Institutional Critique Versus Institutionalized Critique: The Politics of Andrea Fraser's Performances


  • Sadira Rodrigues Centre A: The Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art


Andrea Fraser, institutional critique, performance art


In 1989 Andrea Fraser, a New York based artist, initiated a performance at the Philadelphia Museum of Art titled Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk. Intended to function as a gallery tour, Museum Highlights placed Fraser in the position of docent, providing information to those visitors who happened upon her work unaware. The purpose of the project, as outlined by Fraser, was to call attention to the history of the Philadelphia Museum as a public institution addressing conflicting social and economic demands. Invited by the Museum to perform the critique, Fraser describes the project as a service-product project, involving 'services' provided by an artist for the consumption of the institution, but whose forms defy the potential ownership of the product. Fraser's project takes the form of a performance, her project is situated in the gallery space and the subject is the institution itself. She offered a service-product: providing a labour that was "not compensated through the sale of a tangible product." For Fraser, one of the vital elements of the service-product project is that both the artist and the performance elude a commodity-based ownership. Fraser's performance is part of a lineage of institutional critiques that, as both subject and object of artistic endeavours, have performed a ubiquitous and necessary function within the history of the museum. Ranging in form from paintings, photographs and alternate-space exhibitions, to textual commentaries and performative interjections, these critiques, as Fraser's project shows, sought to critique the institution from within the institution itself. But when critiques are offered as 'services' and invited and legitimated by the institution, do they still have a potential for success? How is the success of these projects defined? What happens to the intervention when it occurs in a conflicting space? When the subject and object of the intervention is the site of the intervention itself, does this construct a limiting framework for the possibility of a developed critique? Or, like the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century carnivals, do these critiques function as 'safety-valves', forms of social control which both allow and limit the potential of critiquing action? This project seeks to investigate the potential and function of these critiques, and their service as a postmodern strategy.

Author Biography

Sadira Rodrigues, Centre A: The Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

Sadira Rodrigues has recently completed an MA in Art History, Visual and Cultural Theory from the University of British Columbia, with her thesis: "Neither Red nor Black: Cuba, Africa and the Politics of Posters". She is currently the curator-in-residence at Centre A: The Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, working on a project titled "Locating Asia" which looks at the political, social and economic constructions of Asia and their intersection with contemporary artistic endeavours.