James Voorhies: Beyond Objecthood

  • Cover of Beyond Objecthood:The Exhibition as a Critical Form since 1968, James Voorhies, published by MIT Press, 2017.

Book Talk

  1. Sep 19, 2017, 6 – 8 pm
Level 3, Bookshop

James Voorhies discusses his recently published book, Beyond Objecthood:The Exhibition as a Critical Form since 1968, with Dan Byers, John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Director.

In 1968, Robert Smithson reacted to Michael Fried’s influential essay “Art and Objecthood” with a series of works called non-sites. While Fried described the spectator’s connection with a work of art as a momentary visual engagement, Smithson’s non-sites asked spectators to do something more: to take time looking, walking, seeing, reading, and thinking about the combination of objects, images, and texts installed in a gallery. In Beyond Objecthood, James Voorhies traces a genealogy of spectatorship through the rise of the exhibition as a critical form—and artistic medium. Artists like Smithson, Group Material, and Michael Asher sought to reconfigure and expand the exhibition and the museum into something more active, open, and democratic, by inviting spectators into new and unexpected encounters with works of art and institutions. This practice was sharply critical of the ingrained characteristics long associated with art institutions and conventional exhibition-making; and yet, Voorhies finds, over time the critique has been diluted by efforts of the very institutions that now gravitate to the “participatory.”

Beyond Objecthood focuses on innovative figures, artworks, and institutions that pioneered the exhibition as a critical form, tracing its evolution through the activities of curator Harald Szeemann, relational art, and New Institutionalism. Voorhies examines recent artistic and curatorial work by Liam Gillick, Thomas Hirschhorn, Carsten Höller, Maria Lind, Apolonija Šušteršič, and others, at such institutions as Documenta, e-flux, Manifesta, and Office for Contemporary Art Norway, and he considers the continued potential of the exhibition as a critical form in a time when the differences between art and entertainment increasingly blur.

James Voorhies is a curator and art historian of modern and contemporary art. He is Dean of Fine Arts and Associate Professor of Contemporary Art at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where he oversees the programs in the visual arts. Prior to CCA, he was the first John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Director of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University. Voorhies has taught contemporary art and curatorial practice in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard, art and public space at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, and art history and critical theory at Bennington College in Vermont. He holds a Ph.D. in modern and contemporary art history from The Ohio State University and is the founder of Bureau for Open Culture. His book Beyond Objecthood: The Exhibition as a Critical Form since 1968 was published by MIT Press in 2017.