Summary: Bishop offers a critique of “relational aesthetics” – an approach to installation art that originated in the 1990’s and whose main proponent and interpreter was Nicolas Bourriaud. Bourriaud’s chief claim is that the art movement in question promotes intersubjective relationships (between artist and audience members and among audience members alike) and privileges social and political cohesion over other possible aspects of the aesthetic experience. While Bishop finds this ethos applicable to the work of the artists Bourriaud chooses to discuss (Rikrit Tiravanija, Liam Gillick etc.), she finds it difficult to reconcile relational aesthetics with the realities and concerns of the larger artworld. Antagonism is for Bishop just as viable a driving force in the making and appreciation of art as are social cohesion and intersubjective togetherness. Furthermore, as the history of early performance art and its reception shows, what makes art difficult, and thus politically important, is precisely the tensions that the makers and theorists of relational aesthetics attempt to quell.
Comment: This text offers a good introduction to relational aesthetics. Best if read together with (some of) Nicolas Bourriaud's work on relational aesthetics.