Conference 2006 | Reinventing the Medium | Melbourne

Reinventing the Medium

7-9 December 2006

Faculty of Art & Design, Monash University

The 2006 AAANZ Conference addressed the state of the art medium in art history. With one eye on Rosalind Krauss’ recent critique of the ‘post-medium condition’ – in which the medium is ‘outmoded, cashiered, washed-up, finished’ – and another on the extravaganza of photo-based art, spatial research and digital media, the conference explored the following:

  • The challenge of photo-based representation to traditional aesthetic paradigms
  • Photography, video and painting
  • Aesthetics and pluralism in the post-medium age
  • Modernism
  • Architecture and space
  • Art and liminality
  • Multimedia, digital art and aesthetics
  • Interfaces between art and design


Associate Professor Anne Marsh and Dr Daniel Palmer

Keynote Speakers

George Baker, (University of California, Los Angeles)

‘The Other Side of the Wall’

In an exhibition held in Germany six years ago, the American sculptor Tom Burr produced a recreation of Richard Serra’s notorious sculpture Tilted Arc, which before its destruction in 1989 had galvanized debate in the United States about the fate of avant-garde sculpture and public or site-specific art. Entitled Deep Purple, Burr’s appropriation of Serra’s work was reduced in scale, made of portable wooden segments, and painted a luminous purple by the artist. This essay seeks to unpack Burr’s gesture through close attention to the artist’s understanding of the possible functions and the strategies of the medium of sculpture today: Was the piece a reworking of site-specificity? Or was it an extension of the opposed concerns of appropriation art? What was its relation to the object-oriented conventions of traditional sculpture versus those of the image, specifically the photographic image (the copy)? Did it orient sculpture toward the memorial, even toward a recognition of loss? Or was the work’s gesture essentially parodic, a queering of both the medium of sculpture and of one of its current “masters” and “masterworks”? Was this a model of sculpture condemned by the condition of aftermath to be steeped in melancholia? Or was it one let loose by these same conditions into the biting play of camp? In the space between these oppositions, in the manner in which their potential contradiction undoes any coherent sculptural practice, contemporary art finds a mode in which the medium of sculpture can continue today.

A critic for Artforum since 1996, George Baker’s book publications include an edited anthology of essays on the work of James Coleman (MIT Press, 2003) and Gerard Byrne: Books, Magazines, and Newspapers (Lukas & Sternberg Press, 2004). Baker is the author of key catalogues on Andrea Fraser, Louise Lawler, Robert Whitman, Anthony McCall and Robert Smithson, and as an editor of October compiled the recent special issue dedicated to ‘relational aesthetics’. He has also published a series of revisionist essays on Dada to be collected next year in the publication The Artwork Caught by the Tail: Francis Picabia and Dada in Paris (MIT Press, 2007).

Amelia Jones, (University of Manchester)

‘Performing the Wounded Body: A New Theory of Political Agency in the Visual Arts’

Nineteenth- and twentieth-century theorists of avant-gardism (from St. Simon to Renato Poggioli and Peter Burger) argued that artists had the potential to create works in advance of bourgeois culture, works that thus offered new ways of thinking about the interface between individuals and their society, potentially intervening in social and political structures by shattering the belief systems on which they were based. This paper begins with an acknowledgement that these theories, based on fundamentally capitalist and modernist relations between people and society and between made things and their makers, are no longer fully relevant in the globalised twenty-first century.  Given the networked and late capitalist structures of contemporary culture, I focus on the intersection between political activism and performance art over the past ten years to argue that performative works at this intersection provide a new mode of political agency in the visual arts that effectively replaces old models of avant-gardism.

Amelia Jones is the author of Irrational Modernism: A Neurasthenic History of New York Dada (MIT Press, 2004), Body Art/Performing the Subject (University of Minnesota Press, 1998), Postmodernism and the En-Gendering of Marcel Duchamp (Cambridge University Press, 1994), and the primary survey essay in The Artist’s Body (Phaidon, 2000). Among other books, she is the editor of A Companion to Contemporary Art Since 1945 (Blackwell, 2006) and The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader (Routledge, 2003).

Diarmuid Costello, (Warwick University)

‘On the Very Idea of a “Specific” Medium’

This paper traces some of the repercussions of Michael Fried’s recent ‘photographic turn’ for thinking about the nature of contemporary artistic media on the one hand, and modernist criticism on the other. I seek to show that, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, Fried’s current work on large-scale pictorial photography, notably his tendency to approach it through the terms of his early work on modernist painting, is not incompatible with his early criticism, despite the latter’s commitment to medium-specificity as a condition of artistic value. To this end, I revisit the origins of Fried’s modernism in his reformulations of Greenberg’s understanding of modernism as a reduction to the ‘essence’ of each medium. Contra Greenberg, Fried proposed a historicized conception of the essence artistic media, indebted to Stanley Cavell’s reading of Wittgenstein on the conventionality of essence. On the resulting theory, artistic media are not defined materially, causally, or ontologically, but in terms of ‘structures of artistic intention,’ indexed to, but not constrained by, the history of their disciplines. Given this, I suggest, there were never any a priori constraints on what might count as an instance of a given medium on Fried and Cavell’s theory. I explore the implications of this fact by holding it up to Jeff Wall’s attempt to reinvigorate the ‘painting of modern life’ on the one hand and Gerhard Richter’s ‘photo-paintings’ on the other. Given Wall and Richter’s respective, oft-professed, intention to make works that either bear comparison to, or even function as, works in a medium other than the one in which they ostensibly work, I ask: what should such works count as on Fried’s account, and what are implications of this for the relation between medium and value in his theory?

Diarmuid Costello has published articles on art theorists and philosophers including Clement Greenberg, Michael Fried, Thierry de Duve, Arthur Danto, Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Francois Lyotard, whose work is important for an aesthetics of art after modernism. In this context he has also written on recent art, including Sol LeWitt, Lawrence Weiner, Jeff Wall, Gerhard Richter, Rineke Dijkstra and Thomas Ruff. He is co-editor of After Beauty: Exchanges on Art & Culture (Tate, 2007), Art: Key Contemporary Thinkers (Berg, 2007) and Aesthetics after Photography (forthcoming, with Margaret Iverson).

2006 Abstracts (pdf)