Reevaluating the Object of Collecting and Display

By Rorimer, Anne | The Art Bulletin, March 1995 | Go to article overview

Reevaluating the Object of Collecting and Display

Rorimer, Anne, The Art Bulletin

The work of art as a physical object singularly rooted in time and place and bearing the weight of its commercial status was redefined in the latter half of the 1960s. Two decades have come and gone and yet museums with collections of contemporary art have not met the challenge presented by the ground-breaking practice of many of the leading artists of our time. Because it has built ideas involving the problematics of collecting and display into its very content, the art of Dan Graham, Marcel Broodthaers, Daniel Buren, and Michael Asher deserves particular consideration here.

These artists have anticipated the recent revision of attitudes toward the place of the art object within the context of the traditional contemporary art exhibition by thematically examining how and where a work literally and figuratively stands in relation to its institutional setting. They have, moreover, participated in laying the groundwork for the current debate surrounding museum collecting and display as this has been taken up by a younger generation of artists as well as by historians and curators.

Outside of temporary installations in the United States and abroad, the works of these and other artists, as well as the thinking behind them, have not been adequately represented by museums, which are generally resistant to radical artistic change.(1) Because of this resistance, museums run the risk of not educating their public about alternatives to conventional notions of collecting and display at the very time they still can acquire works that most successfully broaden aesthetic horizons.

Specific works by Graham, Broodthaers, Buren, and Asher exemplify how each, along with others of their generation, have called the commodity status and collectibility of the traditional work of art into question. In different ways, their work has taken stock of the socioeconomic factors underlying the conditions of the contextual placement of art in order to make manifest hidden realities informing institutional modes of display.

Already in the mid-1960s, Dan Graham (American, born 1942) had precociously and incisively noted that works of art depend as much on economics for their support as they do on physical walls. His magazine pieces, which he abandoned in 1969, are crucial to any appraisal of recent artistic innovation. Having run his own gallery from 1964 to 1965, Graham experienced the economic realities behind the idealized "white cube."(2) He reflected: "I saw contradictions in both the work and in the gallery structure I was part of. After the gallery closed, I began to make art which I felt could resolve some of these contradictions through bypassing the gallery structure altogether."(3)

Graham placed his first works of art in magazines, coming to the idea of using publications as a context. Figurative (1965), one of a number of Graham's magazine works,(4) appeared in Harper's Bazaar in March 1968. A section of an actual cash-register receipt, with the amounts paid for numerous inexpensive items aligned in standard columnar fashion (placed arbitrarily by Harper's Bazaar) is bracketed on page 90 between two advertisements, one for Tampax and the other for a Warner's bra. Representational material and presentational method are thereby fused in that the work is to be seen simultaneously on the page and inside the magazine that contains it. The shopping receipt, signifying the result of a commercial exchange, contrasts with the two surrounding ads signifying the potential for such an exchange. Figurative, thus, not only brings the commodity status of art into view but also makes it part of its thematic content. Additionally, it hitches the cash receipt, otherwise a free-floating and unanchored "found object," to the timeliness of a magazine-itself in circulation-instead of to the purported timelessness of a gallery space.

Marcel Broodthaers (Belgian, 1924-1976), in his few but poetic and alluring installations, similarly sought to resist the creation of a single object that, passing through the commercial system, would seek its final resting place in the museum without serving a self-critical and social function.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Reevaluating the Object of Collecting and Display


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.