Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Gregory Sholette

Art and Public Life

The concept of public art has undergone significant transformation in the last twenty years, moving from a confrontational stance in the era of the "culture wars" to a variety of practices that involve community participation and social activism.  Other developments such as the emergence of social media, new theories of "intimate" and "partial" publics, new concepts of "the commons" and community, technical transformations that impact the relations of publicity, secrecy, and privacy, the onset of a global "war on terror" along with a return of fundamentalist religion, and the rise of populist political movements have transformed both the idea and the experience of public life.  Indeed, the very idea of the public seems to be under siege in domains such as education, housing, and the rights of free speech and assembly. In 1993, Critical Inquiry published a special issue and book entitled Art and the Public Sphere that provided a landmark assessment of the nature of public art.  This project aims to update the findings of that moment, producing a fundamental reassessment of the conditions and possibilities for the arts and public life in our time.  In keeping with the new conditions of publicness, Critical Inquiry, with the generous support of the Neubauer Collegium, is proud to present Gregory Sholette's "Precarious Workers of the (Art) World Unite!"

- W.J.T. Mitchell


Artist, writer and activist Gregory Sholette discusses the varied tactics associated with Gulf Labor Coalition as they seek to call attention to the plight of precarious migrant workers in Abu Dhabi where a new Guggenheim Museum is in the works, followed by an examination of Marina Naprushkina's sustainable art project in the Moabit section of Berlin where she is developing an "artificial institution" whose mission is to service the needs of her "new neighbors": political refugees fleeing military and economic conflict in Syria, Iraq and Northern Africa. The broader issue that both of these politically engaged, artistic endeavors confronts is how we might redirect resources, as well as invent new models, for rethinking the notion of a shared commons operating in opposition to the predacious appetite of neoliberal enterprise culture. This larger agenda seems especially urgent today as we witness an ever-tightening intersection between contemporary art, global capital, and the growing multitude of migratory, precarious, and paperless laborers who are simultaneously tasked with building the fabulous architectural fantasies serving the world's .01% ultra-rich, while also demonized as a dangerous social surplus dragging down limited economic resources. People at risk, including refugees, low-income workers, indebted students, marginalized people of color and women, as well as most artists, and even perhaps an entire nation in the case of Greece, increasingly wield a dark transformative agency with nothing to lose except their precariousness.

Presented by the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and SocietyCritical InquiryArt HistoryDOVA, and Art and Public Life.