Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gender and the Work of Art


from "Minimal Art", by Richard Wollheim (1965):

[I]t would seem that our existing concept of the work of art has built into it two propositions, of which the first can be expressed as:

Works of fine art are not types, of which there could be an indefinite number of tokens;

and the second as:

There could not be more than one work of fine art that was a token of a given type.

The second proposition needs to be carefully distinguished from another proposition with which it has a great deal in common: i.e.

There could not be a work of fine art that was of a type of which there was more than one token;

which, I want to suggest is clearly false.

For this third proposition would have such sweeping and totally objectionable consequences as that a work of art, once copied, would cease to be a work of art. It is indeed only when this sort of possibility is quite artificially blocked, by, say, a quasiempirical belief in the inimitability of genius, that this Draconian principle could even begin to acquire plausibility.


I suspect that our principal reason for resisting the claims of Minimal Art is that its objects fail to evince what we have over the centuries come to regard as an essential ingredient in art: work, or manifest effort. And here it is not an issue, as it was in certain Renaissance disputes, of whether the work is insufficiently or excessively banausic, but simply whether it took place at all. Reinhardt or Duchamp, it might be felt, did nothing, or not enough.



  1. Duane Hanson's "Queenie II" seems to operate as some sort of liberal 'third way' here:

    From Ukeles' manifesto:

    Two basic systems: Development and Maintenance. The sourball
    of every revolution: after the revolution, who’s going
    to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?
    Development: pure individual creation; the new; change;
    progress; advance; excitement; flight or fleeing.
    Maintenance: keep the dust off the pure individual
    creation; preserve the new; sustain the change;
    protect progress; defend and prolong the advance;
    renew the excitement; repeat the flight;
    show your work—show it again
    keep the contemporaryartmuseum groovy
    keep the home fires burning
    Development systems are partial feedback systems with major
    room for change.
    Maintenance systems are direct feedback systems with little
    room for alteration

    PDF: http://www.feldmangallery.com/media/pdfs/Ukeles_MANIFESTO.pdf

    From which you would assume the set-up of her work is a straight agonism between spontaneously creative late-romantic modernism and maintenance art: rarefied geniuses v. cleaning staff. But it seems like her work had more to do with contemporary theoretical and artistic reactions to the 'mechanical reproducibilty of art' as an issue, and the manner in which this was at the time becoming a legitimised, curated and idealised 'problem' in contemporary art history.

  2. yeah...

    Wollheim starts off his essay distinguishing fine art from literature (why a blank page can't be a poem), but is mainly distinguishing fine art here from film/photography (though without mentioning it). This just when that distinction really crumbling for idealist theorists of art who ignore production and value creation; and the type rather than the token is attaining a status in a romantic conception of art precisely because it seems to escape degradation by the filthy mercantile attitudes of dealers and collectors. But Ukeles' work - alongside most performance, ordeal, etc - is neither type nor token. It's uniqueness is not assailable in any way. But suddenly the uniqueness of the work is inimical to its trasnformation into a receptable of value (the opposite of the work (noun)). Nonetheless the value produced is not just evaporating or instantly consumed - it's attaching to other things. Kind of obviously to the urinal. Not only do museums and art objects have to be maintained. The other non-art tokens of the urinal have to exist and be cleaned too for the art token to be what it is. She doesn't refer specifically but it comes to mind especially, of course.

  3. so the core, which the bourgeois theory sedulously avoids, is value production, expropriation and accumulation.

    she doesn't discover "attention" labour in the production of the value of what's in museums, but she does discover, basically, the whole realm of labour (not the celebrity signer artist's but the rest) to which it belongs that is not noticed and the suppression of the awareness of which gives rise to all the mysteries of artness (which is a substitute discussion for the mysteries of art's value) which preoccupy the bourgeois theorists.