Andrea Fraser Untitled (2003)

It would be a gross overgeneralization to claim that art proves its best when provocative and allowed to get under your skin. It goes without saying and yet is certainly worth stressing that art can serve an important purpose of enlightening the public by addressing current affairs, the human condition, the state of society and what have you, other than bearing just aesthetical qualities. Late feminist artist Anita Steckel springs to mind who had the bad fortune to endure censorship and criticism early in her practice in the 1970's for paintings depicting explicit sexual acts and putting the nude male form to the foreground, revealing erected penises which yet to this day remains surprisingly taboo in art.

The sexist hypocrisy led Steckel to organizing the "The Fight Censorship Group" (which also included late luminaries Louise Bourgeois and Hannah Wilke) and she is infamously quoted saying; "If the erect penis is not wholesome enough to go into museums, it should be not be considered wholesome enough to go into women", adding moreover on the topic of taste; "Good taste is the enemy of art. It's wonderful for curtains, but in art it's suffocating."

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Personally one of the most interesting art experiences had over the last couple of years is seeing what is probably one of the most controversial and sensationalized works since the new millennium; Andrea Fraser's Untitled video work from 2003 at the Generali Foundation in Vienna. The backstory as it's known is that Fraser set gallerist Friedrich Petzel out to look for an unmarried heterosexual art collector willing to engage in an erotic one-night stand to be recorded on DVD in an edition of five. Ultimately the artwork to acquire would to be a pre-bought tape of the yet to happen encounter. An anonymous collector was found and speculations have duly been made since as to what was paid (Figures of some reported $20 000 have been reported).

One barely has to belong to the staunchest of prudes to be slightly shocked by the 60-minute work, turned into a voyeur and seeing it in the context of an art space. The intimate and candid setting of two strangers meeting for sex in a hotel room is enhanced by the lack of dialogue and adorning light and music and undoubtedly brings grainy amateur porn to mind when stretching from foreplay to full-on hardcore interaction. It's brave for sure, calling to mind the physical action in video performances by the likes of feminist predecessors like VALIE EXPORT, Marina Abramovic, Yayoi Kusama and Carolee Schneemann. On one level, the work clearly resonates with today's exploitation culture of reality-TV and social medias that altogether increasingly blurs the lines between the public and private realm, subjecting us to the probing eyes of others. Yet Fraser has explicitly rejected that her work would be about that.

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Instead like much of Fraser's body of work, Untitled is primarily intended as a comment on the art market itself of which she is part; the relationship between its key players and the expectations and demands they pose on each other. The sensationalization and precarious nature of the chosen execution of the work is perhaps best understood calling prostitution to mind, the objective requisites of which are all entailed in the performance. Curiously an analogy of sort finds itself in Fraser's work between the pimp, prostitute and buyer of sex on the one hand and the art market's dealer, artist and collector on the other. Fraser has said herself to be interested in whether art could metaphorically be likened to prostitution.

The viewpoint here would be that separating the artist from her work for money is an exploitation of her soul, desires and intimate labour which is profited on and commoditized by the art dealer and subjected to continued circulation out of her control when passing through the hands of collectors. Fraser has also pointed to the loss of control in the sense of speculation of the intent and purpose of an artwork which becomes the prerogative of each viewer and recipient after release. As such Untitled inevitably will beg questions about when art begins and ceases to be art.

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Moreover, Fraser has not been exempted from inquiries about how Untitled sits with feminism. Fraser has in past interviews stressed and described her own experience as having been very empowering; noting that the scenario was her own and that she was much in control of the process and to this day remains in control of the work unlike is the case with a regular sell and buy in the art market. As a matter of fact the conditions of the production and distribution of Untitled have been very central to the work itself according to Fraser (The editions sold of the work impose restrictions on the buyers contractually committing them not to make any stills of it, distribute representations of the work or loan it for instance), as has also been the case with how and in which media outlets she has chosen to speak about the work.

As a last food for thought, the result of having exposing an intimate representation of herself on her own terms to the world around her, she has said, in a way renders her immune to the precarity of physical exposure and voyeurism in regard to others.

 

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