Beyond Objecthood

(Martha Rosler’s House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, Thomas Hirschhorn’s Bataille Monument and The Bijlmer Spinoza Festival) or curators – frequent names include especially Liam Gillick and Maria Lind. An extensive and inspiring passage is dedicated to the North American group Material.

A significant moment is Voorhies’ effort to refrain from drawing a line between artists, non-artists, curators or culture producers. Beyond Objecthood thus showcases the history of interpenetration, cross-influences and ultimately the erosion of these positions within the art world, which makes even more sense as the author primarily focuses on the formats of presenting art to audiences. Voorhier at the same time picks projects that are critical both to the expectations of period social norms, and to the institutions as such. The critical undertone targeting contemporary art production is most comprehensively expressed in the final chapter titled The Industial Art Complex, contemplating the situation where institutions and their program are subject to political or financial pressures and fall prey to the practices of liberal capitalism. This chapter reflects the trends that have in recent years also found traction within the Czech scene, and although Voorhies – as in the rest of the book – tries to maintain an unbiased analytical perspective, his observations still betray a considerable degree of dissatisfaction.

James Voorhies sticks to the facts, and at times his enumerations and descriptions can make for less than enticing reading, particularly when concerning exhibitions that are notorious. In spite of this, one is rewarded for reading a few pages of known facts, as Voorhies gradually plumbs deeper and shows how apparent details (of operational nature, or personal connections) can exert crucial influence on key landmark moments in the history of exhibitions. The Czech reader may be surprised by the scarcity of references to art theory and philosophy. With the exception of an extensive introduction to Chapter 3 – The Efficacy of a Critical Art, dedicated to the thought of Jacques Rancière, whose perspective informs the chapter, Voorhies essentially makes do with a few general quotes of Michel Foucault and Walter Benjamin. In many respects this fact-based approach is most valuable. On the other hand, however, it is ultimately Voorhies’ hypotheses or his detailing of concepts of unrealized (or unfulfilled) projects, rather than lengthy descriptions of exhibition practices, that prove most rewarding in the book.

Ultimately the book’s rather unambiguous message is that art should be critical and it should aim to voice an appeal to cause change in the viewer’s thinking. To what extent this critical aspect is explicit, or remains implicit in various interpretations is showcased by the author in citing a description of Carsten Höller’s slides, which represent the return of objects that mediate a certain experience. In presenting the art platform e-flux that Voorhies designates as the art work of Anton Vidokle, or the project unitednationsplaza (a substitute project for the unfulfilled plans of Manifesta 6) Voorhies outlines the strategies and forms art adopts in order to escape the pressures of commodification and spectacularization.

Beyond Objecthood can thus be read – apart from as a catalogue of names of still active curators – as a rather successful (and in concrete examples going in-depth) recourse into the history of art exhibition practices from the latter half of the 20th century up to the recent past, which articulates a number of questions most relevant for the present day, to which nonetheless the author does not present answers within this book.

 

Tereza Hrušková

 

Voorhies, James. Beyond Objecthood: The Exhibition as a Critical Form since 1968.Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2017. ISBN: 9780262035521.

 

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