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Can Artistic Practices Negotiate the Demands of Cultural Institutions, Public Space, and Civil Society?

Angela Harutyunyan
2 May 2012

The question implies a view on artistic practice informed by a liberal framework of reception and interpretation: artistic practices are expected to politely negotiate within and with the larger sphere of culture; they are expected to expose, reveal, unmask, reform and finally find a place within various institutional configurations. The question proposes cultural politics wherein the formal, conceptual and sensorial impact of art works is reduced to being instrumentalised either for institutional critique or political contestation in the name of democracy and civil society. In its stead, I would like to reverse and paraphrase the question: ‘Can cultural institutions, public spaces and various ideals of civil society negotiate the demands of artistic practices in the MENA region?’


This gesture of reversal puts the burden on institutions to come to terms with the impact of artistic practices on cultural politics. In this proposition, a specific authorial position and theoretical, curatorial and critical articulation of an artwork – as a site of both formal and conceptual contestation – opens up the possibility to force the existing cultural and political institutions within the region to reposition themselves accordingly. Instead of negotiating with institutional structures and/or representing politics, through this reversal, art practices articulate a politics of representation in which it is the artwork itself that formulates a set of demands and dispositions with which institutional structures are confronted: the latter are forced to negotiate their roles, positions, ideologies and modes of operation in relation to art practices, rather than the other way around.

Angela Harutyunyan

Angela Harutyunyan is Associate Professor of Art History and Theory at the American University of Beirut. She is editor of ARTMargins, a journal published by MIT Press. Her book titled The Political Aesthetics of the Armenian Avantgarde: The Journey of the 'Painterly Real' is forthcoming with Manchester University Press in 2016.

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