Written by Robert Dingle
In his paper delivered at the Tate Modern conference entitled Landmark Exhibitions: Contemporary Art Shows Since 1968, Carlos Basualdo proposed the passage from the 1960’s conceptualism to feminism and collaborative practices as a potential shift in our awareness from an historical understanding of the autonomous art object to an anthropological experience of art.
Basualdo begins with the tentative proposition of viewing art as an ecology, rather than examining it from the perspective of a collection of discrete objects or the relations between objects. Ecology, for Basualdo is formed in relation to systems, in which the event comes to signify large scale international exhibitions, a term which he determines (separately to Ralf Rugoff whom he references) as including the commercial activities of art fairs along side biennales and international museum exhibitions.
So why would the migration of autonomy be connected with large-scale international exhibitions? Basualdo begins with the 1960’s as the decade in which the Greenbergian notion of the autonomous art object was brought into question. He associates with it the emergence of the figure of the curator, a blurring of the boundaries between the artist, curator and critic and the dissolution of artistic medium. As the notion of autonomy became increasingly cross-examined so too were the places of its sanction. Museums became scrutinized, as exhibitions became the main vehicle by which these new forms of practice (these new forms of enquiry) came to manifest themselves.
Basualdo implies that the crisis of the autonomous art object (the crisis of the modern art object) could be described or folded into the increasing importance of the event. Stating that looking from the event permits us to describe more anthropologically this transitional period as ‘the unravelling of the increasing hegemony of the event that has not ceased to develop from that time onwards’.
What Basualdo situates to be at stake is the potential for us to pass from a restricted understanding of art based on the relationship of objects or the relationship of objects to certain subjects, towards a fully anthropological experience of art. One in which large-scale international exhibitions may have the ability to become a theatre for such anthropological deployments. Revisiting the first Venice Biennale Basualdo attempts to examine the conditions that brought it into being. Subsequent to determining four central motives (politics, publicity, market and tourism) he leaves us with little more than positing that a clear analysis would prove a useful tool in understanding the limitations of the event now. The purpose of which would hopefully act as a way to disentangle the event from the limitations that don’t allow us to explore what it may be in the future.
Basualdo’s shrewd and enlivening polemic inspires a rethinking of art history, redirecting the focus from the relationships between objects and towards examining the conditions of the event itself as a way of understanding the production of culture more clearly. However, what Basualdo neglects to declare is how this methodology would come to operate. What would an anthropology of art look like? And in what ways could it help us to disentangle the event from the limitations currently holding its potential back?