Andrea Fraser leaves nothing to chance in her precisely choreographed performances. The American artist, born in 1965 in Billings, Montana, and winner of this year’s Wolfgang Hahn Prize, analyzes existential and social issues profoundly and often wittily, repeatedly engaging critically with the art world and the people involved in it. She became known in the 1980s with “gallery talks” staged in museums and galleries. Since then she has continued to examine the museum as an institution in her performances, videos, and texts. What ideas or myths govern our image of the artist? What motivates collectors to buy art and to donate it? How do public museums originate, and what do they and their buildings tells us about the contributions of the rich to life in our cities? How can the interaction of these players in the artistic arena best be conveyed?
In 2001 Fraser put on Art Must Hang, a performance in which she enlisted the aid of a video documentation to recreate an impromptu speech given by Martin Kippenberger at the opening of an exhibition of works by Michel Würthle, the owner of the Paris Bar in Berlin. She imitated both Kippenberger’s body language and his speech, presented in a language foreign to her. The video of this performance reveals how twentieth-century artists developed a public persona as a kind of trademark. In Official Welcome, a performance dating from the same year, Fraser again minutely analyzed the rituals and interpersonal behavior prevalent in the art world. She took fragments from speeches by well-known artists, gallerists, curators, and critics and assembled them to form a new speech in which she used her theatrical skills to convey the specifics of each role, switching back and forth between them.
In recent years, not least in response to financial crises and their repercussions, Fraser has published several major texts in which she draws on the methods of sociology, psychoanalysis, and economics to revise her notions of institutional critique and the ideas behind her work. Her most recent video work, Projection (2008), features her in the roles of both psychoanalyst and patient. In ten short monologs she addresses the artist as an individual, but also points up the projection strategies developed in the art world and discloses what the things they mask and reveal about that world. In the essay that formed her contribution to the Whitney Biennial in 2012 she again addressed the art world’s subtle negation strategies in times of financial crisis as well as the institution-critical Occupy movement. In the text she describes her internal conflict as an artist: As an exponent of institutional critique, she engages with the contradictions inherent in the art market’s reliance on wealthy collectors and investors, but she also associates closely with museums and institutions that depend on the (financial) support of those very collectors and investors.
This major exhibition at the Museum Ludwig is the first overview of Fraser’s art to be seen in Europe since a show at the Kunstverein in Hamburg in 2003. It documents the artist’s earlier oeuvre as well as exploring her new critical approach in the form of recent works. There is an additional focus on Fraser’s activity as performer. She is presenting Men on the Line, her latest evening-length performance, premiered in Los Angeles in 2012, for the first time in Europe. In this work she started by transcribing the contents of a talk show broadcast by the Los Angeles radio station KPFK in 1972, in which four men discuss their commitment to feminism and the motives behind it. In the performance she imitates the men’s speech, including each and every hesitation and interruption. In this way she presents a compelling interpretation of a piece of social and gender history. At the opening of the exhibition Fraser will also perform May I Help You (1991). For the duration of the show visitors can see this earlier work presented by professional actors in the museum’s galleries.
A catalogue featuring recent texts by the artist and essays by Barbara Engelbach and Gregg Bordowitz is being published in a bilingual edition (English and German) on the occasion of the exhibition.
Exhibition curator: Barbara Engelbach Catalogue editor: Carla Cugini, Gesellschaft für Moderne Kunst, Museum Ludwig, Cologne