In a system that will eventually transform into commodity any artwork initially conceived to fight the materiality of the art market, many artists have directed their practise towards pushing the boundaries of the contemporary structure, forcing institutions to develop new solutions for the acquisition of artworks. As a matter of fact, parallel to the artist’s conceptual experimentations, museums have invested much time and energy into developing a structure which, based on the recognition of an exhaustive system of documentation, allows for the preservation of the immaterial. Is it then possible to continue pushing the boundaries of materiality in contemporary art? And, if so, what reaction has this triggered within the art world?
Tino Sehgal, the German based author of the Turbine Hall commission ended the 28th of October at London’s Tate Modern, focuses his practice on live installations that are sold, transferred, and ‘conserved’ without the use of material conditions. The artist rejects the use of documentation, avoiding the possibility that this may, in time, come to stand in for the work. Despite such immateriality, his work is created to operate within the conventions of the art world, embracing its institutions and its market. In fact, the museum is still the only institution capable of investing the time required to find solutions for the perpetuation of these particular installations.
Because the sale of performance art is already a complex topic, and the practice is quite recent –Tate Gallery bought its first performance (Roman Ondak’s Good Feelings in Good Times, 2003) in 2004- a universal standard is yet to be formulated. In Seghal’s case, when museums purchase his works, they gain the right to re-enact them within the conditions precisely described by the artist at the moment of acquisition. His sales are made solely on the basis of verbal agreements in the presence of a notary and lawyers; and nothing tangible is acquired.
Sehgal’s practice has triggered a varied response from within the art world, and the strategies developed to manage his work have, at times, been criticised. An interesting example of such antagonism is voiced by Fred Forest, the French media artist who, in 1994, had already denounced the Centre George Pompidou, claiming for more transparency in the acquisition records of the museum. In 2011, Forest returns with a new controversy concerning the purchase of Sehgal’s This Situation (2007); for him, Seghal’s policy of avoiding a formal receipt of the purchase is a manipulation of the art market, which encourages the museum to buy cash works that have an immaterial form, and don’t exist on paper, once again, escaping the transparency required from a public organ. The dispute is still open, and Forest’s reservations are further accentuated by the existence of an e-mailed receipt, received by the Centre Pompidou from the artist’s gallery, Marian Goodman, considered by the French artist to be ‘compromising the intellectual, moral, and commercial value of Sehgal’s work, depriving the piece of its symbolic value of “immateriality”.’
With their provocative, but active positions, artists such as Forest and Sehgal keep the debate ignited, stimulating new practices but also new responses.
*Ambra Gattiglia is a research student in Exhibition Studies, at Central Saint Martins, University of Arts London. Ambra has a Master in Contemporary Art Theory from Goldsmiths, University of London and a BA in Visual Art and Theory, obtained at IUAV, Venice.
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