Axel J. Wieder

“Without an audience, there would be no exhibition”. Art and the Public in Post-fordist Culture

23 October 2015
Post-Graduate Programme in Curating, ZHdK

The observation by British conceptual artist Stephen Willats, that art is depending on its viewers in order to exist in the world, initially aimed to describe a new relationship of culture in society since the 1960s. Today, his statement is true in more than one way. Audience development and quantitative evaluation are important aspects of current cultural policies. More than ever, the question of audiences seems crucial for the future of arts organizations and the survival of a public infrastructure for contemporary art. While it remains a critical aim to create access to arts for as many people as possible, it often develops a tendency to privilege existing expectations and the taste of potential visitors.
Drawing on examples from past projects in galleries and public space, and with specific institutional agendas, the talk will discuss current conditions and complexities of the notion of audiences and its relation to discourses of the public. How can audience engagement, and a curatorial practice that integrates interpretation and learning as part of a wider understanding of artistic programming, be understood as a possible arena for an exploration and negotiation of expectations and meaning? And how could an understanding of the public as a conflictual, contradictory and non-unitary sphere inspire institutional agendas?
Axel Wieder, Director, Index – The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation, Stockholm