Exhibition Essays

Number Nine Reviews

December 2002

Curative Acts: Curator's Review

Kristelle Plimmer

This exhibition began as a discussion on fake art. What makes an object a work of art? How do we define art? Who decides what is art and what is not? Who sets the parameters? Is an object a work of art by reason of being placed in an art institution? What happens to a non-art object in that context? Can anyone make art or do you have to be an artist to do so? Can a person who refuses that label, nonetheless, make art? Can a rhinoceros paint and, if she can, is the rhinoceros an artist? Is art accidental or determined, and by whom?

There are two main schools of thought in this field – the functionalists and the proceduralists. The functionalist view is that an object becomes a work of art if it fulfills the function of art whereas the proceduralist view is that art is determined by the context of its creation. Functionalists hold that art must provide a rewarding aesthetic experience and proceduralists that there are rules surrounding creative activity that, if adhered to, the outcome will be a work of art. The third way is the institutional theory of art which states that art is codified and structured by those who play a part in its production and consumption. This includes artists, curators, critics, collectors, dealers, museums, galleries, art historians, academics and the public. The institutions that surround art have a determining role in deciding what a rewarding aesthetic experience is, and in mediating the consumption of those experiences. Curative Acts set out to examine and reveal that mediating role and the ways in which artistic significance is determined and made obvious to a viewer by the exhibition techniques and practices of professionals within art institutions.

Monroe Beardsley was emphatic in his rejection of the readymade as art. Duchamp, he claimed, had not exhibited Fountain (1917) as an art object, but as a way of proving that there were limits to what was acceptable or understandable as art. The fact that something is exhibited in a gallery, and that it comments on, or refers to, a theory about art does not necessarily confer the status of art upon that object. Conversely, George Dickie and Arthur Danto would both say that Fountain (1917) is art because it follows the procedures and conforms to the institutional practices that allow an object to be understood as art. Significance, in this instance, is afforded by the continuing discussion on the artistic status of the readymade, the academic and institutional consideration given to the practice of exhibiting readymade or found objects and the veneration that Duchamp's original pieces are accorded by collectors and the art market.

In Curative Acts the question of fake art became the quest for art and the viewer was exposed to the methodologies and practices of art institutions. This allowed them to determine their own response and, within the boundaries that they set, to decide the significance, or otherwise, of the object as art.


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Novitz, David. The boundaries of art. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.
Preziosi, Donald. The art of art history: a critical anthology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.