Some of the most innovative art of the past decade has been created far outside conventional galleries and museums. In a parking garage in Oakland, California; on a pleasure boat on the Lake of Zurich in Switzerland; at a public market in Chiang Mai, Thailand—artists operating at the intersection of art and cultural activism have been developing new forms of collaboration with diverse audiences and communities. Their projects have addressed such issues as political conflict in Northern Ireland, gang violence on Chicago's West Side, and the problems of sex workers in Switzerland. Provocative, accessible, and engaging, this book, one of the first full-length studies on the topic, situates these socially conscious projects historically, relates them to key issues in contemporary art and art theory, and offers a unique critical framework for understanding them.
Grant Kester discusses a disparate network of artists and collectives—including The Art of Change, Helen and Newton Harrison, Littoral, Suzanne Lacy, Stephen Willats, and WochenKlausur—united by a desire to create new forms of understanding through creative dialogue that crosses boundaries of race, religion, and culture. Kester traces the origins of these works in the conceptual art and feminist performance art of the 1960s and 1970s and draws from the writings of Mikhail Bakhtin, Jürgen Habermas, and others as he explores the ways in which these artists corroborate and challenge many of the key principles of avant-garde art and art theory.
List of Illustrations
Preface to the 2013 Edition
1. The Eyes of the Vulgar
2. Duration, Performativity, and Critique
3. Dialogical Aesthetics
4. A Critical Framework for Dialogical Practice
5. Community and Communicability
Grant H. Kester is Professor of Art History at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Art, Activism and Oppositionality: Essays from Afterimage , and The One and the Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context.
“It’s strange, then, that it has taken so long for work that isolates art’s communicative power. . .to be given a full critical write-up. Maybe it’s because this kind of art, as Kester says, directly questions whether critics are needed to explain art to people when the art communicates on its own. It’s also difficult to write aobut work that leaves no material remains when te performance is over. Conversation Pieces nobly records and analyzes dialogical art with a respect that very few critics have offered thus far.”—Evan Nicoll-Johnson Flaunt
“A much-needed discussion regarding a practice that is too often ignored. We need a dialogue about what community art is and could be. . .We need more discussions like Kester’s that question the traditional roles of artists and audiences.”—Kristen Rhodes Public Art Review
"A definitive study of a coherent and fascinating set of art practices. Kester makes the concept of dialogical art more textured and complex with each new work he discusses, providing both richness of description and depth of understanding. Without being authoritarian or heavy-handed, the book is definitive, exhaustively researched, and comprehensive. It is likely to remain the premier resource of information on community-based dialogical art for years to come and will be required reading for all courses that deal with the social implications of art."—Norman Bryson, Professor of Art History, University of California, San Diego, and Senior Researcher, Jan van Eyck Academy, Maastricht, the Netherlands
"Grant Kester has written a book of great insight, compassion, and civic courage. By treating the relationship between art and democracy as pedagogical, performative, and ethical, he revives our understanding of the importance of civic engagement, solidarity, conversation, and public intervention. This book is brilliant, brave, and enormously informative. Read it, buy an extra copy, send it to friends, and make sure every student and adult in North America becomes aware of it."—Henry A. Giroux, Waterbury Chair Professor of Education and Cultural Studies at The Pennsylvania State University and author of The Abandoned Generation
"Equally well-read in theory and contemporary art practice, Grant H. Kester has spent the past ten years analyzing the nature of community and communication in modern art, engaging diverse thinkers, past and present, such as Immanuel Kant and Miwon Kwon. With the publication of this important book, he takes on a new exchange, one between himself and his readers."—Moira Roth, Trefethen Professor of Art History, Mills College