Constellations of Perception in Modern and Contemporary Art: Artistic Utopias of operation, Institutional Strategies of Control, Ranges of Participation
Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF)
Project duration: 2010 to 2013
Prof. Dr. Peter J. Schneemann, Chair , Modern and Contemporary Art History, Department of Art History, University of Berne
Research Assistants/ SNF Doctoral candidates:
Dr. Simon Oberholzer
Dr. des. Marianne Wagner
This research project focuses on the history of art perception of modernity and the present. Art history must face the challenge of observing the high degree of differentiation within 20th century models of effect and perception. It is necessary to arrange the plurality of these models within an historic framework and, moreover, to identify them in their specific roles. The term “art perception”, as formed by the history of aesthetics and willingly re-appropriated within certain domains of “visual culture,” was, in the 20th century, transferred to various gestures and roles of “perception” and connected to concrete socio-cultural interests. Categories like leisure, consumption, communication and commercialisation need to be placed alongside hermeneutic interpretation.
The artwork itself can no longer prescribe perception. The authority of the artwork has been replaced by a process of differentiation and has become a product of heterogeneous interests: artistic utopias of operation, institutional control and market strategies, societal expectations and models of behaviour. In this broad field, the research project will analyse constellations of discourses and practices, among which the process of art perception is to be dealt with. The aim is to go beyond the concept of perception and theoretical questions in order to investigate art perception as a widely documented phenomenon. Of particular interest are those documents that enforce normative standards of viewer behavior. In order to fix this project to a methodology, it is necessary to intertwine inquiries within aspects of the history of ideas with an analysis of images and texts. The research project will develop a comprehensive historiography.
The high relevance of this topic becomes apparent in interlacing of various fields of aesthetics and economic. Art viewers are addressed as target groups, art works are staged as pop events, and modes of reactions to art are presented in different media. In 2005, the Leopold Museum in Vienna observed a record number attendance when visitors were asked to drop their clothes in return for admission refund to the exhibition “Die nackte Wahrheit “(“The naked truth”). So far, the history of these “models” of activating the viewer has been treated as a history of ideas of participatory art. This linear historiography will be replaced by an analysis of the interaction between institutional interests, artist, and society.
The history of art perception is a complex structure, in which conceptions of individual freedom and processes of emancipation are represented. The modern viewer uses the opportunity to assess his range or to reject the role of the ideal observer. The differentiation of constellations of art perception can be represented in deducible time frames. As a working hypothesis, the history of art perception will be examined in four historiographical “sequences” (Kubler 1962). In each of these sequences one problem constitutes itself as a complex combination of diachronic and synchronic contexts. This model makes it possible to isolate constellations of art perception and to display them in a chronology, without subjecting them to a teleological structure.