The 1980s was a critical decade in shaping today’s art production. While newly visible work concerned with power and identity hinted at a shift toward multiculturalism, the ‘80s were also a time of social conservatism that resulted in substantial changes in arts funding. In Asking the Audience, Adair Rounthwaite uses this context to analyze the rising popularity of audience participation in American art during this important decade.
Rounthwaite explores two seminal and interrelated art projects sponsored by the Dia Art Foundation in New York: Group Material’s Democracy and Martha Rosler’s If You Lived Here…. These projects married issues of social activism—such as homelessness and the AIDS crisis—with various forms of public participation, setting the precedent for the high-profile participatory practices currently dominating global contemporary art. Rounthwaite draws on diverse archival images, audio recordings, and more than thirty new interviews to analyze the live affective dynamics to which the projects gave rise. Seeking to foreground the audience experience in understanding the social context of participatory art, she argues that affect is key to the audience’s ability to exercise agency within the participatory artwork.
From artists and audiences to institutions, funders, and critics, Asking the Audience traces the networks that participatory art creates between various agents, demonstrating how, since the 1980s, leftist political engagement has become a cornerstone of the institutionalized consumption of contemporary art.