University of Tasmania
whole_DeethJaneAlexandra2009_thesis.pdf (26.61 MB)

Extracting meaning from strangeness : strategies to enhance viewer engagement with contemporary art in the public art museum

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posted on 2023-05-26, 21:14 authored by Deeth, Jane Alexandra
This research questions the notion that contemporary art is difficult to engage with, and considers what the public art museum can do to enhance viewers' experience of contemporary art. Contemporary art in this context is understood as the discursive, ideas-based art that has come to the fore since the 1960s. It is argued that because the formalist aesthetic remains the dominant mode of responding to art, this has limited the capacity for viewers to make sense of more conceptually based contemporary art and, therefore, more discursive approaches need to be enacted for meaningful engagement to occur. While the contributions that artists and curators make in this regard are acknowledged, the focus of the analysis is the constructivist museum as described by George Hein, Eilean Hooper-Greenhill and Elaine Heumann Gurian, especially the emphasis placed on direct experience and participation. It is argued that while constructivism presents some possibilities for increasing engagement, it also has limitations. In particular, in emphasising individual learning over the specifics of artwork, advocates of constructivism run the risk of maintaining the formalist aesthetic as the dominant mode of response to contemporary art. In critiquing the constructivist approach, Helen Illeris's concept of the performative museum and recognition of the existence of a range of interpretive roles for art provides a valuable construct. However, Illeris does not address the issue of how to guide viewers to enact the role most appropriate for the type of art they are encountering. This is particularly problematic when it comes to the reception of discursive based art which requires engagement with ideas rather than aesthetic form. In seeking to understand the rules of engagement appropriate for discursive art practice, aspects of reception theory, in particular ideas about the role of the reader/viewer postulated by philosophers Hans-Georg Gadamer and Jacques Derrida and art historians/theorists Keith Moxey, Mieke Bal, Ian McLean and Justin Paton, are examined. Rather than using their interpretations of particular artworks to explain contemporary art, however, the study examines their behaviours in the act of interpretation. The parallels between these behaviours and the psychoanalytic conversation of Jacques Lacan are discussed and, in doing so, practical strategies for engaging viewers with the discursivity of contemporary art are devised and enacted in a public art museum setting. From the results of this analysis, a reorientation of the role of the public art museum in relation to contemporary discursive art practice is advocated in which the expert speaker becomes the expert listener.


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Copyright 2009 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 2009. Includes bibliographical references

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