Really Advanced Art: Claire Bishop Examines the Towering Inferno of Spectatorship

It’s 1965 and you join a crowd of people being shepherded into a stadium in Montevideo as Bach’s “Mass in B Minor” blares from loudspeakers; once inside, you are girdled by motor bikes equipped with deafening sirens, confronted with fat ladies tumbling across the ground and couples strapped together with tape, bombarded with flour, lettuce and live chickens by a low-flying helicopter, and then, after eight minutes, set free. You take a train out of Moscow in 1981, stop at a provincial station, walk into a snow-covered field where nine other people are gathered around a flat wooden board festooned with balls of white thread, take an end and walk toward a distant stand of trees until, after 20 minutes, the thread runs out, at which point you decide to return to the board, where an artist gives you what he claims is a photograph of yourself emerging from the forest; you ponder the meaning of this experience for the rest of the day. You drive to the outskirts of Firminy, France, in 1993 and arrive at a dilapidated, half-empty housing estate designed by Le Corbusier and populated by pensioners and Algerian immigrants—just in time for the opening of an exhibition for which international artists have taken over uninhabited flats and are exhibiting statistical information about the residents and reports on the building’s poor acoustics. You attend a rally at Cooper Union in 2011 where a fashionable collective—made up of anonymous 20-something artists who operate a free, unaccredited art school—is launching a national road trip in a limousine painted as a school bus in order to ask educators, artists and students questions such as: “What are art schools for?” “What is the essence of art?”
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