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artistic labor

Strike by the Professional and Administrative Staff Association of the Museum of Modern Art, supported by the Art Workers’ Coalition, outside the Museum of Modern Art, New York, August 30, 1971. Photo: Jan van Raay.

BEFORE AN ARTWORK can be exhibited, before it represents or refuses to represent anything, before it can be dealt, sold, or collected, there come research and planning, gathering tools, purchasing materials, and even alerting networks. Whether the outcome is an object, document, gesture, or performance, it is, obviously, the result of labor. When Nicolas Bourriaud describes an artwork as “a dot on a line,” it is this indivisibility of labor and result that he seeks to capture. But it is not the “line” that museums and collectors covet—it is the “dot,” perhaps most appropriately envisioned as a red sticker. In this near-feral market, the artwork has increasingly become the focus, which probably explains why so little attention is paid to the conditions of artistic labor, even among artists themselves.

This was not always the case. Contrary to the oft-cited canard that artists

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