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A Companion to Digital Art by Christiane Paul

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8Participatory Art: Histories and Experiences of Display

Rudolf Frieling

It comes as no surprise that participatory works of art have long been considered anathema within the institutional realm of a museum. They were kept at bay by the various mechanisms of exclusion and institutional expertise that called for a controlled gallery environment to protect the art. Every public showing of a work of art could possibly harm its longevity. The public was considered the art’s foe rather than its friend. Thankfully, the critique of these patterns of exclusion and stifling museumification is very well known. From performative works to Institutional Critique, artists were among the first to challenge the notion of collecting finite works as precious commodities. The open and participatory work of art made a point in countering this institutional framework. In other words, artists tried to eschew the pitfalls of museumification and celebrate the work’s nature of being impossible to collect.

This dominant narrative, however, fails to reflect institutional changes over the last decade. So let me take the well-trodden path of Institutional Critique for granted and instead explore a more contemporary change: while participatory works were often meant to be a unique disruption and intervention into the museum setting, they did not go unnoticed. As it turns out, we can now look back at the first histories of participatory art within the museum, and can question what effect this history has ...

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