Occupational Realism

Lecture by Julia Bryan-Wilson
June 14th, 2012

The lecture »Occupational Realism« by US-American art historian and critic Julia Bryan-Wilson at the Kunstraum of Leuphana University of Lüneburg draws upon her recent thinking of artistic labor and relates thoughts on the Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC) to the current Occupy Wall Street Movement.

In the early 1970s, different artists from minimal art, conceptual art and process art joined together within the AWC to reflect their artistic work simultaneously to larger shifts in the New York labor movement. The claims by the AWC for artists’ rights and to give them a voice in the exhibition of their works and on art aimed to democratize the museum as an art institution.

The demonstrations within and outside the museum were not only motivated by institutional critique. The museum became a place of protest against the Vietnam War and, in the same course, a platform for integrating the latest topics of race, class and gender into the institutional discourse. Therefore, not only the question of the value of artistic production in relation to labor arose, but also concerns about the social and political matters of art: How could artistic production evade the capitalistic involvement? Which artistic practice could intervene socially? In what way could art change the existing structures?

In her renowned book »Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam Era« (2009) Julia Bryan-Wilson examines the relations between conceptions of artistic labor and material artistic production by focusing on four self-described »art workers«: artists Hans Haacke, Carl Andre and Robert Morris, and critic Lucy Lippard.

Her former research on the relations of labor and art are updated and expanded with this lecture, and Julia Bryan-Wilson will discuss how artists performing work – that is, redefining wage labor as art – might lead to new understandings of the political potential of today’s art.

Julia Bryan-Wilson is associate professor of modern and contemporary art at the University of California, Berkeley, where she teaches courses on subjects such as art and politics, feminist theory, and conceptual art. She is a frequent contributor to Artforum and has written essays on artists such as Laylah Ali, Ida Applebroog, Yoko Ono, Sharon Hayes, Harmony Hammond, and Francesca Woodman. Her book »Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era« (University of California Press, 2009) was named a best book of the year by Artforum. Bryan-Wilson has received fellowships and grants from the Getty Foundation, the Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation, the Henry Moore Institute, and the Clark Art Institute, among others. Her current book, which is under advance contract with the University of Chicago press, investigates the role of textile handicraft in recent art.