New York

Andrea Fraser, This meeting is being recorded, 2021, UHD video installation (color, sound, 99 minutes), six chairs. Photo: Alex Yudzon.

Andrea Fraser, This meeting is being recorded, 2021, UHD video installation (color, sound, 99 minutes), six chairs. Photo: Alex Yudzon.

Andrea Fraser

The remarkable accomplishment of Andrea Fraser’s genre-defying career has been to meld the disparate domains of feminist performance and institutional critique, a maneuver assisted by the invention of fictional female characters, among them a museum docent, a news reporter, an artist, and a matron. In many of Fraser’s narratives, these personae, uncomplicated and guileless at first, grow increasingly complex as they deliver streams of facts and historical data that are the substance of the artist’s investigations. They might be earnest or comedic, polite or raunchy, but the discourses they deliver—like the worlds they represent—are real. Her expert ability to challenge the status quo was on full display in an exhibition that presented, among several classically Conceptual documents, a selection of three videos that included two vintage pieces—Welcome to the Wadsworth: A Museum Tour, 1991; Reporting from São Paulo, I’m from the United States, 1998—and a new tour-de-force performance, This meeting is being recorded, 2021.

In the videos from the 1990s, Fraser directs her laser focus at the political ideologies of two art institutions—the small civic Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, founded in 1842, and the sprawling international São Paulo Bienal. Her subterfuge, as always, is one in which she appears to blend in, as if in sync with the agenda of the respective institutions she critiques. As the enthusiastic guide in Welcome, she breezes through the genealogy of the Wadsworth’s white founders and their families while exalting the museum’s values. Yet, as she extols the virtues of heritage, tradition, and patriotism, she manages to reveal a more toxic persona, acknowledging that she is a “Daughter of the American Revolution.” She then rants about the deplorable immigrants living in squalor around Hartford’s historic town square while arguing for a “purified America.”

When invited to participate in the 1998 São Paulo Bienal, Fraser transformed herself into a sunny news reporter who appears to promote the event’s official agenda, which champions cultural diversity. In addition to chatting with one of the artists at the opening, she interviews some of the show’s real-life principals, including the curators, the moneymen, and even Brazil’s minister of culture. She never challenges or interrogates them, but simply lets them respond to her softball prompts. By inferring that she’s “one of them,” her subjects candidly reveal the backstories of the corporate sponsorships and business arrangements that are their markers for “success.” Nobody really cares about or understands the art, or for that matter the disadvantaged populations they profess to educate.

In This meeting is being recorded, a single-channel, ninety-nine-minute video, Fraser plays seven different people, primarily white women, who meet for a session of “diversity and anti-racism training.” The artist’s monologues are based on interviews she conducted with several women who, according to the show’s press release, “apply psychoanalytic group-relations methods to the task of examining their internal racism and their roles in white supremacy.” Fraser appears life-size on a large monitor; the chair she occupies is the same as those in which we are invited to sit, and she frequently addresses the audience directly. We are all entangled in the problematic, soul-bearing excursus Fraser orchestrates. One character emphatically announces that she’s having a very hard time. She wants to feel safe, but alienation is her constant companion. She’s overwhelmed by problems of male domination, white fragility, aging, and her own racism and self-loathing.

Nothing is spared in this deep dive into how white women constantly and competitively turn on each other. The video also looks at their conflicted relations with Black women, their appalling narcissism, their struggles with guilt and privilege, and their contempt for the younger generation. (“I don’t want to be told what my politics are, for God’s sake. But if you give me shit, I just, you know . . . deal with your anger. Don’t make it mine. I got plenty of my own.”) She’s putting it all out there, complete with extraordinary body language, mannerisms, and expressions that effectively help to blur the distinction between truth and fiction. Her character’s emotions are riding high as she exhorts us to examine ourselves. “We are all people, we’re all vulnerable. What about you! What about you!” Are we about to achieve a breakthrough? No such luck, alas. “We’ve hit our time boundary, so see you next week.”