Best known for her series of "gallery talks" – enactments highlighting gender and class relations in the structures and histories of arts organizations – New York performance artist Andrea Fraser (American, b. 1965) began making her critiques when she was asked to contribute to a 1986 exhibition organized by the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. Instead of making an object, Fraser offered a tour, serving as a fictional docent named Jane Castleton. One of Fraser’s critiques, filmed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1989, will be on view in the Museum’s video gallery (Gallery 179) August 3 to October 3, 2004.
Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk (Betacam SP, 30 minutes), which the Museum recently acquired, was made when Fraser brought the Castleton persona to the Museum for five performances in February 1989. Visitors gather in the Museum’s West Entrance, waiting for an afternoon tour titled Contemporary Viewpoints Artist Lecture by Andrea Fraser. Instead, Castleton, sporting her signature silver and brown houndstooth suit, greets the unsuspecting visitors, ready to talk to any who will listen. Castleton leads the guests on a tour of the galleries, as well as the Museum’s restrooms, store, and cafeteria, as she talks about art, corporate and private sponsorship, and the role volunteers play at the Museum. In addition to the Museum, Fraser has given similar performances at Artists Space in New York (1986) and the Wadsworth Antheneum in Hartford, Connecticut (1991).
While Castleton’s talk seems entirely improvisational, it was researched thoroughly and completely scripted. Fraser drew all of her facts from municipal reports, Museum literature, and other sources. In addition to the filming of the live performances, Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk was published in transcript form, complete with stage directions, epigraphs, and footnotes in the German publication Durch (1990) and the American journal October (1991). According to Fraser, her motivation behind the work was to take all the descriptions and aesthetic values that museums tout and relate them to economic and social values. Critical of official museum voices, Fraser hopes to inspire broader awareness of what large arts organizations expect from their visitors. Humorous and subversive, Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk looks to probe the preconceived notions that shape visitors’ relationships with large arts organizations.
Born in Billings, Montana, Fraser has taught locally at the Tyler School of Art and Moore College of Art & Design, as well as The Cooper Union in New York, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künst- Städelschule in Frankfurt, Germany. Fraser presently teaches part time at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College in New York. Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk was most recently shown at the artist’s retrospective exhibition organized by the Kunstverein in Hamburg, Germany. It was purchased by the Philadelphia Museum of Art with funds contributed by members of the Committee of Modern and Contemporary Art, 2004. The exhibition is organized by Melissa Kerr in the Museum’s department of Modern and Contemporary Art.