Magazine article Artforum International

Public Relations

Magazine article Artforum International

Public Relations

Article excerpt

FOR EVIDENCE OF ART'S recent love affair with "interactivity" and "connectivity," one need look no further than the pair of digital art surveys currently playing at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. For less literal proof, however, one might consider the recent appointment of Nicolas Bourriaud as codirector, with Jerome Sans, of the newly created Palais de Tokyo contemporary art center in Paris. As a young critic in the '90s, Bourriaud offered one of the earliest readings of the emergent metaphors of artistic production engendered by information culture. The name he coined for his ideas--"relational aesthetics"--would become the title of his first book of criticism in 1997 and one of the more frequently heard catchphrases, at least in Europe, when it came to the practices of artists like Rirkrit Tiravanija, Philippe Parreno, Liam Gillick, Pierre Huyghe, Maurizio Cattelan, and Vanessa Beecroft, all of whom were included in Bourriaud's 1996 exhibition "Traffic" at th e capcMusee d'Art Contemporain in Bordeaux.

Relational aesthetics was formulated at an auspicious moment in the technological arc of '90s art. Midway between the critical and socially diffuse ethos of institutional critique at the beginning of the decade and art's full-tilt into entertainment and digital production by decade's end, it might be said that Bourriaud anticipated the future by looking backward. Hardly a techie, Bourriaud was greatly influenced by critical art's focus on the sphere of reception, which had newly privileged questions of site and audience, and on the social network of art itself. By the mid-'90s, however, the artists with whom Bourriaud worked most closely tended to locate their practices not in relation to art's own apparatuses but in the metaphorical (and often literal) spaces colonized by mass media and spectacle culture. In Bourriaud's framework, artists like Tiravanija and Beecroft had become postpolitical producers of cultural services: get people together, give them some terms, provide an experience. Indeed, against the quintessentially late-'90s backdrop of dot-comism and user empowerment, relational aesthetics seems most a product of its time. With Bourriaud's third book, Post-Production, due out this fall (Lukas & Sternberg) and the English translation of Esthetique relationnelle (les Presses du Reel, 1997) set to appear later this year, I sat down with the curator in February in the start-up-style offices of the Palais de Tokyo to ask him how his ideas are evolving.

BENNETT SIMPSON: How will the Palais de Tokyo differentiate itself from the other museums in Paris that exhibit contemporary art?

NICOLAS BOURRIAUD: The Palais will be the only space devoted exclusively to contemporary art in Paris. We want to be a sort of interdisciplinary kunstverein--more laboratory than museum. [Palais codirector] Jerome [Sans] and I believe that it's impossible to understand what's going on in contemporary art if you don't address disciplines like music or literature or movies or fashion, but our thinking about this will be driven by art's problematics. The museum will also be open from noon until midnight. Why do museums and art centers copy bankers hours? Besides, we prefer to think of the evening as the best time for our kind of proposals.

BS: The impetus for the Palais seems very much a response to your local context and history.

NB: Yes and no. I don't think it's possible to have national models anymore. We've tried to shift the problem. For us, Paris is just a city where a lot of interesting people live. It's a meeting place, like New York. Our idea is not to sell France, but to situate the Palais in the international circuit from the vantage point of Paris. We prefer to be a kind of satellite--a spot for production and broadcast.

BS: As a critic in the '90s, you began to speak of what you called "relational aesthetics." Was this a critical strategy, or was it more a reflection of a zeitgeist? …

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