Thesis Info

Thesis Title
Human Resources: Artistic Labour and the Limits of Critique in North American and Western European Art of the 1990s
Bill Roberts
2nd Author
3rd Author
Number of Pages
Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London
Thesis Supervisor
Professor Julian Stallabrass
Supervisor e-mail
Other Supervisor(s)
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
History of Art
Languages Familiar to Author
URL where full thesis can be found
Contemporary art, artistic labour, technology, 1990s, institutional critique, activism, networked art
Abstract: 200-500 words
This thesis examines the strengths and limitations of political critique in North American and Western European art during the 1990s, as these are revealed and refracted through both artistic and critical attention to the forms and conditions of artistic labour. I argue that the weight of significant practices and trends in critical art of the 1990s registers a gradual (tendential rather than total) shift away from a melancholic, recursive focus on the public, democratic ideal of the museum (as the dominant or determinant form of the art institution) as the salient model of artistic critique, amid profound social, art-institutional and technological changes during the decade. Gaining momentum especially towards the millennium, and to a considerable extent laying the foundations for the renewed visibility of diverse socially engaged and activist practices since 2000, the key shift in critical art during the 1990s takes the shape of a gradual expansion or redirection of critical energies towards a more explicitly political, and above all anti-capitalist, arena, following what amounted to the relative eclipse of this by the end of the 1980s. Changes at the levels of art’s form and forms of production are key indexes of this shift, marked by the new prominence of diffuse, collective authorship and the unravelling of the unity of the net-/artwork in emergent activist work. Moving from a ‘context art’ that is heir to the deconstructive ambitions of critical postmodernism, through ‘design art’ and ‘relational art’ currents, to the rise of networked anti-capitalist practices, the thesis pictures the 1990s as a decade during which institutional critique is progressively unsettled by, and squeezed between, the ongoing corporatisation of art institutions, the emergence of the art industry as a sophisticated economy of production, the derealisation of experience in postmodern society, and the rise of a counter-hegemonic network culture.