J. FIONA RAGHEB is Associate Curator for Collections and Exhibitions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
In rejecting the terms "sculpture" and "environment" for his work some forty years ago, Dan Flavin recognized the increasing inefficacy of such historically bounded terms. Favoring a more fluid approach, he instead chose to refer to his installations as "situations" or "proposals" in recognition of their tangential character. Today, institutions are struggling to hold on to a roller coaster ride that has only become increasingly bumpy with the proliferation of "new media" art. In a climate that requires one to log-on in order to tune in to much of this work, its hard to believe that a scant ten years ago, the Guggenheim's acquisition of a major collection of minimal and conceptual art--including significant holdings of Flavin's work--caused consternation in some quarters because many of the works existed not as static objects, but conceptual outlines committed only to paper. [pi]
Spearheaded by my colleague Jon Ippolito, the Variable Media Initiative suggests a range of responses that vary from the conservative (the stockpiling of hardware to which Sutton refers and which is not so new in view of the work of Flavin, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and others) to more sweeping possibilities anticipated by the artists themselves that may yet be ahead on the horizon. As a paradigm that has been developed not solely around the rubric of new media, it outlines a more broad-based strategy in which the seemingly incompatible work of artists such as Meg Webster and Mark Napier both can be construed as "performed." Indeed, by eschewing formal typologies in favor of behavioral approaches open to the fluidity of these emerging conditions, it acknowledges that the wholesale adoption of existing medium and form-dependent models would but reinscribe the very biases that the discipline has only recently begun to shed. [pi]
As a behavioral model, the initiative articulates a performative dimension that is not fixed but fluid, not congealed but contingent, such that a work can be simultaneously installed, performed and interactive, thus upsetting a predisposition toward mutually exclusive categories. Such a non-hierarchical strategy echoes the Guggenheim's curatorial structure as well. Somewhat atypically, the curatorial body functions as a mutable entity that is not compartmentalized according to firmly maintained divisions between painting, sculpture, photography, prints, new media and so on. …