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No such thing as society : : art and the crisis of the European welfare state

  • Author(s): Lookofsky, Sarah Elsie
  • et al.
Abstract

No Such Thing as Society: Art and the Crisis of the European Welfare State addresses contemporary art in the context of changing European welfare states. Mapping a tripartite turn from Institutional Critique to Relational Aesthetics, from extensive government support of the arts towards reduced arts funding, and from the welfare state towards the neoliberal state, the study more specifically sketches a shift from "society" to "community." The past thirty years have evidenced a substantial restructuring and, in some cases, a partial dismantling of the European welfare states. As a result, society is increasingly characterized, not in terms of a cohesive social body, but rather as a collection of disparate populations and communities. It is a central argument of this investigation that these societal changes are manifest in contemporary artworks, both in the social context they reference and the conception of "audience" they imply. Chapter 1 is devoted to an overview of the welfare state's impact on the arts, from its post-war formation to its crisis since the 1980s. I argue that the welfare state's founding conception of a unified social body was put to the test, first by intellectual critiques of the 1960s and 1970s and later by neoliberal challenges during the ensuing decades. Chapter 2 outlines a turn from Institutional Critique to Relational Aesthetics. Despite being indebted to theoretical critiques of state, works by Hans Haacke, Marcel Broodthaers, Daniel Buren, Artists Placement Group and Stephen Willats were deeply embedded within this very structure. By contrast, the relational practices championed by the French curator Nicolas Bourriaud, I propose, share several characteristics with "community arts." A catch-all term for arts and cultural policy since the 1990s under New Labour in the U.K., this art-centric outreach, which was thought capable of supplanting social programs, was defined by small-scale encounters with constituencies demarcated precisely by these relational initiatives. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 are devoted to case studies of specific artworks in important local welfare frameworks--France, the Nordic countries and the United Kingdom. All engaged in negotiative relationships with state-funded museums and institutions of art, I suggest that works by Thomas Hirschhorn, Superflex, Mark Wallinger, and Andreas Siekmann, among others, exhibit an operation of "institutional displacement." While still situated within post-war structures of art, these contemporary art practices do not address these immediate enclosures, but rather take on, whether explicitly or implicitly, the category of the welfare state and its social institutions. Taking as their point of departure present social issues, these artworks reference the moment of resistance to the state of the 1960s and 1970s as well as what preceded it, namely the post-war formation of the welfare system. In their references to multiple "states" of welfare, the contemporary artworks discussed in the volume embody the compromise formation that characterizes the current European state model. Given that older social programs today cohabitate with recent policy initiatives in most European countries, it is not the case that one state formation has entirely taken the place of an outmoded structure; the welfare goal of providing for all is contradictorily met with new policies that narrowly focus on individualized self-help. While artists frequently want to defend post-war comprehensive social schemes, their efforts are complicated by the intervening advents of poststructuralism, postmodernism and postcolonialism. Contemporary European artworks thus demonstrate the crisis of conceiving of all, whilst attending to difference, without submitting to the prevailing forces of social fragmentation

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