Cesare Pietroiusti and relational art


“An artist’s intervention in an urban context should not be easily recognizable as art. I prefer ‘Who knows what that is?’, rather than, ‘It’s art, so it’s not intended for me’. “ – Cesare Pietroiusti, taken from the MIT press website

This quote by Pietroiusti (whom I mentioned before in this post) I think is emblematic for the relational approach to contemporary art, in which the viewer (in Pietroiusti’s work often participant) plays a central role. Just to make a point (and to explain why often people think art is not intended for them) I’d like to put a quote by the painter Rothko on the other end of the line:
“To take a picture out into the world is ‘an unfeeling act’. How often it must be permanently impaired by the eyes of the vulgar and the cruelty of the impotent.” (1)
Underneath the personal and deep disgust Rothko expresses about his possible audience, lies a more fundamental thought common in this time. It’s the idea of the purified and transcendental viewer, liberated from the mundane and the banalities of popular culture, ready to step into the enlightened, sanctified realm of the artist. Absolutely not to be taken lightly, as proved by another quote from minimalist Barnett Newman:
“Harold Rosenberg challenged me to explain what one of my paintings could mean to the world. My answer was that if he and others could read it properly, it would mean the end of all state capitalism and totalitarianism.” (1)

Seems like these guys were getting a little too ‘high on their own supply’. It also shows how a relational approach to art – which involves the emancipation of the viewer; someone to be taken seriously and the sole person who can impregnate art with purpose and meaning – has been born out of an existential necessity. Because I wonder if we could still think of a legitimate reason for art, if we would have continued to despise our audience, look down on them like little, silly people. I think I might have considered a career shift myself…

For better ways of addressing and involving audiences, please read:
1. Grant H. Kester, Conversation pieces, community + communication in modern art, 2004, University of California Press, London Engeland

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