On The Potential Trainwreck That Is The Artist Talk

What do we really want when we go to an artist's talk? It's not like the conventions of the format--darkened auditorium, daisy chain of thank you's, cuing of slides, thoughtfully forced repartee, polite laughter, tidbit or two of gossip, annoying essay question from the crowd, bumrushing of the stage for a Personal Encounter--should give us any reason to be surprised that the evening turns out to be boring.

I think the theatrical, performative context causes most people go with outsized expectations to be entertained more than enlightened. Tedium is only surpassed by Absurdity on the Artist Talk Enemies List. But what if those were the artist's unstated goals for the evening? Could it be awesome?

I ask because Knotty Nautilus's account of a Franz West talk at LACMA sounds positively brilliant. Which is not quite the same as wishing I'd been there myself. There was the game show format; the Austrian sound artist West invited to perform throughout the discussion; some USC MFA's dressed in homemade West sculpture costumes; and Rirkrit Tiravanija sounding incomprehensible and boring, "a child on ludes performing a book report."

Now I love Rirkrit like a brother or whatever, and I have a deep, longstanding respect for his work, but after watching the archived stream of his conversation with Bruce Sterling at the Walker Center in 2006--three years ago this week, in fact!--I had to let him know it was the most boring talk I'd ever seen online ever in the history of online. And I began streaming content online in 1995. He was pretty cool about it.

While I'm glad to know a smart absurdist like West takes the artist talk experience seriously enough to screw around with it, Rirkrit reminds me that with some artists, the work is the thing, and looking for Understanding at an artist talk can sometimes be as useless as searching for your keys under the streetlight.

Franz West goes Westside [urbannautilus via man]
Previously: Robert Smithson's Hotel Palenque: multimedia installation or drunken slide lecture captured on tape?

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: March 25, 2009.

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