Andrea Fraser

Generali Foundation

In her “Project in Two Phases,” 1995, Andrea Fraser investigated the role of the art foundation of EA-Generali (the cultural arm of a well-known Austrian insurance company), wrote a “report,” and proposed an “intervention.” Informed by the work of Pierre Bourdieu, Fraser is well aware of how self-interest can masquerade as idealism. But what happens if the investigated institutions and their representatives do not construct any false appearances? When they readily admit to using art as a means of promoting themselves and of cloaking themselves in the aura of high culture?

Commissioned by the foundation, Fraser interviewed members of the board of directors, the executive council, staff council, and even the foundation itself. The report in which excerpts from these interviews appear were intended for “internal use” only. The publication of this report depended on the foundation’s assessment of it, as is clearly stated in the project description; it was approved for public consumption because it did not contain anything compromising.

In addition to compiling this report, Fraser transferred the works on paper that hung in the offices of the executive council into the new exhibition hall. A nice glimpse into the Austrian art of the past two decades, or, perhaps, a nice exhibition that has the advantage of not competing with the new hall. The bare walls in the offices of the main building could be viewed during the exhibition as a “negative installation.” It was difficult to decide which of these was the less interesting. The equally unexciting “report” continually repeated the expected.

Fraser conscientiously completed her self-appointed task of articulating the inner conflicts of the organization through the art placed in the foundation. One learns that what some understand as the “enterprise of culture” others experience as “art terrorism.” But even that was to be expected, including the kinds of criticisms of contemporary art that crop up all the time: art only addresses an informed elite, or creating a corporate identity through art doesn’t actually relieve any of the tensions within a company. Judging from the many conversations and the collected material, one can assume that the foundation and the directors will resolve these contradictions. The client had contracted Fraser precisely for such services “even though she serves as a representative of ‘institutional critique’ or even more because of it.”

In a recent lecture, Fraser touched on the oft repeated question: Why is she invited at all by institutions if she is so critical? According to Fraser, her services are solicited because institutions are not discrete entities, rather they are comprised of various, at times competing, sectors, and she is invited by one side in order to critique the other. It seems that Fraser is no longer concerned with institutional critique—fulfilling the interests of the private sector is suddenly equally valid. Even when Fraser pointedly criticizes the action of her client—for example, that a standing authoritarian order regarding how the premises should be divided contradicts the firm’s philosophy of “participation”—this critique is understood as a worthwhile contribution to the perfection of the firm’s administration.

What kind of interest would someone who has nothing to do with the firm have in these problems? This company does not represent a micro-society whose conflicts reflect those of society as a whole. For example, the art placed throughout company headquarters appears to be resented by employees primarily because it occupies areas that employees feel are “private.” It is viewed as a permanent symbol of corporate control. Reaching this level of understanding of Fraser’s project is only possible if you have the time and the skills to read a 100-page report written in management lingo. In contrast to Fraser’s earlier works, in which an audience was directly addressed, the relationship that exists between the EA-Generali Foundation and Fraser places those not unfamiliar with the upper echelons of corporate culture firmly outside the installation.

Christian Kravagna

Translated from the German by Franz Peter Hugdahl.