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The Inherent Politics of Art

by frank news
December 14, 2018

Andrea Fraser, a performance artist and professor at UCLA, and John Miller, an artist, critic and professor at Barnard, on bureaucracy, politics, money, identity and art. 

1) Andrea Fraser on Art, Money, Politics, and Power | October 28, 2018

Do you have a proposed solution? Ways in which you think that these institutions should be financed? Is the answer to collect small donations?

That’s one solution. I have done quite a bit of research on the history, not only of arts organizations in the U.S., but also of philanthropy, the nonprofit sector, and trusteeship. When you take in the whole picture, it gets harder, unfortunately, to envision change. But when you extend that picture beyond cultural organizations and the nonprofit sector to include civic, professional, and other kinds of community organizations, one does find other models. In the visual arts and in the big cultural and educational institutions, the model is self-selecting and self-perpetuating boards who are usually required to make personal financial contributions, which collapse patronage and governance.

But there are many other types of organizations that have board elected by the membership, in a democratic process, and in which all the members support the organizations directly through small contributions and participate in governance.

I know of almost no cultural institutions in America that have that structure. I do know of cultural institutions in Europe that have that structure, such as Kunstvereins, or art associations, in Germany, which have histories that go back to the early part of the 19th century. They are supported by their members, who also elect the board and participate in governance.

There are a lot of organizations that have that structure. Museums have not, for the most part, had that structure, although there are museums in the book that started out as art associations.

Museums in the United States developed as private nonprofit corporations; they did not develop as democratically governed or structured institutions.

2) In The Studio With John Miller | October 10, 2018

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I think we are in a period where many are laying claims to identity based on a set, and it's not even ill-intended, but it just seems natural that some sense that identity is trans-historical or something. That's one of the problems of that.

We like to think of identities as permanent, but I think they're in large part contextual, and historically relativistic. 

One thing I often think about is the definition of black that we ordinarily ascribe to skin color. But, if you go far enough back in U.S. history, Irish and Italians are categorized as black. It shows how it has to do with social hierarchy and shifts in that. 

One funny thing that happened to me over the summer was that we have friends who teach in Koln and Dusseldorf, we did visiting artist spots with them and when we were in Chris William's class, we spoke to several of his students, and they did presentations. Interestingly, none of the work was about identity. Not even the work of a trans-woman in the class.

In the US, it would be like, oh, if you're trans, you would have to do work about your identity, but this woman wasn't. It's not what her focus was at all.