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"Extreme Connoisseurship - How Traditional Study of Objects Can Be Adapted to Illuminate Current Works "
2001-12-08 until 2002-04-07
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard
Cambridge, MA, USA

The Fogg Art Museum and the adjoining Sert Gallery and Café will be the settings for Extreme Connoisseurship, a new exhibition of contemporary art that examines the way art is created in a so-called post-medium age. The exhibition will be on display from December 8, 2001 to April 7, 2002.

The Fogg’s decision four years ago to create a Department of Modern and Contemporary Art was, in a way, the genesis of this exhibition, said James Cuno, Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot director of the Harvard University Art Museums. Extreme Connoisseurship asks, ‘What can a museum dedicated to the research, analysis and contemplation of objects—connoisseurship—contribute to our understanding of contemporary art.’

The ways in which art gets made now are fundamentally different than they were in the periods around which connoisseurship flourished, but they still might benefit from the breakdown and close analysis extended to more traditional craft, said Linda Norden, associate curator of contemporary art at the Fogg Art Museum and curator of the exhibition.

Featuring video, film, photography, sculpture, and painting from the late 1960s to the present, Extreme Connoisseurship encourages the visitor to focus on the process the artist used to make the work, not on its appearance. I don’t think the form a work takes is all that matters, said Norden. I’m interested in how the way a piece is made informs the concept and our experience of the concept.

The exhibition suggests that our perception of a work of art is at least in part a function of the way a thing is structured and made, and explores the relationship between the act of making and the act of looking in a disparate range of media and moments. Each work emphasizes the part (isolated observations) over the whole (in the sense of a unified image).

The availability of technology that allowed independent films to be made in the early 1960s and videos later that decade led to a heightened interest in process on the part of artists. Extreme Connoisseurship proposes that even when artists did not work directly in film or video, the ubiquity of these media encouraged a broader interest in tracking discrete movements and viewpoints—in using repetition as a formal device and in focusing increasingly on time itself as a subject. Most of the works in the exhibition comprise a series of repetitive movements or isolated details.

On display will be a 1967 video from American artist and filmmaker Bruce Nauman titled Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square and a 1997 laser disc projection by David Hammons titled Phat Free. Looking at the two works, visitors will be able to see common structural elements and recognize some of Nauman’s thinking in the later work by Hammons. These works are so slow and uninflected that they force you to look for things, Norden said. Each of these films leads you to the visual acuity that artists tend to cultivate, though Nauman’s is a type of studio exercise and Hammons takes on an urban milieu.

The exhibition will also feature works that can be described as instruction-based art, a term coined by Sol LeWitt to distinguish his conceptual art from a more a priori approach. In instruction-based works, the artist first devises a list of instructions or a recipe for how to make the work and then sets out to create the finished product based on these instructions. The outcome, however, is never identical to the instructions. Extreme Connoisseurship will feature a finished cube and instructions for two unfinished cubes from a series by the late American sculptor Donald Judd (1928–94), a paired series of photographs by the American artist Roni Horn and a painting and related instructions by the Italian artist Rudolph Stingel. Richard Tuttle’s original drawings for his cloth works of the late ’60s are also instructions of a sort. Although the fact that they are drawings makes them appear more traditional, the drawings conceptualize specific movements and spaces, not the forms that the artist went on to construct. These works show that instructions are not formulae. They never reliably posit the artwork they propose.

The Fogg has commissioned a sculpture by Boston artist Alice Swindon Carter for the exhibition. Carter has proposed an over-scaled table of sorts, a constructed object whose constituent parts mimic and deconstruct specific elements in the Corbusier-designed Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts (which houses the Sert Gallery), such as its gridded fences and modular planes of glass. Carter’s work will be displayed on the terrace of the Sert Café.

Other artists featured in the exhibition are Bridget Riley, Gabriel Orozco, Marcel Broodthaers, Bas Jan Ader, Tacita Dean, Vito Acconci, Yvonne Rainer, Paul McCarthy, Lee Lozano and Paul Morrison.

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