Monday Night — 04.19.04 — Field Trip — Andrea Fraser at Cooper Union

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1. About this Monday Night
2. Andrea Fraser Links +
3. Article in New York Times (posted June 2004)
4. Next Monday — Andrea Geyer + Yates McKee
1. About this Monday Night
What: Public Interview – Discussion – Screening
When: 6:00pm, Monday April 19th, 2004
Where: Great Hall, Cooper Union NY, NY
Who: All are invited
As you know from time to time, something really interesting is happening
on Monday Night outside of our space. And tonight, we would like to invite you to a field trip to see Andrea Fraser’s talk at Cooper Union.
The evening will begin with a brief introduction by Robert Rindler and
lead to a talk by Andrea about her work and a video of “Official
We look forward to seeing you there and for the discussion which will
Also, stay tuned, next monday we are pleased to invite Andrea Geyer and
Yates McKee to 16Beaver for a discussion/presentation.
2. Links ++
How to Provide an Artistic Service: An Introduction
Four Texts on Artistic Service
Recent Artforum Article
Brief Bio
Allan McCollum | Andrea Fraser
(circa 1993)
Conversation with Andrea Fraser
Andrea Fraser:
How do I look?
Christian Phillipp Müller:
It’s ok?
Andrea, do you like it to be on TV?
Well, sure, it’s exciting, you know, not so many people get a chance to
be on TV! Not so many artists, certainly. I don’t know if it means I
will be famous, exactly. Artists usually become famous through history,
through institutions and not on TV. Artists usually address themselves
to history rather than to a TV audience.
How important is it for you that the TV audience knows your work?
We may have to start this all over again! Perhaps it would be helpful
for me if you could ask me more specific questions, so that I can kind
of orientate myself to speaking here? Because the more general
questions, you know, I respond more abstractly and can really get into a
… But anyway …
I mean, would it be specific if I asked you like in the beginning: What
exactly is your profession?
Well, I am an artist.
That is not exactly the answer I wanted to hear, you know.
And what was the kind of answer you were thinking of, then? A more
descriptive answer of what I do?
Yes, about your tours!
Ok, well if you want to … So, the camera is running! I think we end up
mad of having an interview about an interview, which would not be so bad
perhaps! Well, I have conducted about four gallery talk performances;
that is performances in form of gallery tours and at museums. The first
two were in 1986 and they were for temporary exhibitions in New York,
one in a museum and one in an artists run space. And then, a couple of
years later I started working more specifically about the history of art
museums in the US and did a video tape in the form of a conducted museum
tour. Later on I did a tour at the Philadelphia Museum of Art which is a
kind of encyclopedic museum in Philadelphia. It is very common in the US
that most museums have a staff or a volunteer staff of usually women who
are called “docents” who give tours in museums. They are usually trained
by the education department.
And do you think that those people talk the language of their audience?
Well, that is hard to know because any audience speaks a lot of many
different languages. In the US, I guess that this can be said of most
museums in any way that deal with modern and contemporary art, the
primary operation of art museums is the transformation of, one could say
“bourgeois domestic culture”, into public culture. It was quite clear in
the US where many of the museums were organized around “period rooms” or
domestic representations which did not have a strictly historical
reference but rather referred to the domestic environments of the
collectors and patrons of the museums. There are so many “house museums”
and things like that … This turning of a class-defining domestic
culture into a public culture that museums affect is affected first by
that displacement, moving from a home to a museum, but then with the
introduction of systems of classification and criteria of value whereby
particular objects of determined interests, art objects, are separated
from the other objects that constitute their entire domestic environment
and as such also make up their social location. The introduction of
these systems of classification and criteria of value is something
that’s done in museums through forms and practices that I would call
“educational”. They might not be strictly educational in terms of the
organization of the museum; they might not come out of the “education
department”, but they are introduced and expressed through a kind of
supplementary material that museums produce and introduce around art
objects: like museum tours, like wall labels and wall texts, explanatory
texts, like posters. These are the forms I tend to work with and that I
worked with in the past. It is also something that is done in the
installation of objects and that is done in the selection of the
objects. It’s done in the establishment of a
collection which always is done by excluding, by what is outside of that
collection. Collections are established by excluding. How much further
can I go with this?
I don’t know!
But this is probably too academic in the language!
No, it’s ok!
My general conception of what art making is or what I would like to
think of as my artistic practice is an attempt at a functional or
effective intervention in the context in which I function. But I think
of that context as primarily being constituted as a relationship or a
set of relationships. So, with museum tours these relationships are my
relationship to the institution, the audience’s relationship to the
institution and the audience’s relationship to me as an artist or as a
docent, if I am presenting myself as a docent.
I like to think about art making as a kind of social practice, as a
social activity as opposed to strictly a kind of specialized activity
that is about producing a particular kind of object. As a social
activity what I am involved in has primarily to do with a kind of
education or is a relationship to education. When I work in museums it
is specifically in relationship to how museums go about educating a
public about art. And one can think about programs like this functioning
in similar ways museums function, as doing the work of public education
about a relatively autonomous and exclusively defined field that is then
also very much abstracted or separated from the everyday experience of
culture, of most people’s lives. What I am interested in in working with
museums is a kind of “counter education” to this. It is trying to create
a situation where other understandings of culture and other
understandings of art objects are possible. And not only from my
position, but also from the position, from the location of people who go
to museums who might be outside of the tradition in which I work. So, I
think that people can understand art for example not only in terms of
what artists intend, but also in terms of how they experience it
For me what is at stake in one’s relationship to cultural objects is
one’s relationship to one’s history, say one’s familiar history in terms
of the culture that constituted once the domestic environment in which
one grew up, or collective history to the extent that this history is
represented in culture, one’s relationship to one’s contemporary
environment, contemporary domestic environment or urban environment,
one’s relationship to one’s body to the extent that fashion and norms of
self-presentation, you know, are very much part of culture, and the
taste that determines one’s relationship to cultural objects or art
objects is continuous with the taste with which one determines one’s own
self-presentation. So my working with museums very much has to do with
what happens when a particular model of culture is legitimized in a
public sphere, and what the experience of that public is of that
I have no more questions.
Is that enough? God, it is so dry!
What do you mean with “dry”?
The way I have been talking!
Oh, no!
It is very dry a way. The performances I do are actually very funny.
Vienna, February 1993
3. Article in New York Times (posted June 2004)
Sex, Art and Videotape
My first thought was, If I’m going to have to sell it, I might as well sell it,” the artist Andrea Fraser said last week, speaking from a downtown studio. Fraser was referring in a starkly literal sense to her work’s medium: a fit 38-year-old brunette in a sexy red V-necked dress, who is in fact herself.
Fraser’s videotape ”Untitled” (2003) was scheduled to go on view at the Friedrich Petzel Gallery in Chelsea on June 10. In it, the artist is seen having sex in what some have characterized coyly as ”every imaginable position,” with an unidentified American collector who paid close to $20,000 to participate in this curious 60-minute work of art.
As ”Untitled” begins, Fraser enters a hotel room, her hair swept fetchingly to one side. The setting is standard-issue Hip Hotel: the videotape was filmed, using a single overhead camera, in a room Fraser identified as being at the Royalton Hotel in Manhattan, owned by Ian Schrager. The artist is carrying two glasses, white wine in her left hand and what looks like a highball in her right. The collector enters, and then begins a filmed seduction whose detailed contractual terms were worked out in advance by the artist’s gallery. Among the requirements for participation in ”Untitled” were that the artist’s potential collaborator be heterosexual, unmarried and, of course, willing to underwrite the transaction. ”All of my work is about what we want from art, what collectors want, what artists want from collectors, what museum audiences want,” Fraser explained. ”By that, I mean what we want not only economically, but in more personal, psychological and affective terms.”
It would be easy to conclude that Fraser’s intellectual apparatus might have cooled the ardor of the most passionate suitor. That it did not may say less about Fraser’s persuasiveness than about the seductive spell that contemporary art-making seems to cast.
For Fraser, ”Untitled” was, she explained, ”not a literalization of what is, in fact, a very old metaphor, that selling art is prostitution,” a point that was made with pithy precision by Baudelaire. ”This is not ‘Indecent Proposal,”’ Fraser added quickly. And it is not — or not quite.
In Adrian Lyne’s notorious (and highly successful) stinker about a billionaire (Robert Redford) who pays for a night with someone else’s wife (Demi Moore), Moore says to Redford, ”You can’t buy people.” He replies: ”That’s a bit naive, Diana. I buy people all the time.”
There may be some Demi Moore naivete operating in Fraser’s work, peering from behind the verbiage of a brand of thinking known as ”institutional critique.” ”Andrea’s work has been about exposing the mechanism of the whole art system,” explained Dan Cameron, senior curator at the New Museum. ”In this case, she’s playing a little bit with what the act really is that takes place between an artist and a collector. It underscores the paradox of ownership and pushes it into a realm that hasn’t been so pointed before.” That may be. But when Fraser remarked that she wanted the transaction underpinning ”Untitled” to be ”normal to the extent that it could be,” she was perhaps forgetting that, in any number of ways, it already is. Article 230 of the New York State penal code refers, quite straightforwardly, to the sort of exchange ”Untitled” immortalizes as prostitution. It is safe to assume that transactions just like it are taking place this very minute in hotel rooms around the world. But those enterprises, unlike Fraser’s, lack the frisson of what the art press tends reflexively to call ”transgressive.”
Far from being the first artist to use her body as a medium for producing art or polemics, Fraser is one in a long — if not in every case distinguished — line of provocateurs. Back in the 1970’s, Carolee Schneemann pulled a paper scroll out of her vagina at a performance, and Hannah Wilke adorned her body with sculptural multiples of vulvas cast in hardened chewing gum. A decade later, the performance artist Karen Finley smeared her naked torso with chocolate syrup and publicly performed acts — using a yam — that are not advisable to mention in these pages. For many years, Annie Sprinkle, a sex worker turned artist, gave performances at which she invited members of the audience to examine her cervix through a speculum.
Stunts designed to set art-world sensibilities aquiver are practically a rite of career passage. Who can forget the stir caused when a buffed-up Jeff Koons transformed sexual acrobatics with his wife at the time, the Italian porn actress Cicciolina, into a highly lucrative series of glass sculptures and photographs? Or when the godfather of transgression, Vito Acconci, in his legendary ”Seedbed, 1972,” secreted himself naked beneath a ramp on the floor of the Sonnabend Gallery in SoHo, muttering obscenities as he . . . well, never mind.
You might have imagined that most people would be inured by now to shock art and accustomed to the notion that works like ”Untitled” are no more morally challenging than an average episode of ”Temptation Island.” But you would be wrong. As soon as Fraser’s show was announced, the tabloids went on high alert. ”Talk about interactive art,” huffed the lead item in The Daily News’s gossip column, later putting the word artwork in scare quotes, lest anyone miss the point.
The oddest thing about all this is that Fraser is both a savvy and a fairly well regarded artist. (A midcareer retrospective of her work, organized by the Kunstverein in Hamburg in the fall of 2003, is currently on view at the Dunkers Kulturhus in Helsingborg, Sweden.) What’s more, she has demonstrated a certain knack for skewering the foibles of the contemporary art world in her pieces, mostly videotapes of performances that hilariously depict her lampooning the bloated lingo of much art critique; the egomaniacal ravings of artists who believe their own fawning press; and the orgiastic cult of museum worshipers.
In her 2001 video, ”Official Welcome,” taped at a private collector’s house, Fraser delivered a monologue that mimicked, as one critic noted, ”the banal comments and effusive words of praise uttered by presenters” during gatherings intended to introduce avant-garde artists to wealthy patrons. Then she gradually stripped to her Gucci thong and high heels and portentously announced: ”I am not a person today. I’m an object in an artwork.” Any resemblance to persons living and working under the name Vanessa Beecroft — who once posed numerous models, some in thongs and Gucci stilettos, some in nothing at all, in the atrium of the Guggenheim in New York — was altogether intentional.
”This is one of the most complicated pieces I’ve ever done,” Fraser confessed to me, laying out her considerable fears for the anonymous collector — that his reputation might be damaged, his feelings hurt, his identity exposed. If Fraser’s emotional engagement tends to compromise a project based on satire and debunking, it also calls up another, older sort of story — that of the hooker with the heart of gold.
Guy Trebay is a reporter for The New York Times.