On ViewMarian Goodman
January 12–February 25, 2023
It is not easy to unravel the different strands of Andrea Fraser’s institutional critique, which remains as clever, wry and provocative as ever. The artist has opened her first US commercial gallery show in over a decade at Marian Goodman, a six-piece survey showcasing the artist’s decades-long study of systems of power embedded within the art system. Bringing together photography, film, and installation art, the show traces her longstanding commitment to addressing local and global issues of structural inequality and marks a shift in Fraser’s angle and attitude in her critical approach—an incited reckoning with questions of social justice.
Throughout her illustrious career, Fraser has been in the business of asking difficult questions. In the multi-channel video Reporting from São Paulo, I’m from the United States (1998), she assumes the role of a journalist, questioning exhibition officials and Brazil’s cultural minister about the São Paulo Biennale’s “anthropography” theme, corporate sponsorship, and the country’s economic instability beyond the walls of the event. Fraser’s incendiary questions reveal the international art world’s entangled relationship with neocolonialism and globalization. She simultaneously alludes to the Biennale’s exclusivity, observing on its closing days that “not everyone was invited to the party and the party might be over.” Fusing journalistic coverage with icy satire, Fraser interviews herself. Switching between her roles as reporter and artist, she asks the ‘artist’ Fraser why she chose to work with the medium of reportage, to which she responds with a wide smile that it allows her to occupy spaces where she usually is not allowed. It’s a self-referential gesture that reproduces the logic of Fraser’s paradoxical circumstance as an institution-critical artist who, since she is regularly invited by art institutions, leverages her position to interrogate the system from within.
Fraser’s ability to seamlessly integrate herself and her rhetoric of critique into the art system is especially compelling in her early museum tours, for which she first gained attention. Welcome to the Wadsworth: A Museum Tour (1991) created in the style of a museum tour introduction, features Fraser dressed as a diligent docent, delivering a 26-minute lecture of bombastic art jargon as she circles the perimeter of the Wadsworth Atheneum. What begins with a detailed genealogy of the American “first families” patrons who founded and funded the museum gradually unravels. As her speech escalates in speed and intensity, Fraser divulges the fractured social circumstances and economic disparity of Hartford, Connecticut, where the museum is located.
The centerpiece of the show, This meeting is being recorded (2021), is a 99-minute, single-shot video that finds Fraser playing the roles of seven white women discussing race and gender, their testimonies caught in sharp intimations of vulnerability, insecurity, and rage. The dialogue is based on transcripts from six Zoom meetings between white women, Fraser included, held in 2020. The script, printed and installed along an adjacent wall, is configured and arranged, clinically delineating logs of shifts in the figures’ speech, postures, gaze, and emotional states. Phrases such as “[disowning and projecting fragility]” and “[anticipating being hated, defensively performing self]” deconstruct the parameters of reactionary defensiveness and projection of the participants. Fraser masterfully switches between characters, inhabiting their precise mannerisms and divergent attitudes, ranging from cool, intellectual distance to tearful anguish. It’s an impressive display of Fraser’s memory and performance abilities, where she presents herself as both a self-conscious cultural producer and a white woman participating in the reproduction of relations of power. This meeting is being recorded seizes and concentrates the unease of owning up to privilege, and has none of the general markings of Fraser’s disciplined wit. Unlike her most salient works, there doesn’t appear to be an ‘inside joke’ directed at the institution and its practices, which are largely only known by agents and authorities in the field. We are not asked to reflect on the interests of wealth and power in the art world. Rather, a thornier consciousness is forced upon us.
Intimately tucked away at the end of the gallery in a dark-lit room, six chairs resembling the one in which Fraser sits in the video are arranged in a circle, simulating a roundtable setup. It appears Fraser has rejected the expectation that we perform the function of a visitor; we are not merely looking at her inhabiting and performing a discussion, but are put in the position of symbolically ‘taking a seat’ at the conversation. The video is an uneasy piece to sit through, both uncomfortably long and sharpened with the occasional sordid confession. In this sense, the performance draws an oblique equation between the comforts of racial privilege and the discomforts of addressing one’s role and complicity in social relations of power.
As ever, Fraser remains committed to voicing disapproval of many aspects of the art industry, oftentimes implicating herself and admitting her inability to distance herself from it. This show allows for new readings of six works following changes in contextual and cultural resonance about structural inequality.