Print/Out MoMA–Field Report

In the last few decades global and cultural boundaries have been in a process of flux aided by newer technologies accelerating communication to allow widespread access to nearly every corner of the globe. Many would argue this technology of the present was at least in some degree facilitated by the advent of print technologies allowing exchange of ideas across increasingly larger spaces. MoMA’s Print/Out exhibition was intended to provide a glimpse into the genealogy of artistic and societal practices related to print over the last few decades. (Cherix, 14/15) Overall the exhibit varied dramatically in style and quality, though some quieter pieces were remarkable, such as the delicate prints of Xu Bing and Guillermo Kuitica. The exhibit open from February 19 until May 14, 2012 was nearly exclusively comprised of MoMA’s extensive collection of prints and books and featured printed works from major artists, such as Rirkrit Tiravanija and Ai Weiwei.

Thinking back to our class discussion of Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics and Claire Bishop’s response in “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics,” it fits to remember Rirkrit Tiravanija and his installations cooking for patrons. Narrowly defined, his art is based on interaction and exchange among participants. Bourriaud defines relational aesthetics as “a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.” (113) In a sense this could include all artists, but of specific interest to Bourriaud’s treatise were artists who use the gallery setting in creative ways to explore new artistic concepts in the early to mid 90s.

In Untitled 2008–2011: The map of the land of feeling, Tiravanija presents his first endeavor in print–a cartography of events in his life and work over 20 years–exposed through prints of his passport as major narrative device along with other materials and images indicate trajectories of time through manipulating the space of the visual field. (Cherix, 90) His prints engage the viewer to explore the map of his travels, emotions and ideas.

Rirkrit Tiravanija, Map of Land and Feeling, 2008

This project is perhaps at first glance conceptually less provocative than his project cooking for people. However, once one engages with the work, it could be argued that it is more visually interesting, coherent and allows the author more agency over the message. The latter of the list is of course directly opposes the idea behind relational aesthetics—the point of relational art is that meaning is generated by viewers are physically interacting with the work. Tiravanjia’s print arguably engages the viewer’s intellect and imagination in an exploration of the intensive as it imparts ideas of a qualitative journey.  Though it lies within the realm of traditional visual art, the work is still interactive, in a sense, as it allows an exchange between artist and viewer or perhaps even among viewers as they discuss the work.

Through this work, we see systems of signs evocative of linguistic systems but many are not an actual signs of symbols from any system in particular. A viewer recognizes maps of cities superimposed with maze-like structures as well as psychogeographical maps specifically copied directly from those of the Situationists, along with symbolic shapes of cooking pots and pans that would become part of Tiravanija’s work. One is drawn in by the idea of linearity and causality, as the image bending around the corner of two walls seems to unravel in time. One can detect a journey through the permutations of the passport, but is left to the viewer to determine the nature of this journey.

Though perhaps more visually and mentally engaging than the cooking project, it does not necessarily facilitate the types of tensions Claire Bishop calls for in “Antagonism in relational Aesthetics” when she asks “if relational art produces human relations, then the next logical question to ask is what types of relations are being produced, for whom, and why?” (65) Though perhaps he exempt from answering this question, as these prints are not necessarily an example of relational art—bodies physically interacting with each other and the work to derive meaning are not necessarily the intent. These works are also, as previously stated, shown within a traditional art setting. Regardless, it is clear that the Tiravanija print communicates something interesting, a possible mapping of relations through time in space, or exactly what Deleuze would call an intensive cartography as it is a qualitative reckoning of trajectories in space.

One artist’s work in Print/Out that does incorporate interesting flows of tension is that Ai Weiwei and his printed art books. Before Weiwei’s well-known career as an artist and political activist, he was an underground publisher. Upon his arrival in China in the early 90s after years in the United States, he encountered an almost unanimous plea from his artist friends and colleagues for printed information and images of contemporary art of the world—information suppressed by the authoritarian government. (Cherix, 22)

Ai Weiwei, Black Cover Book, 1997

In 1994 Weiwei published three thousand copies  of The Black Cover Book, a catalog of important and now iconic works from twentieth-century including Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, as well as translations of existing art-historical and critical texts, as well as artists’ submissions and essays.These books made their way throughout China via underground distribution channels. The books and their dissemination underscored the presence of a large underground artists’ network in China. (Cherix, 51)

In the case of Weiwei and his work, Bishop’s question “if relational art produces human relations, then the next logical question to ask is what types of relations are being produced, for whom, and why?” is answered succinctly. His work in these books displayed at MoMA’s Print/Out exhibition disseminated information—visual, technical and conceptual–generating conversations between artists who might be prohibited from interacting one another otherwise while also increasing awareness of world wide artistic practices within that milieu. This departs from the charges narcissism leveled against artists of relational aesthetics as these books served to unite artists in a place where this type of subversive networking was prohibited. It was in fact allowing new types of freedom in artistic practices, at the very least.

B. Paris

Bishop, Claire. “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics.” October. No. 110, 2004.

Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2002.

Cherix, Christophe.  Print/Out. Museum of Modern Art. 2012.

One Response to “Print/Out MoMA–Field Report”

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