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Unformatted text preview: t have sprung up since the 1980s under the aegis of “new
genre public art .” But does the fact that the work of Sierra and Hir schhorn demonstrates better democracy make it better art? For many cr it ics, the answer would be
obvious: of cour se it does! But the fact that this quest ion ar ises is it self symptomat ic
of wider trends in contemporar y art cr it icism: today, polit ical, moral, and ethical
judgment s have come to ﬁll the vacuum of aesthet ic judgment in a way that was
unthinkable fort y year s ago. This is part ly because postmodernism has att acked the
ver y not ion of aesthet ic judgment , and part ly because contemporar y art solicit s the
viewer’s literal interact ion in ever more elaborate ways. Yet the “birth of the viewer”
63. Ibid., p. 62. 78 OCTOBER (and t he ecst at ic promises of emancipat ion t hat accompany it) has not halted
appeals to higher cr iter ia, which have simply returned in other guises.
This is not an issue that can be adequately dealt with here. I wish to point out
only t hat if t he work Bourr iaud consider s exemplar y of “relat ional aest het ics”
wishes to be considered polit ically, then we must address this proposit ion ser iously.
There is now a long tradit ion of viewer part icipat ion and act ivated spect ator ship in
works of art across many media—from exper iment al German theater of the 1920s
to new- wave ﬁlm and the nouveau roman of the 1960s, from Minimalist sculpture to
post-Minimalist inst allat ion art in the 1970s, from Beuys’s social sculpture to 1980s
socially engaged per formance art . It is no longer enough to say that act ivat ing the
v iewer tout cour t is a democr at ic act , for ever y art work— even t he most “openended”— determines in adv ance t he dept h of part icipat ion t hat t he v iewer may
have with it .64 Hir schhorn would argue that such pretenses to emancipat ion are no
longer necessar y: all art— whether immer sive or not—can be a cr it ical force that
appropr iates and reassigns value, dist ancing our thought s from the predominant
and preexist ing consensus. The t asks facing us today are to analyze how contemporar y art addresses the viewer and to assess the qualit y of the audience relat ions it
produces: t he subject posit ion t hat any work presupposes and t he democr at ic
not ions it upholds, and how these are manifested in our exper ience of the work.
It can be argued that the works of Hir schhorn and Sierra, as I have presented
them, are no longer t ied to the direct act ivat ion of the viewer, or to their literal
part icipat ion in the work. This is not to say that this work signiﬁes a return to the
kind of high-modernist autonomy advocated by Clement Greenberg, but rather to
a more complicated imbr icat ion of the social and the aesthet ic. In this model, the
kernel of impossible resolut ion on which ant agonism depends is mirrored in the
tension bet ween art and societ y conceived of as mutually exclusive spheres—a selfreﬂexive tension that the work of Sierra and Hir schhorn fully acknowledges.65
In t his light , t he mot if of obst ruct ion or bloc...
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- Spring '09