeckman.

The mid-1980s was a treacherous time for artistic autonomy. Many countries were facing a transformation of their political and economic systems and a profound shift was felt in the position of artists. Technological developments were altering the form and content of communication and the means by which information and images were disseminated. At the same time, an art market boom, which proved profitable for artists who succeeded in mastering its mechanisms, marginalized others. An increasing popularity of art fairs, biennials, and thematic exhibitions meant a shift in attention away from the individual work of art. More importance than ever was levied upon the exhibition as a singular – and spectacular – event, and upon its perceived auteur, the curator. But where did this leave the artist and the work of art?

My dissertation research focuses on the strategies used by artists to shape the presentation, perception, and circulation of their work. By examining these strategies – developed in part to contend with the exhibitionary complex of the mid-1980s – I seek to engender a better understanding of the critical character of works shown at that time in the Netherlands and Flanders, but also to garner insight into the present circumstances in which artists operate. Artists like Guillaume Bijl, General Idea, Martha Rosler, Fortuyn/O’Brien, Gerald van der Kaap, or Andrea Fraser – who made use of diverse media and distinct approaches in relation to the unique context of each of their exhibitions – show how a variety of forms can be put to use to subvert and critique the conditions of presentation.

vriends_210Rendered image of works by Fortuyn/O’Brien installed in the Stedelijk Museum, curated by Arno Vriends. Fortuyn/O’Brien, MarblePUBLIC, Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1991, p. 210.

In connection with this research, on February 2nd we will host a Young Researchers’ Colloquium at the VU that will consider how artists, like these, have posed challenges to institutional conventions. Entitled Artistic Subversion: Setting the Conditions of Display, the colloquium will bring together eleven international researchers to reflect upon the barriers and boundaries artists face when entering institutionalized exhibition spaces – and how they are circumvented. The panelists will present research that goes well beyond the 1980s and 1990s (and the Low Countries) to focus on control and subversion in art, and of the exhibition, from a range of perspectives. The day will culminate with a special joint keynote lecture on collaborative practices by Angela Dimitrakaki and Kirsten Lloyd, of The University of Edinburgh.

The Young Researchers’ Colloquium, Artistic Subversion: Setting the Conditions of Display, will take place on 2/2/2017, from 9:30 in the Main Building, 14A-00, of the Vrije Universiteit.  The full program can be found here.

Please join us! It’s free, but registration is required via email at vuartandculture[at] (by January 23). The Young Researchers’ Colloquium is organized in conjunction with the Stedelijk Museum’s symposium ‘Lose Yourself! – A Symposium on Labyrinthine Exhibitions as Curatorial Model’, which takes place February 3-4, 2017.

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