To Obscure Clearly: The Artist Statement as Art Object, Participation Activator and Institutional Critique.

Posted: June 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

The Artist Statement is naturally thought of as being a ground of information to use in analysing the body of work of an artist or a specific project presented by the art creator/author.  Indicating a direction for interpretation of a large body of work, or to specify how elements of a specific artist project (an individual work) are meant to be conceived of (or connected) in order to find the meaning(s) of the piece, the statement is meant as illumination and elaboration of intention and how the audience is to approach the work (and follow through the elements of the piece) to gather together the meaning of the artobject(s). Sometimes, in a more contrary fashion, the artist’s statement will be used to consciously disrupt normal (“normative” in the discipline vernacular of art dialogue) readings, which would ordinarily be followed through by the spectator of the artpiece, to generate a sense and intention of the piece outside the concourse of common interpretations.  This disruptive functioning of the art piece can be found in a vast spectrum of artist’s statements and can move from the decidedly and purely poetic, the subjective and intimate biographical, the surrealist text, to the imposition of arbitrary (at least until they art imposed by the artist) meanings given to elements of the artpiece and eventually to the whole.

Joseph Kosuth, What Does it Mean 1999

However the Artist Statement can be used by the artist in a myriad of divergent ways which lie outside of this purely information stance or unsettling disruptive positioning.  We can see (some) of these alternative methods of the Artist Statement Piece under four different rubrics: (1) As ArtObject itself, where the actual text  of this statement is the artpiece; (2) as a formulated nexus to activate the spectator to actions which create the piece (participation art, or post-production art, where the artpiece is created by the audience doing something and this “is”, or continually becomes, the art), (3) as a means to critically evaluate the institutions of art or the operations of society, or (4) as a meta-critique of critiquing itself which imposes a single interpretation upon the experience of the artpiece.

Joseph Kosuth, What Does this Mean 2009

The Artist Statement under these alternative guises of artproduction is shaped and utilized to circumvent the pathways of customary art consumption (and presentation); and is used to trigger an atypical space of art for the viewer in order yield novel and enlightening ways of seeing meaning in the piece. These varied forms of Artist Statement locates the place of the ArtObject into a space of elsewhere which is outside of the statement, but not within an object supposedly the statement is expected to comment upon.   The statement becomes the focus of the “piece” but concurrently points elsewhere to a place with nebulous boundaries and questionable locations. The intermediary of the artpiece, which usually lies between the artist (and their intention) and the viewer (and their idea of the artwork), is circumvented and confuses the exact location of the piece along with the faithful meaning it harbours. The concept will be the sole residence which the artpiece inhabits in the Artists Statement Piece (and can therefore be categorized in the tradition of Conceptual Art), but where this “object of art” lies in the spectrum of experience, material, and meaning shifts and finds no ground. Yet even with this shifting query of the location of the Artist Statement ArtPiece, the conceptual functioning of these pieces forms an engendering clarity and specific precision in the matrix of meanings these artpieces can establish and one in which the artist can mine to invigorating and thought provoking effect.

Below are a few instances of the Artist Statement which use a number of these alternative modes for the generating innovative meanings, and new locations, for the artpiece.

Tamy Ben Tor, “Time and Space” 2011

Tamy Ben Tor’s work, at Zach Feuer Gallery

Gregory Fong, Artists Statement 2008 (page1)

Gregory Fong’s work. You can find page 2 of Fong’s Artist Statement here.

Josh Wardle, Artist Statement

Josh Wardle’s work can be seen at his Website PowerLanguage. Download  his “Artists Statement” template here.

Robert Barry, Some Places To Which We Can Come 1971 (Artist Statement of Project, Galleries were closed during time of exhibition)

Robert Barry is contextualized in late 20th Century conceptual art by John Perreault at the Arts Journal

Charlotte Young,  Artist Statement 2011

Charlotte Young’s work, at her website today I made nothing.  Young lecture on the critical misfunction of Artspeak.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (artist statement, the clock) 1992

Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ work and information can be found at the Queer Cultural Center website.

Minerva Cuevas, Public Works 2002

Minerva Cuevas’ work can be seen here. The above piece is at eflux’s Do It online exhibition of instruction art (take a look for instances of this form of interesting artistic practice!. Here are selections of Yoko Ono’s instruction pieces to check out as reference for this practice as well.)

Brian Sherwin, Artist Statement header for his 3 part essay on the subject

Critic Brian Sherwin’s  comments regarding the artist statement and his idea about using it as self-critique .

“Every concept arises from the equation of unequal things.” Nietzsche On Truth and Lies in a NonMoral Sense (1873)

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