This dissertation deals with audience experience in contemporary participatory art. It approaches this topic both in terms of the changing conditions that produce certain forms of audience experience, and in terms of how artists, critics, and institutions historically have represented audience experience within narratives about art's social import. These questions inform my historical case study of two projects: artists' collaborative Group Material's "Democracy" and artist Martha Rosler's "If You Lived Here...", both held at the Dia Art Foundation in New York City in 1988-89. In these participatory projects, the artists combined art exhibitions with public "town-hall" meetings to address pressing social issues, including AIDS, homelessness, and problems with New York's public education system. On the basis of extensive archival documentation of "Democracy" and "If You Lived Here...", I analyze how the idea of art's social engagement through audience participation configured relationships between institutional employees, the artists, and their audiences. I argue that Group Material and Rosler's projects are emblematic of a shift in which the rise of audience participation in contemporary American art rendered relationships between leftist artists and major art institutions less confrontational and more collaborative over the course of the late `80s and early `90s then they had been in the late `60s and `70s. These newly collaborative relationships revolved in particular around an equation of art's political impact with its pedagogical role for the audience, a correlation in which both activist artists and major art institutions could invest. I argue that since the 1980s this model of politics-as-pedagogy has become fundamental to the funding, exhibition, and reception of contemporary art, because of the ways in which it has helped artists and art institutions navigate an increasingly austere and politically inhospitable cultural environment.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2013. Major: Art History. Advisors: Jane Blocker, Jennifer Marshall. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 330 pages.
Rearrangements: Participation and Politics at the Dia Art Foundation, 1988-89.
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