James Voorhies

James Voorhies is a curator and historian of modern and contemporary art. He is Executive Director of the Tony Smith Foundation in New York City, where he heads research programs committed to placing the artist's work and archive in dialogue with the contemporary arts.

  • Postsensual Aesthetics

    On the Logic of the Curatorial

    James Voorhies

    Contemporary art exhibitions appeal to cognition as well as the senses, modeling a new and expansive understanding of global aesthetics.

    In this original work of aesthetic theory, James Voorhies argues that we live in the shadow of old ways of thinking about art that emphasize the immediate visual experience of an autonomous art object. But theory must change as artistic and curatorial production has changed. It should encompass the full range of activities through which we encounter art and exhibitions, in which reading and thinking are central to the aesthetic experience. Voorhies advances the theoretical framework of a “postsensual aesthetics,” which does not mean we are beyond a sensual engagement with objects, but rather embraces the cognitive connections with ideas that unite art and knowledge production. Cognitive engagements with art often begin with publications conceived as integral to exhibitions, conveying the knowledge and research artists and curators produce, and continuing in time and space beyond traditional curatorial frames. The idea, and not just visual immediacy, is now art's defining moment.

    Voorhies reframes aesthetic criteria to account for the liminal, cognitive spaces inside and outside of the exhibition. Surveying a wide range of artists, curators, exhibitions, and related publications, he repositions the aesthetic theory of Theodor Adorno, and draws inspiration from Rosalind Krauss and Fredric Jameson, to describe a contemporary “logic of the curatorial.” He demonstrates how, even as we increasingly expect to learn from contemporary art, we must avoid an instrumentalist and reductive view of art as a mere source of information. As Voorhies shows through an analysis of two major global exhibitions, dOCUMENTA (13) (artistic director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev) and Documenta11 (artistic director Okwui Enwezor), and of Ute Meta Bauer's curatorial work at the Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, it is imperative for artistic research to retain its unique role in the production of knowledge.

    • Hardcover $22.95
  • Beyond Objecthood

    Beyond Objecthood

    The Exhibition as a Critical Form since 1968

    James Voorhies

    The rise of the exhibition as critical form and artistic medium, from Robert Smithson's antimodernist non-sites in 1968 to today's institutional gravitation toward the participatory.

    In 1968, Robert Smithson reacted to Michael Fried's influential essay “Art and Objecthood” with a series of works called non-sites. While Fried described the spectator's connection with a work of art as a momentary visual engagement, Smithson's non-sites asked spectators to do something more: to take time looking, walking, seeing, reading, and thinking about the combination of objects, images, and texts installed in a gallery. In Beyond Objecthood, James Voorhies traces a genealogy of spectatorship through the rise of the exhibition as a critical form—and artistic medium. Artists like Smithson, Group Material, and Michael Asher sought to reconfigure and expand the exhibition and the museum into something more active, open, and democratic, by inviting spectators into new and unexpected encounters with works of art and institutions. This practice was sharply critical of the ingrained characteristics long associated with art institutions and conventional exhibition-making; and yet, Voorhies finds, over time the critique has been diluted by efforts of the very institutions that now gravitate to the “participatory.”

    Beyond Objecthood focuses on innovative figures, artworks, and institutions that pioneered the exhibition as a critical form, tracing its evolution through the activities of curator Harald Szeemann, relational art, and New Institutionalism. Voorhies examines recent artistic and curatorial work by Liam Gillick, Thomas Hirschhorn, Carsten Höller, Maria Lind, Apolonija Šušteršič, and others, at such institutions as Documenta, e-flux, Manifesta, and Office for Contemporary Art Norway, and he considers the continued potential of the exhibition as a critical form in a time when the differences between art and entertainment increasingly blur.

    • Hardcover $34.95
  • Martin Beck

    Martin Beck

    An Organized System of Instructions

    James Voorhies

    Martin Beck's exhibition “Program” at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts comprised a sequence of interventions, installations, events, and displays that drew on the exhibition histories and academic pursuits of the famed 1963 Le Corbusier building at Harvard University. The sequence of explorative strategies—each node of which Beck considered an “episode”—lent particular attention to the founding aspirations of the Carpenter Center, which sought to cultivate its position as simultaneously an iconic modernist building, school, and exhibition venue. Beck performed and critically reflected on the kinds of activity an institution uses to build, organize, and engage with its audiences, and, in the case of the Carpenter Center, how it performed a kind of exhibition of education in both its pedagogical framework and its public outreach. From its physical infrastructure to its communication strategies, from its foundational curricular principles to visitor tallies, from building usage to welcome rituals, “Program,” which transpired over two years, examined institutional behaviors that collectively form institutional identity and integrate audiences into a cohesive program of public address.

    This book, An Organized System of Instructions, is both a document of “Program” and an extension of the exhibition, which ran from October 24, 2014, to October 2016.

    Copublished with Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts

    ContributorsMartin Beck, Keller Easterling, James Goggin, Alex Kitnick, James Voorhies

    • Hardcover $32.00
  • What Ever Happened to New Institutionalism?

    What Ever Happened to New Institutionalism?

    James Voorhies

    New Institutionalism, a mode of curating that originated in Europe in the 1990s, evolved from the legacy of international curator Harald Szeemann, the relational art advanced by French critic and theorist Nicolas Bourriaud, and other influential factors of the time. New Institutionalism's dispersed and varied approaches to curating sought to reconfigure the art institution from within, reshaping it into an active, democratic, open, and egalitarian public sphere. These approaches posed other possibilities and futures for institutions and exhibitions, challenging the consensual conception, production, and distribution of art. Practitioners engaged the art institution with renewed confidence by imbuing it with the potential for new aesthetic experiences and different relationships among artists, institutions, and spectators beyond engrained modernist ideologies. Working in these new modes, the art institution could become a site of fluidity, unpredictability, and risk.

    What Ever Happened to New Institutionalism? reflects upon the aspirations of these curatorial strategies and assesses their critical efficacy today within the landscape of contemporary art and globalized culture. The first in a series of readers examining changing characteristics of art institutions, this publication thinks through New Institutionalism by bringing together facsimiles of seminal texts, new critical essays, a history of trends and practices, and commissioned artist projects and contributions. These are complemented by documentation from the inaugural year of programming at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University focused on reimagining CCVA as a twenty-first-century institution.

    Copublished with Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts

    ContributorsMartin Beck, Nina Beier, Silvia Benedito, Ulla von Brandenburg, Katarina Burin, Simon Dybbroe Møller, Jonas Ekeberg, Alex Farquharson, Fernanda Fragateiro, Simon Fujiwara, James Goggin, Tone Hansen, Owen Hatherley, Henriette Huldisch, Damon Krukowski, Le Corbusier, Maria Lind, Markus Miessen, Eline Mugaas, Elise Storsveen, Gloria Sutton, James Voorhies, Naomi Yang, Amy Yoes

    • Hardcover $34.00