PRINT January 1980

Situation Esthetics: Impermanent Art and the Seventies Audience

At the end of the 1970s many artists are dissatisfied with the exclusive posture of the traditional avant-garde and seem to be seeking ways to extend the art audience without compromising their work. It could be argued that ’70s, as distinct from ’60s, art is characterized more by this change in attitude toward the audience than by a change in actual forms, or even content. The increase in the ’70s of “project,” performance, film and video art, all of which have their origins in the ’60s, would seem to bear this out.

(1) How has the artist’s perception of his/her audience changed in the ’70s?

(2) What shifts in emphasis, esthetic and otherwise, have the impermanence and specificity of project and performance art brought about?

I asked a number of artists who seem to be exploring this territory to comment on these questions. Not all replied, but those who did offer some provocative, if conflicting, speculations.
—Nancy Foote

FOR ME, A CHANGE IN attitude toward audience occurred, probably, not through release from gallery but through immersion in gallery. What I mean is: in the ’60s, before I could take for granted a showing-place for work, I concentrated on (was, for lack of anything else, forced to concentrate on) “art-doing,” on reasons for (and ways of) making art. A viewer, then, was treated as an assumption, a by-product. Afterwards, once gallery/museum became the understood location for my work, there was a choice to make: (1) use the gallery as a sign, as an information center for work that was really occurring elsewhere; or (2) use the gallery as the place where the “art” actually occurred.

The first choice, it seemed, meant turning the gallery into something it wasn’t—turning the gallery, in effect, into a book. By making the second choice, then, I was shifting my concentration from “art-doing ” to “art-experiencing”: an artwork would be done specifically for a gallery—in other words, for a peopled space, for a space in which there were gallery goers. The gallery, then, could be thought of as a community meeting-place, a place where a community could be formed, where a community could be called to order, called to a particular purpose.

All the while, there was, of course, the consciousness that the “community” here was an already won over “art-community.” The art public was, in effect, a substitute for “community,” but, at least, this was a way to work in a public rather than in front of a public. What this led to, paradoxically, was an approach avoidance with regard to specificity of audience. Since a piece was done for a particular place, since a course of pieces brought me from place to place, it became logical to treat the gallery as a model space, as a sign of the particular cultural place—historical/economic/political space—it was in. So, while on the one hand a viewer was a “you” that “I” was in an exchange-system with, on the other hand, the viewer became historicized, generalized, representative. Put it this way: two or three years ago, I thought of the viewer as sitting opposite me at a dinner table—but this was too “slow,” part of the general “theater” atmosphere that was the ’60s; more recently, I probably think of the viewer on a jet, in the air, maybe not a person at all but a line, a wiz, part of the general “television” atmosphere that is the ’70s.

—Vito Acconci

WHEN I BEGAN DOING PUBLIC performances, I tried to imagine that no one was there. I stared into the lights and talked to myself. My idea of the perfect performance was analogous to a bad movie. At a bad movie you notice the popcorn under your feet, the height of the armrests, placement of the exit signs, etc. throughout the film. At a good movie you fall away . . . and at the end it’s a mild surprise to find yourself sitting there.

In performances I tried to emphasize the flat-footed local effect—the physical aspects of the room—by sending standing waves through the room so people in the audience could physically feel the space they displaced . . . so that space could exist (as for the blind) in back of the body as well as the visually informed front; also by using images of architecture that commented on the volume and scale of the room rather than competing with it. I suspect now that spatial aspects of my work evolved as much from doing it in museum/gallery ’60s architecture as from my own ideas about space.

My attempts to engineer “real space” turned out, however, to be diagrammatic. I was doing a performance in Berlin when I suddenly heard a loud “z-z-z-z-z." It didn’t sound like feedback and I knew it wasn’t on tape. I looked out at an angle and saw several rows of Germans, arms linked, swaying from side to side and singing along to the tape. I wasn’t sure whether they were making fun of me or not. I never found out. But it was the first time I realized the audience was capable of changing the scale.

A few years ago I was in a night club in New York and saw Andy Kaufman, the comedian, actually shrink a room. He seemed to understand space in a way I had never considered. He was an expert at letting the energy level in the room drop off disastrously—to the point where people suddenly become aware that they are part of a half-drunk clientele crowded in a room waiting to laugh. The walls start to close in.

I learned a lot about space from Andy. For a while I was straight woman/audience plant for him. I was an angry women’s libber and my job was to heckle him until he said, “Yeah, well, I’ll only respect you when you come up here and wrestle me down.” Andy never just pretended to wrestle. We used to go out to Coney Island and ride the Rota-Whir—the cylinder that plasters you against the wall, stretching mouths into grotesque smiles, and then the bottom drops out. As soon as everybody is inside, the door is locked and about three minutes pass while the cylinder is checked. It was this time frame that Andy understood. The moment the door was locked he began to look panicked. “I don’t think I want to be here. I don’t think this ride is safe. Let me out. Get me out of here.” Suddenly the other riders’ mood changed, and they began to act like hijack victims. The bottom dropped out.

I have received and continue to receive psychological and intellectual support from the art world and believe that the structure and intentions of my work are best understood by other artists. However, in the past two years I have found myself doing as many things for nonart audiences as for art audiences. I don’t change the work according to the audience. As a result, it is now possible for me to think of American art as something that can enter culture in other ways, unescorted by institutional art intermediaries. Radio, T.V. and a variety of spaces—old movie houses, rock clubs, bars, V.F.Ws and amphitheaters—have become more accessible to artists who work in live situations. Using these channels makes it possible as well as necessary continually to revise my ideas about the flexibility of space—physical, electronic and psychological—and finally to learn to look at people. The art audience appears to be expanding and although I’m not that enthusiastic about going uptown to Ticketron to get tickets to something I used to just be able to go around the corner (at the last minute) to see, I think it’s interesting that there’s so much enthusiasm. It’s hard to tell who’s coming to these things, but I know that something’s different because now I receive a fair amount of letters that can only be described as fan mail. Nobody used to ask me what my favorite color is, what I like for breakfast, what I do in my spare time. Strangely, a few of the letters appear to be form letters, with multiple-choice questions.

I’m also interested in wider audiences because it takes performance art out of slightly ingrown situations (twice a year for the same three hundred people) and because it pays better to do things sponsored by Schlitz than the Museum of Modern Art. Besides, I have only one year left of declaring business failure before the I.R.S. changes my category from “profession” to "hobby”!

—Laurie Anderson

THE VERY IDEA OF AUDIENCE is reappearing. It isn’t just a question of the nature of the audience—what class or caste is reflected—but of the nature of the work’s relationship to audience. A new kind of relationship seems to be beginning to evolve, a deep shift beginning in our needs: toward a visual culture of design or applied art. The new descriptive phrases for this culture haven’t been coined yet, but it might be called public art. Not because it is necessarily located in public places, but because its content is more than the private history of its maker. It might be called popular art, not because it is a mass art, but because it is not an unpopular art, not a “difficult” or “critical” art. Visual art is moving away from the hermetic, the hieratic, the self-directed; toward more civic, more outer-directed, less self-important relations with social history. No mere maker of visual signs can be exemplary, can propose a sufficient moral authority or model of psychic liberation in a time like ours, a time convinced that it is proceeding toward apocalypse. Art just seems spiritually insufficient in a doomsday climate and it will probably take an increasingly relative position. It will place itself not in front of but around, behind, underneath (literally) the audience—in an operational capacity. (This doesn’t mean that monumental forms will die out. On the contrary.)

I see at this time two main mutations of art. They come out of sculpture and painting but leave them behind. One is a new architecturality. I mean the landscape architecture of George Trakas and the interior architecture of Siah Armajani. These artists have advanced beyond architectonic sculpture to the category of actual buildings, for the structures of Trakas and Armajani are not to be experienced for their own sakes. Instead, they shape or enhance—they operate on—the user’s experience (respectively, of the landscape itself and the social function). The audience’s use of these artists’ structures is their very meaning. The counterpart of this new building art is the new decorative art. Its makers have emerged from painting and will eventually renew craft; they do not use decorativeness as a theme of pictures but are rediscovering other categories of artifact—furnishings and architectural decoration. I mean the lamps of Harry Anderson; the screens, curtains and hangings of Robert Kushner, Jane Kaufman and Kim McConnell; the walls, floors and ceilings of Joyce Kozloff and Valerie Jaudon. Professional designers and craftspeople don’t have the powers of invention that these and a few other artists are being given by the historical moment.

Somewhere between these two new forms I locate my own objects, my furniture. And there is an important related artist who has appeared at this time, too—Judith Shea, the clearest, most advanced artist who produces wearable objects. Her work is clothing, not costume; she is rethinking the structure of Western garments much as Steve Reich rethought the structure of our music, and in a way that only an artist, as opposed to a fashion designer, has today the cultural freedom to do (for the art world still has its uses).

My own history in performance leads me to add the point that there is a parallel mutation toward audience-oriented work in this field. The pioneer of the emergent entertainment-performance, as opposed to the self-investigation of “conceptual performance,” is Alan Suicide. From the beginning, this music-artist took performance to real stages, to clubs and cabarets, and in the process was an innovator of contemporary personal style (Punk). Related is William Wegman, who introduced a classic means of audience accessibility, humor, into art, thus moving the visual culture away from video art and toward television.

All this will take several generations; it’s not just a matter of new styles which can appear and disappear within a decade. There are still painters and sculptors whose talents are large enough to give their art forms some historical vitality—though there are fewer and fewer.

—Scott Burton


Cement floors, polished waxed floors, slate floors, carpeted floors, old wood floors, white walls, formica table tops, elevators, spotlights, telephones, are recognizable familiar artifacts, objects, things that have become a replacement for the pedestal. How do these affect the content? . . . They no longer merely represent the art context, they are an indicator of taste that validates the art.

Work is not merely exhibited. It is given space, allowed room . . . which implies a decision, and control.

Duration of the sculpture is possession of a surface. The surfaces are the property of institutions, galleries, individuals, and as such the very identity of the institution is manifested in the dull or gleaming, streaked or freshly painted surface.

As a sculptor the marbles in my large works represent a permanent now. The audience enters the time frame of the work, not realizing that it will never leave it.

Are audiences to be probed, examined in much the same way that a work of art is scrutinized for its content, its antecedents, its meaning?

Does discontent compel the artist to search and explore new forms, ie. a new content?

To what degree has the person or persons designing the exhibition space also imposed his or her ideas on all future content? Is the putting down of a carpet an economic decision or an act of sabotage?

With a slight amount of persuasion one should be able to convince anyone that their apartment or loft is essentially a mini-museum.

The artist tends to think in terms of time slots, seasons, and spatial requirements, not of impermanence. Impermanence is a word that has a special meaning to investors.

Photographs, the ideal form of documentation of the political gesture, are also the best way for retarding impermanence.

Does a record of past and present taste also serve as a record of past and present possessions? Is the mailing list an audience selector or merely wishful thinking?

—Cecile Abish

I HOPE THAT ARTISTS ARE working away from the elite view and that “the public” is becoming more aware of contemporary art; that artists and art will serve some real function directed toward society, giving it the fruits of their struggles and searches, and society will nourish itself on these fruits and become healthier. The reality that confronts us at every turn is that “the public” looks quickly if at all at contemporary art, that too many artists are ambitious for themselves and not ambitious enough for their works. The very forms of art that were supposed to reach greater audiences have only formed their own elite groups. In video we reached the ridiculous situation of showing works in art galleries that were meant to be aired on television. We were put in that position because broadcasters refused to show anything but the most palatable work and never on a regular basis. This is understandable when you realize that you are looking at an industry that censors itself (from within) at every level.

In our manipulation of language “the avant-garde” is really also “the salon,” and we can’t see it because we are seated in the middle of it. The reply that artists can only be responsible for their own work, keeping it honest and pure, is defeatist and dangerous. What one must do is erode the system by affecting an uncompromising attitude in dealing with the art-world structure. This is the most difficult path possible because the results of one’s labors are almost nonexistent, but then there is no other choice. If enough erosion occurs over the years there will be an eventual change in the system and artists will have a closer participation with society. To me it sounds like Eden.

—Peter Campus

IT IS A CONCERN about boundaries, distances and scale, and the attitude they create, that has determined the form, content and location of my work. Because these works occur in other than traditional places they are seen by people who might not go into museums and galleries—but I think this is a byproduct of the nature of the work and not a motivation for it. As such I don’t feel a change in my perception of audience.

The resolution of a project depends for me on its relationship and dialogue with the elements of a particular site. I begin a project with a general concept whose final form and scale are very much determined by the specifics of the site.

—Richard Fleischner

SIXTIES ART WAS, IN GENERAL, internationalist, idealist and utopian in outlook. In various forms, the avant-garde myth survived. This myth believes that radical art (as radical politics is not feasible) should attempt to create another order, an order interior to art, which involves the erection of another (which is always “its” own) language. The structuralist rationale for this type of art is that, in purging ideological contamination from its formal language, it can serve as a paradigm for the rest of the society and its ills. This social contamination doesn’t come from day-to-day social issues, but from deeply underlying structural roots. It presumes that by solving problems within its own structure, art can create a new, purified language. This language is abstract and materialist; it searches for the underlying form-in-itself, the structure of the material-in-itself. Its claims are idealistic and universal—like those of science. And like the scientific method, it is (self-) analytic and reductive.

Another 1960s notion is that art should restore the perceptual/physiological immediacy (phenomenological elementalness) to things or to the perceiver’s sense experiences (which become things-in-themselves): art as pure consciousness or experience. This idea preserves the romantic belief that the individual is the center of the art experience; that art experience is not capable of being communicated in (ordinary) language; and that its content is not social or political. It objectifies art (and the art experience) to deny the subjectivity (and inter-subjectivity) of the observer(s) and the artwork—a subject(ivity) which is both a product of and produces a social-political reality. Instead of eliminating the physical art object, it creates another object (veiled): the spectator’s consciousness. Art’s responsibility is to raise the consciousness of the individual art spectator. Like the artist, the spectator is, ultimately, “on his her own.” This idea belongs to both “environmental” art and to “body” art.

“Conceptual” art of the late 1960s believed that communications media and “high” art categories could be merged. Formerly privileged, “high,” philosophical art ideas can and ought to be available in mass media forms apart from the art gallery structure. The problem with this assumption is that it is utopian and unconsciously elitist in its assumption that the abstract and idealist notions held over from the tradition of “high” art can be of particular cultural use to those who might receive the “conceptual” artist’s messages. Vernacular codes also must be considered as part of the communicational codes, as must the codes—specific, local and complex—that mediate the relations between the communicators and the public who use mass media.

Where 1960’s art was ahistorical and individualistic, some art of the 1970s begins at the juncture where some “Pop” left off (Lichtenstein in painting and Venturi in architecture are two models) and uses popular codes to address itself to social-political contradictions in the actual world. It examines social as well as art conventions. It situates itself between formal art categories and nonart categories: between art and architecture or between television, film, photography and art. Rather than reducing media tautologically to a single esthetic problem, it positions itself in dialectical relation between categories to allow it to relate to social factors and specific contextual meaning(s). Although it abandons reductive compositional strategies, it analyzes ideological contradictions expressed via cultural conventions and stereotypes. It is conscious of history, as well as memory. Although it is not utopian, it is political. If focuses on the communicational or the institutional codes, taking into consideration the fact that the media codes of television, film, advertising, and photography are the dominant modes of discourse in American culture. The art of the ’70s attempts to make a synthesis of two forms: entertainment and political analysis strategy. It wants to enter the media directly, utilizing media’s existing genres—documentary, drama, popular music, comedy, discussion, etc.—without trying to create novel, innovative forms for their own sake. In place of esthetic innovation, it will employ textural deconstruction, narrative and distancing devices as strategies for dealing with ideologically loaded content.

— Dan Graham

NEW YORK IS THE ONLY place where I find the friction and intensity I need to work out my art. But the art world can stifle as well as stimulate—most of my ideas come to me when I am away from New York. Ideally, I would like to live six months a year at my sculpture sites, and six months in New York, where I can work on videotapes, films, photography and drawings.

Paradoxically, reaching a larger audience is also the result of making a work in the middle of the desert. Art in the landscape decentralizes art consciousness; awareness flows from the cities to the rest of the country. Local perceptions are affected, local art myths are formed. Art is again among everyone, not isolated, and very much a part of our surroundings.

Although I made some impermanent indoor and outdoor installations in the early 1970s, my emphasis has always been on works that last and have an ongoing sense of time about them.

Both the room-sized indoor installations and the large-scale works in the land envelop, engulf, surround, contain, and a contrast between inside and outside is set up.

A perceptual structure is built into the sculpture. The work can be seen only in durational time—the time it takes to see it from many points of view and from both inside and outside. The “audience” moves through and around the work in order to perceive it.

The sculptures sometimes indicate natural cycles or positions in space (solstices, compass directions, North Star, constellations), but to experience these works it is not necessary to know they indicate universal directions or patterns—that is part of my private world.

My art includes its site as an essential part of the work. Rather than only working within and incorporating a “given” site (such as museum or university grounds), I have often selected the site-place itself (the Utah desert, a Montana ranch, a Rhode Island beach), further emphasizing the context in the work of art and the content of the landscape.

All of the sculpture has been site-specific, but on the other hand, most of the videotapes and all of the films exist by themselves and can be seen in a variety of circumstances. For a decade now museum and gallery exhibitions have become only one of several ways of showing and making art. If I can select a site and buy the land to make a permanent outdoor work, and if I can show video and film in a broadcast or theater situation—where does that leave the traditional museum and gallery institutions which, until recently, housed almost all art? For me, museums and galleries are limited to showing only part of what I do—early sculpture, drawings, photo-documentation, along with some screenings of my videotapes and films.

—Nancy Holt

THE RADICAL CHANGE THAT POP art worked during the ’60s in the relationship of contemporary art to the public also alienated certain collectors, hitherto the mainstay of artists. For the first time popular magazines and newspapers could write articles on contemporary art for a wide audience. This trend, started in the ’60s, has continued and strengthened in the ’70s. The position of the collector is being replaced by a large, amorphous, less dedicated audience. More public monies, more show places from museums to nonprofit galleries, have created a box office for art that never existed before. Performance art intensified this attitude. Art now could be a one-night stand. Conceptual and photographic art could travel in a briefcase. Film, video and slides are all vastly more portable than oils or sculpture.

All this has increased the public’s exposure to and desire for art but at the same time has lessened the value of the art object. The idea of the art and of the persona of the artist are emphasized. No great artist has ever been able to satisfy the demands of a large audience in terms of actual production. Now, with this larger-than-ever public, it is even more impossible. So the work is reproduced in publications, books, magazines or shown in video and cinema. Artists can become famous without most people ever seeing the actual work.

Along with the waning power of the dedicated collectors to influence the course of art, we see the critics replaced by the journalists. The art goes more directly to the people. If it is not successful in one country, there are always others. To some extent Pop art, Minimal art, and certainly Earth, Conceptual and narrative art exhibited what I call the Jean Seberg effect—they became famous in Europe and then later in this country. So we arrive at an audience that is increasingly cosmopolitan, as opposed to the audience of the early and mid ’60s, which, in terms of contemporary art, was stridently parochial.

Of course we could claim that all this talk of audience participation is of no matter to the artist. Perhaps what is going on behind the scrim is not found at the box office. The secure and mature artist will continue to do work that pleases himself before it pleases others. This task, however, is becoming ever more difficult. There are too many external pressures: from the growing potential audience; museums, and galleries seeking to attract larger attendance; public funds and commissions to be won. These preoccupations sap creative forces.

It will be interesting to see which artists can withstand the winnowing effect of all these pressures; will the audiences eventually finish up with the best artists, or only the most popular and accessible ones?

Personally, I think that the most gifted and strongest artists will, as they have in the past, survive whatever pressures are put upon them. On the other hand, I think there will be less strong-minded ones that will be corrupted. Further there will be droves of performers, rather than artists, that will be created simply to fill the demand. Those in this last category will, of course, be dropped as soon as someone more entertaining comes along.

—Peter Hutchinson

THERE ISN’T ANYTHING I HAVE to give large audiences, any more than there is anything they have to give me. A few years ago I still hoped for the short circuit to the untutored audience—much as the French students wanted to connect with the workers. I’m now convinced that kind of audience question is a dead issue.

But I’m glad I passed through that hope in the ’70s. It helped me understand what allows art to be made and what keeps it in its place. There’s a great contradiction between being an artist and seeing how art depreciates as it is passed irreversibly through the sets of social agreements that make up our culture. So instead of a large audience, I’ve had to settle for a small, immediate one. That is not a position to be glamorized or referred to flattering models in other disciplines.

We’re always vulnerable to constructing what at best you could call P.R. and at worst morality for the predicaments we sentence ourselves to. But the temporary—making available a set of conditional circumstances in a particular place for a short time—has certain uses for me. With most installations you are in and out before your work gets numbed and familiar. All you have is the present. You avoid the market—which co-opts intention and content—and history (the great perverter) is kept at bay. History, as modernism understood it, turned out to be just another piece of disposable content.

So in terms of the audience and the temporary, I find myself back near where I started from, wiser, but more vagrant. In placing a few things in the memory (a large subject) you place them in an extended present—creating sight-lines, as it were, in the mind. This is much more meaningful than illustrations in a book. From my point of view, I suppose that’s the change in emphasis you mention. Duration is not important, I think. Nor is the future as benign or as attractive as it once was. It has a different color now. It is no longer an amiable potency with good judgment. It’s more like the past—occupied territory.

—Patrick Ireland

NO, I DON’T THINK THERE has been a noticeable change in attitude toward the audience.

It seems that the listing “project, performance, video” in itself emphasizes a change in form rather than attitude.

What is the content, subject matter of these newly emphasized forms? It appears that it has largely remained consistent with previous developments.

Address these questions to the “audience.” Find out if there is a larger public or a difference in their reactions; whether recent work makes it any more possible to integrate “art” into their lives. I doubt that they are aware of any great change.

That is not to say it isn’t possible to extend the visual and spatial experiences of art, to have them recognized by a larger audience. Everyone is affected by their immediate visual environment. And if someone goes as a tourist to the grounds of the Meiji Temple or Cypress Gardens, Florida, there will be a recognition of a place, enjoyment of an atmosphere. These experiences can be integrated into an acceptable context.

I feel that the boundaries of art can become less restricted while at the same time addressing the issues more directly.

One of my interests in working in the environment is that it is possible to do work where the form and content are less confined: there are greater variety of locations, richer cross-references to existing structures, an extended viewer experience. It is important to me that in these outdoor sculptures the work is taken back to the context it comes from (direct references to the landscape, building techniques, vernacular structures), linking it more directly with its original sources. The dialogue is extended rather than contained.

—Mary Miss

I WOULD LIKE TO TALK about the development of an early work, the first work of mine which can be called a sound installation. It was a radical departure from the current, and still prevalent form of production of sound art, i.e. the arrangement where a group of people gather together at a specific time and place and watch and listen to a usually smaller and more specialized group make sound.

I had spent the previous ten years functioning wholly within this context and had come to know it intimately. I felt it had a number of flaws, the major one being the onus of entertainment, a serious burden for any art form. (The visual arts seem to be free from it, while music, dance, and theatre are forced into it, at some level, by the form of the presentation itself.) I also felt I was dealing with an extremely small segment of my society (many of whom were deafened by overexposure to the music of the 18th and 19th centuries). My first opportunity for departure on a large scale came in Buffalo, a city with an unusually large music-loving public and, at that time, a center devoted completely to contemporary activities. I felt it was important to do a work which would be accessible not only to that music public, but also to those who were not initiates to those particular rituals. One problem I saw was making it accessible without being obligatory, not an easy task with sound in a public place.

The idea began with the realization that most people spend a great deal of time in their automobiles (something I’d forgotten, having spent the previous ten years in New York). Most of them listened to sound in their cars over the radio. I didn’t know much about the inner workings of electronic equipment then, but I did remember that singers sometimes used “wireless” microphones that actually broadcast a short distance to a radio receiver. It seemed like the ideal solution. I decided to form the piece with a large number of these placed in different positions along a stretch of roadway, each one broadcasting a different continuous sound. Since the transmitters broadcast only a short distance I could shape the area covered by each sound by attaching an antenna wire and placing it in the shape I wanted that sound to occupy. It solved the accessibility/obligatory problem (a listener had to tune to the piece) and allowed a complex set of possibilities.

The location I chose was a broad, tree-lined avenue called Lincoln Parkway. The piece began at the main entrance of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and ran south for half a mile. The trees provided a good location for mounting the transmitters and antennas. I began gradually, setting up one transmitter, broadcasting different sounds, driving through them, listening to them over the radio, getting a feel for how they arrived and departed as I drove through them. Then using two transmitters I tried different antenna configurations, listening to how they interacted and mixed with each other on the car radio, gradually building the piece south.

The work was finished in October of 1967 and ran through April of the next year. It wasn’t easy; I was taken into custody several times—but then I hadn’t learned my disguises yet, nor had I much verbiage, and I had no knowledge whatsoever of the anatomy of the institutional beast.

—Max Neuhaus

SOME YEARS AGO, I STARTED extending my painting beyond its prescribed boundaries. In order to understand the limits and reaffirm the validity of painting by hand onto static, transportable surfaces, I approached such practice not only from inside its assumed connotations but also from the outside—in words and in what later came to be called performances and installations.

I am unwilling to renounce the exercise of personal sensibility and theoretical speculation as they are possible with brush and paint. But I also think that esoteric paintings should not be pushed as an essential commodity on a public which does not necessarily need them. They should be available as a field of experience to whoever feels prepared to enter it and is willing to make an effort toward it. Other, less esoteric ways are at hand, the data of which can be received by the public in a more explicit manner.

I don’t want to privilege any one aspect of experience in my work. I fear specialization and normative attitudes as strait-jackets hampering the free interplay of creative forces. Instead of bending my specialized medium to various purposes, as artists have done for so long, I look now for the characteristics inherent in each situation I form, whether it be a transportable canvas or a fixed environment, and find the mixture of ingredients appropriate for it.

Instead of bending my specialized medium to various purposes, as artists have done for so long, I look, now, for the characteristics inherent in each situation I form. This includes the viewer.

I find that different media offer different degrees of accessibility. Audience behavior in each situation has become for me one more component to acknowledge and combine. Even though I can not predict the public’s taste and preference, I must study the decoding mechanisms my work sets in motion.

The avant-garde was doctrinaire and puritanical as pioneers are. Now that the pioneering and dictionary making phase of modern culture is concluded, we seek a flexible interplay of actions, affecting and reflecting experience in its changing flow.

This flexibility means that, while some situations that artists set up my may be specific and impermanent, others may be general and lasting.

It’s important not to establish any hierarchical preference among them.

—Lucio Pozzi

FOR THE MAN IN THE street, bricks are still only good for making houses, no matter how self-righteously they lie on the floor. However great, ethical art itself does not make an ethical world. We are all part rogue, saint, hunter and victim.

I’ve learned more in the street from and given more to Josefa (Paris), Cucho and Hollywood (Lower East Side) and Mendelez (Berlin) than from or to the artworldly.

And I’ve learned more from watching the small brained genius of the Caddisfly larva building its house by attaching blade after blade in an ascending spiral around its body as it grows than by studying the works of large-brained architects.

I’ve always thought of my work as transsocial, transpolitical, transsexual and transparent(al).

I see a relationship between the rehabilitation of building shells through Sweat Equity and the hermit crab’s primal mode of reinhabiting abandoned shells. Only when we can envision the sun rising on our transparent plastic plumbing and when we are able to realize how we devour our lovers in the act of mating will we love the person in the street as much as we love our own vainglorious art.

—Charles Simonds

THE EXCLUSIVENESS OF THE avant-garde arose from a failure of the art to deal with issues relevant, not just to artists, but to the society as a whole. It seems to me that all great art has derived its meaning not only from artistic quality but from the social needs of the time. Our overriding social need is to develop a sensitivity to nature so that we can preserve our planet. My art has always dealt with this, but the attitude toward my involvement with these issues has changed.

In my case, I sense a shift in the attitude toward my art, rather than a change in my relationship to the audience. The Time Landscape is an example. The wide public enthusiasm for this project on La Guardia Place would not have been possible in the ’60s. Perhaps, as you suggest, it is the existence now of so many artists now trying to extend the audience of art that created this present climate.

—Alan Sonfist

FOR ME A CHANGE IN thinking about the audience began with including the audience in the work. I did not present a set theory. I did a series of images in which I combined simultaneous images of people in motion in both black and white and color. The performance aspect of my own dance with and among the people to obtain the images became the audience’s perceivable dance of eye/mind movement when viewing the images. The audience was given a multiplicity of choices in the final works to observe meaning in gestures, motion, perceptual changes from black and white to color, in invented time sequences between the frames. The audience could build its own syntax of esthetic pleasure or intellectual work. It was open.

—Eve Sonneman