It does not seem inappropriate, on the occasion of Christian Philipp Müller’s first retrospective exhibition, to call attention to the year 1991, the year that Müller remembers as “the start of my life as an artist.”1
Given that Müller graduated from the Düsseldorf Art Academy in 1986 and had already completed several significant projects prior to 1991, it is curious to me that this year is flagged in the artist’s mind as marking the start of his life as an artist. It prompts several questions regarding the general concept of “the life of an artist,” namely, what, in fact, signals its beginning? When does the life of an artist begin? When he is born? When he enters art school? When he finishes art school and is no longer a mere student? Perhaps it is when he first exhibits a work in a professional art gallery or when an artist whom he admires acknowledges him as a fellow artist. Maybe it is when he sees his name in print in an important art magazine or when he establishes a long-term relationship with a reputable dealer. Maybe the feeling of being a real artist sinks in when he sells a major work to a major collector.
In 1991, Müller made two paintings. One is small (10 x 13 inches) with the birth date of the artist, “2
. Nov. 1957,” painted in white over a blue ground. The second painting is larger (61 x 76 inches). It is a dark brown monochrome with barely visible pencil marks indicating the space for the day, month, and year of Müller’s death, which is to be painted, when the time comes, by the owner of the work in the language commonly used in the place of the artist’s passing.2 Together, the two paintings constitute a single work (as yet unfinished!), entitled Two Important Dates in My Life, which had a key position within a larger site-specific installation presented at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in the same year. Like On Kawara’s daily date paintings, the obvious appropriative source here, Two Important Dates in My Life, calls up the march of time and the specter of death in a mode of representation that remains resolutely uninflected with expression or emotion. But unlike Kawara’s routinized serial repetition of marking each day one after another with a new painting, as if resisting mortality while being drawn toward finality at the same time, Müller’s two paintings simply bracket the artist’s lifetime, from birth to (future) death, with all the days in between remaining unmarked, falling somewhere in the gap between the two panels (Müller’s paintings further depart from Kawara’s precedent insofar as the first is displayed with the date reading vertically). This might lead us to conjecture that, for Müller, 1991 marks the start of his life as an artist because it is the year in which he made a work whose content is literally his life. But despite the work’s highlighting of basic autobiographical facts (dates of birth and death), it would be a mistake to interpret Two Important Dates in My Life as representing the artist in biographical terms. Rather, as with all of Müller’s prior and subsequent works in which the role of the artist is prominently figured or performed, Two Important Dates in My Life is less of an existential contemplation than an institutional interrogation.
With Müller’s design for these two paintings which defers the work’s completion to the completion of his life (and to a third party), the artist emerges, in fact, as an empty figure or position, a blank, whose substantiality will be determined retroactively and backwards from the moment of his absence. Destined to become the artist’s final work even if made fifteen years ago (ostensibly at the start of his life as an artist), Two Important Dates in My Life encourages a critical consideration of not so much the specificity of Müller’s life as an artist but the end of any artist’s production and the function or structural relation between this cessation and the construction of the artist’s works as a unified artistic oeuvre (and by extension the artist as a similarly unified creative source) that gains in meaning and value because of the cessation. In other words, Müller posits the death of the artist as a prerequisite for the completion of Two Important Dates in My Life in order to allegorically bring into view the conventionalized movement of valuation — artistic, historical, monetary — that occurs when an artist’s output comes to a halt upon his or her death. It is not birth but death of artistic production that is the real starting point; the difference in the sizes of the two paintings clearly indicates that the two important dates in an artist’s life are, indeed, not equally important.
Despite Müller’s casual reference to this moment as the start of his life as an artist, then, I want to suggest that there is something more to consider here. Two Important Dates in My Life conjures the termination of Müller’s artistic production but, at the same time, predicts the emergence of new productions — of meaning and value — that will be mobilized around and through the artist’s work when and because he is gone. This retrospective exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel, Museum für Gegenwartskunst can be seen, thus, as a rehearsal for such posthumous productions to come. Such a moment of institutional legitimization, if not consecration, by one of the oldest museums in Europe, a museum of the artist’s national origin no less, was ambivalently imagined by Müller in Two Important Dates in My Life in 1991.
As mentioned earlier, this work was but one piece in a multi-part site-specific installation at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Entitled Fixed Values, the installation took up four rooms and involved a complex constellation of elements that each drew attention to objects and methods of museological and commercial display that help to produce value as much as present or affirm it. Simultaneously, Müller crafted relays between his installation and the two major exhibitions on view in the adjacent galleries of the Palais: an exhibition of the Portuguese crown jewels entitled Triumph of Baroque occupied the grand hall, which Victor Horta, the architect of the Palais, designed in the nineteen-twenties to house “monumental art,” and an exhibition of a variety of fine and decorative art items broadly ranging in aesthetic quality and monetary value all up for auction to raise funds for museum programming. The concurrence of the two exhibitions, one of objects whose historic, aesthetic, social, and monetary value are deemed fixed and unquestioned, and another of objects whose value are profoundly uncertain and left open to supply-and-demand market determination, provided a particularly resonant counterpoint to Müller’s installation. In fact, the juxtaposition of the highly aestheticized presentation of the Royal Portuguese jewels and the “flea-market” presentation style of the auction influenced many decisions concerning the content, form, and conceptual dimensions of Fixed Values as itself an auction of objects related to the artist’s output up to that point. Conversely, Müller’s installation framed the other two exhibitions as well as the Palais itself as objects of inquiry, especially their modes of value production vis-à-vis installation design. In this way, Fixed Values established a densely layered site-specific engagement that would come to characterize many of Müller’s later projects.
Müller’s approach to site-specificity, which we will come to know in detail through a close analysis of Fixed Values, combines the phenomenological concerns developed out of Minimalist sculpture, the sociopolitical analysis of institutional critique, and discursive priority of conceptual art. While I have elsewhere posited these aspects — the phenomenological, the sociological, and the discursive — as defining typologically distinct categories of site-specific art, and as indicating historical shifts within site-specific art since the nineteen-sixties, in Müller’s practice the specificity of a site is understood as a network or web of relations defined by the concurrent and interpenetrating realities of material facts, socioeconomic and political conditions, and discursive formations.3 Müller constellates objects, spaces, actions, and ideas as equally relevant and interconnected registers of analysis. This results in a new site “generated” by the work that coordinates disconnected times and spaces to bring the contradictions of the present into a sharper focus.
Fixed Values: We enter the rotunda space at the east corner of the Palais des Beaux-Arts, where contemporary art usually gets relegated, to face a formal reception desk. Flanking the desk are two vitrines of artist books by Müller, but more immediately, we pick up an exhibition catalogue at this desk that appears to be an auction catalogue of objects from Müller’s earlier projects.4 At the top of a short flight of stairs off to the side of the reception desk, we see the first object listed in the catalogue under the medium of “video:” a monitor “bust” of Müller playing at a nineteenth-century Dutch king welcoming the public to his “palace.”5 After being royally welcomed in this way, we find ourselves facing three entrances to rooms radiating out of the rotunda space.
At first glance, it looks as if we cannot enter the first room to the left. A wide and long roll of heavyweight white paper hanging from the ceiling blocks our view into the gallery. This is a typical backdrop used by commercial photographers to decontextualize and isolate objects or persons within the camera’s frame. Situated squarely in the middle of the entrance and set back a little from it, the backdrop functions not only to block our view but also to visually decontextualize and isolate those who happen to stand or pass in front of it, objectifying them like a precious artifact or work of art from the viewpoint of other visitors.6 By putting such an apparatus literally in the path of viewers, that is, forcing us to self-consciously move around the white paper “wall” that is also a curtain (reminiscent of Daniel Buren’s infamous striped wall/curtain at the Guggenheim Museum in 1971), Müller transforms its status from invisible support structure to an unavoidable object of physical negotiation and critical assessment. He reverses, in other words, the figure/ground relations here. What is usually and literally background is made into figure/object. The position of the backdrop also confuses which side of the backdrop is in fact to be taken as “the exhibition.” In doing so, the artist highlights the theatricality that underlies both his own installation (signaled already by the exaggerated and out-of-place formality of the mock “royal welcome”) and museum exhibitions in general. On reaching the other side of the backdrop (are we now properly in the front or back of the exhibition?), we see Two Important Dates in My Life occupying the far wall, reminding us of the role of museums to not only present but also “reveal” the artist.
If the gap between the two paintings of Two Important Dates in My Life, marking the span of Müller’s life, offers no information regarding his artistic production, then the contents of the room farthest to the right off the rotunda space delivers clues as to what begins to fill this gap. At the center of this room, we find a lone, almost forlorn vitrine. On its delicate glass shelves is a heterogeneous assortment of what Müller’s catalogue identifies as “showcase objects:” “very rare entrance tickets,” “pair of very precious men’s shoes,” “rare photo material from Germany,” “box pasted with newspaper page,” etc. While the significance and value of these remnants from Müller’s prior performances and site-specific projects remains ambiguous to viewers at this point, their treatment accord an unmistakable fetishistic aura and historical importance to them — numbered and lit as if they are “gems” of a kind. Such adoption of conventional display techniques clearly links Müller’s set of auction objects to the Portuguese crown jewels on display in a set of galleries just two rooms away. The decision to use an Art-Nouveau-style vitrine makes this link even more emphatic, putting into conceptual proximity categories of objects and types of activity usually kept far apart: contemporary versus old and established; high art versus decorative design; stable and fixed aesthetic or historic value (protected in the museum) versus fluctuating and arbitrary monetary value (released in the market).
Müller’s auction-house treatment of his objects and the choice of the Art-Nouveau-style vitrine make another, different kind of connection that is genealogical in nature and art historical in content — to Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers, who used similar vitrines in his extensive parody of the museum a generation before, and who, in the late nineteen-sixties, had many interactions, some very contentious, with the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.7 This reference to Broodthaers, although not readily recognizable to those less familiar with Modern and Contemporary Art, brings into the field of Müller’s work not only a specific art historical precedent but also through it those buried incidents of the host institution’s past and aspects of its habitual present that go unnoticed. This archaeological gesture aligns Müller’s project within a lineage of others, including Broodthaers, that have similarly questioned institutional procedures, especially those that have become naturalized or normalized over the years. But in appropriating his own artworks to appropriate Broodthaers, who appropriated museological procedures to critique the institution, Müller poses the possibility of critique itself as a naturalized and normalized aspect of the museum system.8
We return once again to the rotunda space in order to enter the third room, which is not quite a room but a transitional passage connecting the marginalized space of the rotunda and the main exhibition galleries. This third space is very dark; the walls are covered in black fabric. A line of halogen spotlights direct our attention to a dramatic display of neatly stacked rows of Plexiglas plates of various sizes lined up in the middle of the room. They are glistening on the floor like sacred objects imbued with mysterious powers. The ambience here encourages a fetishistic and reverential appreciation of what Müller’s catalogue identifies as “decorative objects” from the artist’s past production. In actuality, these Plexiglas stacks are reconfigured versions of sculptures that were part of an installation at Galerie Nagel in Cologne in 1990 entitled Köln–Düsseldorf.9 Presented then as transparent cubic forms, volumetric equivalents of statistical information comparing the budgets of several cultural institutions in each city of the title, and displayed to appear like a three-dimensional bar graph, they recalled the early Minimalist cubes by Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Larry Bell, and Hans Haacke.10 But in their representation in Brussels in proximity and in the context of exhibitions of Portuguese royal jewels and an auction of possible hidden treasures, they are no longer erect forms but collapsed panels as if metaphorically speaking of the end of abstract modernist sculpture. At the same time, the flattened cubes, rendered dysfunctional as sculptures, also read as dysfunctional vitrines as if someone forgot to assemble them or as if they were recently dismantled. As “failed” artworks and “failed” display supports, they are recast as “decorative objects” in a most radical self-appropriation, and presented like precious jewels themselves, cueing the viewers moving on to the jewelry exhibition in the next gallery to notice the function of the vitrines in the production of desire, value, and aesthetic “quality.” Like the white paper backdrop in the first room, the artist draws attention to another apparatus of display as the primary object of critical and aesthetic consideration.
Of course, the most encompassing apparatus of display is the museum itself. The exacting attention that Müller pays to directing the viewers physically through the spaces of a museum, and this precisely as a means to bring into the field of the work the frame of the museum, distinguishes Müller’s work from other artists of his generation, such as Andrea Fraser and Fred Wilson, who inherit and redefine site-specific institutional critique in different ways. I have taken pains to describe Fixed Values as if on a walking tour in order to capture the phenomenological unfolding and enfolding of information as one moves through the galleries in a sequence of encounters with one segment of Müller’s installation after another. That is, as one experiences the installation as a succession of rooms/parts and the museum as a spatialized articulation of systems of value and meanings.11
The emphasis I have placed on the way Fixed Values works or what it does rather than on what it means is for the purpose of highlighting Müller’s site-specific methodology, which, in my view, uniquely combines two seemingly contradictory approaches, one drawn from sculpture that insists on material, spatial, and phenomenological presentness, and the other drawn from the photographic logic of displacement, fragmentation, and repetition/ recirculation.12 To understand this point more clearly, we need to turn to two important texts from the nineteen-seventies, both by Rosalind Krauss, that tried to map the then emergent practice of site-specific art. The two approaches mentioned are separately theorized by Krauss in the two texts as if distinct phenomena and the word site-specificity is not mentioned in either texts. Regardless, we can return to the insights of these texts, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” (1978) and “Notes on the Index: Part 2” (1977), to better understand what site-specific art might look like and how they might operate differently today than in the past.
There is a general consensus in Contemporary Art historical discourse, reached through the past three decades or so, that site-specific art emerged out of Minimalist sculptural practice. Robert Morris’s 1966 essay, “Notes on Sculpture: Part II,” is often cited as an initial articulation of a key site-specific principle: the work of art “takes relationships out of the work and makes them a function of space, light, and the viewer’s field of vision.”13 That is, the “aesthetic terms” of the artwork are not contained within it but defined in relation to the particularities of its context, especially the physical space of the room in this case, and dependent upon the spectator’s interaction with a range of determining elements of the presentation, including light, space, art object, and viewer’s interaction with all three.
Krauss subsequently analyzed the various ways in which artists of the nineteen-seventies further elaborated on this context-oriented movement away from the autonomy of the art object in her essay “Sculpture in the Expanded Field.” In what is arguably the most influential text to define the terms of site-specificity as a postmodernist negation of modernist sculpture, Krauss revealed the underlying logic that unites works as varied as Carl Andre’s floor piece Cuts (1967), Robert Smithson’s earthwork Spiral Jetty (1970), Mary Miss’s construction Perimeters/Pavilions/Decoys (1978), and Richard Long’s untitled walks, among others. The genealogy proposed in the essay is well known by now. First there was sculpture ruled by the logic of the monument: “It sits in a particular place and speaks in a symbolical tongue about the meaning or use of that place.”14 Then toward the end of the nineteenth century, the force of this logic waned and sculpture entered the “space of its negative condition — a kind of sitelessness, or homelessness, an absolute loss of place,”15 a condition which we identify as modernism. No longer bound to a place or to the function of commemorating that place, sculpture becomes nomadic, abstract, and self-referential, with its spatial and temporal determinants conceived in idealist terms. By the late nineteen-sixties, this modernist logic also had run its course, as “piles of thread on the floor, or sawed redwood timbers rolled into the gallery, or tons of earth excavated from the desert” pushed the category of sculpture into a “no-man’s land.”16 Now, it could only be understood as a pure negativity, an ontological absence: it is “what was on or in front of a building that was not the building, or what was in the landscape that was not the landscape.”17 Employing the mathematical diagram of the Klein group for her structuralist analysis, Krauss went on to map a postmodernist expansion beyond sculpture, vis-à-vis the exploration of the limits of the medium in relation to architecture and landscape. Her logical operation yielded alternative possibilities — marked site, site construction, and axiomatic structure — that decentralizes the category of sculpture and provides a means to recognize the range of artworks of the nineteen-seventies as indeed sharing a collective impulse to counter the self-reflexive, internalized gaze of a modernist practice with one that is responsive to, if not determined by, external conditions of a work’s context.
Within the terms of “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” a number of Müller’s projects — those directly engaging with architecture, such as Three for Antwerp (1990), Fassade Galerie Nagel (with Fareed Armaly, 1991), Individual Comfort (1993), Zelle des Mystagogen (1995), and Im Geschmack der Zeit (2004), as well as those involving the landscape, such as Green Border (1993), On the Desire to Be in Perfect Tune with Nature (2001), Hudson Valley Tastemakers (2003) and Die Neue Welt (2006) — can all be seen as developing the various possibilities of marked sites, site constructions, or axiomatic structures. But if the “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” offers one way of accessing the logic of Müller’s practice as an anti-medium-specific elaboration of sculpture’s externalization of meaning, as a mode of practice that “exfoliates from Minimalism,”18 “Notes on the Index, Part 2” offers another point of entry: site-specificity as a mode of practice involving an internalization of the logic of photography.
In this essay, Krauss focuses on a number of works from the 1976 exhibition Rooms at P.S.1 in Long Island City, New York (all of which we would call site-specific art today) to claim that photography had by then become the operative model for these advanced abstract works. For example, in Gordon Matta-Clark’s architectural cuts of floors and ceilings, Michelle Stuart’s wall rubbings, and Lucio Pozzi’s series of small painted panels whose internal order of colors replicate the pattern of colors on specific wall locations where the panels are placed, Krauss saw a consistent drive to render the work into a trace, clue, transfer, or imprint of the physical reality of the building. Which is to say, she saw this group of artworks as aspiring to be indexical signs, as direct registrations of a given worldly situation (in this case the dilapidated condition of the P.S.1 building), rather than symbolic or iconic signs. Krauss argued that instead of encoding reality, these works were imprints of reality, like a photograph, bound to the referent through a physical connection, and with the works’ internal structure accountable point by point to external determinants. As such, these works of art operate as repositories of evidence of a given presence (again, Krauss means the physical reality of the building), serving as a means to direct attention to this presence even as it effaces it or comes to replace it (Matta-Clark removes portions of floors and ceilings to call attention to them; Stuart covers up the walls with her rubbings of the same; Pozzi overlays his colored panels on top of wall areas with matching color divisions, blocking visual access to the wall areas themselves). Furthermore, Krauss argued that like linguistic shifters these works “are filled with meaning only when physically juxtaposed with an external referent, or object.”19
Aspects of Müller’s Fixed Values, a project I am treating as a model of the artist’s general working method, certainly function like linguistic shifters: the white paper backdrop replicates and points to the white walls of the museum gallery in which it hangs; the Art-Nouveau vitrine and the stacks of Plexiglas panels that look like collapsed vitrines/sculptures make critical sense in relation to the exhibition techniques used for the presentation of the Portuguese crown jewels and the auction items; Müller’s simulated auction catalogue, or the entirety of Fixed Values as an auction of the artist’s production, has specific meaning in light of the Palais des Beaux-Arts’ own auctions and their accompanying catalogues. But even as Müller’s site-specific installation functions as an index and as a pointer to the continuum that lies outside it like a photograph, his work also challenges Krauss’s argument. For instance, while the vitrine holding a range of Müller’s “leftovers” from earlier projects points to the presence of the auction preview in another gallery, a central referent of the installation, the objects in the vitrine are indexical signs pointing to Müller’s earlier projects also, done elsewhere at another time. Which is to say, elements in Müller’s installation point to multiple external referents simultaneously, moving forward and backward along a temporal axis as much as a spatial one.
The challenge comes precisely in how differently Müller conceives of the “external conditions” that the work will register and point to. For Krauss, following Roland Barthes’s theorization of the logic of the photograph as a “message without a code,” the presence that is manifested in a photograph is a “presence of an uncoded event,” the “world itself,” which exceeds capture in any cultural system. Curiously, in Krauss’ essay architecture is synonymous with the “world itself,” as a presence that is uncoded. For Müller, architecture or, more bluntly, a building is never uncoded or outside the cultural system. That architecture receives so much of the artist’s attention in his practice is because he recognizes it as a dominant cultural system that is dominant precisely for appearing to be uncoded, naturalized as the “world itself.” Moreover, the specificity of a site that Müller’s indexical objects trace move beyond the physical to its historical, social, economic, and political conditions as well. Which is to say, Müller’s work does more than capture the presence of the building, “to force it to the surface, into the field of the work.” Sometimes, a given physical site is treated not as a referent but as itself an index (as in A Balancing Act, 1997) requiring an archaeological retrieval of its causes in history.20
Generally, Fixed Values is designed to draw the viewers’ attention away from “the work” to the contextual conditions that precede it; to a large extent these conditions determine the terms of “the work.” The installation operates to point outward toward these conditions, in this case to various display techniques, to physical characteristics of rooms, to historical forces that shaped such characteristics, to relations between rooms and programmed activities therein, to the content of other exhibitions at the museum and their function, to art historical precedents, and, importantly, the interpenetration of art and commerce as manifested in the auction, etc. Even when the elements of Fixed Values seem to point back to the artist as the source, as in Two Important Dates in My Life or the artifacts from prior projects made available for auction, it is in order to bring into view the external determinants that frame their viability as culturally valuable objects, to reveal values, in fact, as un-fixed.
Insofar as Müller’s site-specific art does this kind of work, pointing to the conditions of a given site (understood as more than a physical presence of a building or an uncoded reality), it maintains a quasi-tautological relation between the signifier and the signified, which Barthes noted as a unique characteristic of the photograph, and which Krauss attributes to site-specific art. And Müller’s model of site-specificity continues to mobilize the particular category of space-time perception that photographs produce — described by Barthes as “spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority… an illogical conjunction of the ‘here’ and the ‘formerly.’”21 But the artist also conjoins the “present” with the “there/elsewhere,” exploiting not only the temporal distance that is constitutive of photographic perception (this took place in this way there) but also to conjugate this perception through the spatial displacement that is part of a sculptural perception or phenomenological experience (this took place in this way then). What I am clumsily trying to assert here is that Müller’s practice contributes to an expanded field for photography along spatial rather than temporal lines, a trajectory that critic George Baker has recently outlined so productively.22 More than this, though, Müller’s work proposes that the logic of photography may have already been integral to the sculptural/spatial expansion that was diagnosed decades ago. One might say then that site-specific art is, indeed, photography by other means (and a photograph is always site-specific). If we can begin to think through the implications and possibilities of such a conjuncture, we will catch up to Müller’s paradoxical observation that to be site-specific is to be very clearly, which is to say, very precisely out of context.23
1 E-mail communication with author on January 24, 2006.
2 The small panel was done as a commission for the Belgian art magazine Forum
International and featured as the cover of their January-February 1992 issue. The
dimensions of the piece correspond to the dimensions of the magazine. The larger
painting was produced at the same time and its dimensions correspond to the largest
size of On Kawara’s formats for his daily date paintings. See pp. 22-23.
3 See Miwon Kwon, One Place After Another: Site-specific Art and Locational Identity
4 The catalogue simulates the auction catalogues produced by the Palais for its monthly
auctions. It appropriates identical categories of classification, cover design, page
layout, style of object description, etc. It also includes information on exchange rates
of various currencies.
5 This work, entitled, Eh! bien, prenons la plume, was part of Müller’s exhibition at the
artist-club Arti et Amicitiae in Amsterdam in 1988.
6 The operation here is similar to what Müller accomplishes with a recreation of
a surveillance structure placed inside an exhibition space and treated as an interactive
sculpture. See his contribution to the Platzwechsel exhibition in Kunsthalle Zürich,
7 The specific reference is to Broodthaers’ Musée d’Art Moderne, Départment des Aigles,
Section XIXème Siècle (Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles, Nineteenth-
Century Section), 1968–72.
8 Müller’s video of the welcoming speech by the Dutch king can be seen as a campier
version of Broodthaers’ “pomp and circumstance” around the inauguration of his
Musée d’Art Moderne in 1968. George Baker has suggested that Müller treats
Broodthaers himself as a site-specific element in the Fixed Values installation. See
Baker’s article, “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: The Art of Christian Philipp Müller,”
in Artforum (February 1997), pp. 74–77, 109.
9 For a detailed description of this work, see project description in this catalogue,
pp. 168 ff.
10 George Baker makes a specific link between Müller’s Köln–Düsseldorf and Haacke’s
Condensation Cube (1963–65) and sees Müller’s work as extending the factographic
methods of the latter. Baker writes: “The comparison with Haacke is not simply
fortuitous, similarly calling up Modernist sculpture’s legacy of formal autonomy and
its imperative of utter self-reflexivity, these sculptures in fact performed a reversal of
any such formal neutrality and structural transparency… the mere facticity of the bar
graph had determined the aesthetic parameters of the sculptures, and any
transparency they retained was solely on the level of the instrumental communication
of information.” See Baker, 1997 (as in note 8), p. 76.
11 Fixed Values constellates several art historical references. We have already noted On
Kawara, Daniel Buren, and Marcel Broodthaers. Michael Asher is also present,
especially on this point of orchestrating the movement of the audience through the
spatial organization of a museum. For instance, in Asher’s 1979 project for the 73rd
American Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, the artist moved a George
Washington statue from outside the museum to one of the eighteenth-century galleries
as his contribution. In doing so, he forced those visitors to the 73rd American
Exhibition, showcasing works by contemporary artists and situated in a discrete
gallery space dedicated to the show, to traverse through the museum to other galleries.
In effect, Asher reframed the entire museum and its spatial organization of knowledge,
establishing a clear relationship between its construction of “contemporary art”
through exhibitions like the 73rd American Exhibition and the production of art
12 Immediately, one could note Robert Smithson’s dialectic of site/non-site as
accomplishing exactly this. But in Müller’s case, the two modes are conceived less in
dialectical terms (either/or) than in analogical terms (neither/and). Perhaps
Smithson himself was less dialectical and more analogical in his thinking. See George
Baker’s reading of Smithson’s work in “The Cinema Model,” in Robert Smithson. The
Spiral Jetty, eds. Lynne Cooke and Karen Kelly (New York and Los Angeles, 2005).
13 See Robert Morris, “Notes on Sculpture, Part 2,” in Artforum (October 1966),
pp. 20–23. Reprinted in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battock
(New York, 1968), pp. 228–235.
14 Rosalind Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” in The Originality of the Avant-
Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, 1985), p. 279.
15 Ibid., p. 280.
16 Ibid., p. 282.
17 Ibid., p. 282.
18 This is Rosalind Krauss’s characterization of site-specific art, as if the Klein group
mapping could be folded along dotted lines to reconstitute a perfect cube. See Hal
Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Art Since 1900:
Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism (London and New York, 2004), p. 542.
19 Rosalind Krauss, “Notes on the Index: Part 2,” in The Originality of the Avant-Garde
and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, 1985 ), p. 216.
20 See George Baker and Christian Philipp Müller, “A Balancing Act,” in October 82
(Fall 1997), pp. 94-118.
21 See Roland Barthes, “Rhetoric of the Image,” in Image Music Text (New York, 1977),
22 See George Baker, “Photography’s Expanded Field,” in October 114 (Fall 2005),
23 Email communication with author on January 24, 2006.