The Event as a Privileged Medium in the Contemporary Art World
4–5 November 2011

Friday, 4 November, 11 p.m.–7 p.m.

Saturday, 5 November, 10 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

Museum of Modern Art (Moderna galerija), Cankarjeva 15, Ljubljana; admission is free.

Symposium schedule (.pdf).

Abstracts of the lectures and speakers CVs.


The Context

In recent years, European institutions of contemporary art have been organizing an enormous number of the most diverse events, sometimes dozens of events a week at the larger institutions. The events are of very different natures – guided tours, workshops, openings, late-night parties, scholarly symposiums, lecture series, all sorts of artistic events, and so on; nevertheless, it is clear that they have become a significant part of the institution’s offering and a means of communication between it and the various publics around it. Today we expect a certain “liveliness” from the contemporary art institution, an expectation that (somewhat paradoxically) encourages, on the one hand, continual change in the form, content, and format of events (a differentiation in subject matter, design, and concept; the spatial and temporal extension of events; etc.) and, on the other hand, their standardization, which is the logical result of their “conveyor belt” production and delivery. Events – both artistic and non-artistic – are carried out in the same environment and before similar audiences; they are produced, publicized, and discussed in the media in similar ways; and most importantly, they are conceived, produced, and combined into programmes by the same people in the institution.

The discourse of the visual art field reflects this state of affairs in part. For a long time now, it has devoted much excited and enthusiastic attention to the event, its potential and omnipresence. But there is a gap in this discourse that is becoming increasingly evident: namely, it thematizes only selected artistic events and deals much less with other kinds of events – those that do not possess the nominal designation “art” – although within the institutional offering these probably outnumber the artistic events and, ultimately, merge with them in forming the total “speech” of the art institution.

The symposium, then, will try to come to terms, on a general level, with the event-orientation of the art field and art institutions; it will explore, as thoroughly as possible, the meaning of this general change in the nature of the work of art institutions, which only a few decades ago were calmly and quietly exhibiting “static” art production on walls and pedestals.

Within this context, we will discuss in particular two mutually dependent topics.

1. The contemporary art institution continually invites people to attend things and enters into the most diverse kinds of interactions with them; thus, it is becoming the site of new social structures in which it seeks to involve the individual, and in fact is succeeding in this, to judge by the large response of visitors. Today the interaction created by the art institution through its events embraces everyone – from the large segment of occasional “lay” exhibition-viewers to people who might visit the gallery several times a week and are shaped by gallery events more firmly into a specific community. Here the event shows itself to be a medium of connection that appears to possess great power, and play an important role, in the formation of temporary or more permanent communities.

2. Institutions, or rather their curators, join the different events in the right patterns, to create a kind of balanced institutional discourse. Indeed, it seems that the larger institutions need to have a mixed programme with similar iconography and subject matter, while narrow thematic or other kinds of specializations belong only to smaller exhibition spaces. The “event speech” of the larger institutions around the world spans a broad, but identical, range of themes – from the extremely “negative” (violence, pornography, etc.) to the “positive” (“saving and improving the world”, giving gifts to viewers, etc.) – with explanatory and theoretical events surrounding the artistic ones in a kind of “balanced diet” in a story that has been entirely standardized. The speeches of the institutions differ from one another only as kaleidoscope images do: the various patterns are always created from the same components. Clearly, the tendency in the art system is towards the ever-greater reproducibility of events, with identical artistic, theoretical, and explanatory events being repeated in different parts of the world.

We will ask ourselves such questions as: What kinds of speech and iconography are thus created, and why? What kinds of communities are thus formed, and why? How are all these things included in the general operation of society and how do they behave as a contemporary ideological apparatus?

The art field seems to be, in this sense, an entirely unreflected structure, although its event production has reached extraordinary dimensions thanks to the large and ever-growing number of art institutions. In this context, we should also emphasize explicitly the fact that in recent decades art institutions have not only preserved and exhibited contemporary art, but they have also been commissioning and producing it (along with all the other events). Because art institutions have thus become commissioners of contemporary art, similar in type and dimension to what the aristocracy and the church once were, it seems all the more necessary to consider in precise terms what such processes mean.

To answer these questions as fully as possible, we have decided on having invited speakers only and a well-considered interdisciplinary structure that brings together researchers in the areas of events, methods of human community formation, art, the art system, and iconography. Confirmed speakers: Luisa Accati, Thomas Fillitz, Dario Gamboni, Werner Hanak-Lettner, Bojana Kunst, Henrietta L. Moore, Robert Pfaller, Renata Salecl, and Roger Sansi-Roca.

Symposium concept and direction: Beti Žerovc