Art intervention

Art intervention

An art intervention is an interaction with a previously existing artwork, audience or venue/space. It has the auspice of conceptual art and is commonly a form of performance art. It is associated with the Viennese Actionists, the Dada movement and Neo-Dadaists. It has also been made much use of by the Stuckists to affect perceptions of other artwork which they oppose, and as a protest against an existing intervention.

Although intervention by its very nature carries an implication of subversion, it is now accepted as a legitimate form of art and is often carried out with the endorsement of those in positions of authority over the artwork, audience or venue/space to be intervened in. However, unendorsed (i.e. illicit) interventions are common and lead to debate as to the distinction between art and vandalism [ "Incidents of art vandalism"] issue 3. Retrieved March 22, 2006] . By definition it is a challenge, or at the very least a comment, related to the earlier work or the theme of that work, or to the expectations of a particular audience, and more likely to fulfil that function to its full potential when it is unilateral, although in these instances, it is almost certain that it will be viewed by authorities as unwelcome, if not vandalism, and not art.


There are many art interventions which are carried out in contexts where relevant invitation and approval has been given.

Detroit MONA goes kaBOOM!, 2002

The extreme to which an authorised intervention can go and yet still meet with institutional approval was shown in 2002, when the Detroit Museum of New Art staged a show "kaBoom!", with the announcement, "Over the course of the exhibition, museum visitors will be invited to smash, drop, throw and slash artworks..." [ Announcement of kaBOOM!] Retrieved March 20, 2006] The show was scheduled for two months, but by the end of the first night had been totally destroyed by visitors: :"They even destroyed the pedestals and wall shelves," one museum staffer shrugged in disbelief. Fires were set in isolated galleries and a wrecking ball for one display had been removed from its chain and used instead as a bowling ball, taking out an installation as well as the corner of one wall. "In a twisted way, it was a wild success," MONA’s director Jef Bourgeau says the morning after, on a surprisingly bright note as he wades through the carnage and debris. [ kaBOOM! reviewed] Retrieved March 20, 2006] This follows the precedent of the Dadaists. At one of their shows, visitors were invited to smash the exhibits with an axe.

Hanging Old Masters backwards, 2004

A more usual authorised art intervention in an institution is done with great care to make sure that no harm comes to the existing collection. In 2004, the Old Town House in Cape Town, South Africa, hung its Michaelis Collection of 17th century Dutch Old Master paintings facing the wall. The curator Andrew Lamprecht said this exhibition, titled "Flip", "would force gallery goers to reconsider their preconceptions about the art and its legacy." Knowledge of intent is integral to such a process, as it would be perceived differently if it were announced in a conservation context, rather than as an art piece. However, in this instance there was some ambiguity about the purpose of the exercise as Lamprecht, although stating, "I'm asking questions about the history", also added a more standard "educative" comment, "the reverse of the paintings revealed a wealth of detail not normally on view to the public, ranging from old attempts to preserve the canvas to notes from different collectors over the years", [ [,11711,1275347,00.html "Old Masters to Be Hung Facing the Wall", The Guardian, August 4, 2004] Retrieved March 4, 2006] thus lessening the confrontational impact of his actions.

Lord Napier in red tape, 2004

An authorised art intervention which required considerable effort to gain the requisite permission was the wrapping in red duct tape of the equestrian statue of Lord Napier of Magdala, situated on Queens Gate in West London. This was done by Eleonora Aguiari, a Royal College of Art (RCA) student for her final show. When questioned as to whether she had considered a clandestine act, she replied, "No, not my style, I like to challenge the institutions." In order to do this she needed clearance letters from the RCA Rector, a professor, the Victoria and Albert Museum conservation department and the RCA conservation department, bronze tests, a scaffolding license, indemnity insurance, and permission from English Heritage (who own the statue), the City of Westminster, two Boroughs (Chelsea and Kensington, as their boundary bisects the length of the horse) and the present Lord Napier.

Then a layer of cling wrap and almost 80 rolls of red duct tape were applied by 4 people working for 4 days. Aguiari described it as "a Zen action up there in the middle of traffic, but alone with a beautiful statue. Every detail on the statue is perfect and slightly larger than normal," and said that "statuary that symbolizes military past, or imperialism should be covered to make the topics of the past visible." [ "The Red Tape of Red Tape",] Retrieved March 22, 2006] Aguiari then received a phone call: "Saatchi wants to talk to you", but, on keeping the appointment, she found herself talking not to Charles Saatchi but to Michael Moszynski of the advertising firm, Saatchi and Saatchi, who thought her idea would be suitable for "a Tory advertising campaign", and wanted her to wrap an ambulance in red tape. She declined the offer. [,11711,1237259,00.html "Artist Caught up in Red Tape and Tory Ad Campaign", The Guardian, June 12,2004] Retrieved March 22, 2006]

Despite her official clearance, the action caused controversy [ [ "BLOC 2005",, 2005] Retrieved January 20, 2007] through press coverage, including a Reuters press agency photo reproduced in the "Daily Times" of Pakistan. [ [ "A statue of Britain's Lord Napier",] The Daily Times (Pakistan), May 28, 2004]


Some artists challenge the orthodoxy by not seeking, or perhaps not being able to obtain, permission, but carry out their intention anyway, contravening regulations—with official reactions of differing degrees of severity.

The black sheep, 1994

In 1994, Damien Hirst curated the show, "Some Went Mad, Some Ran Away", at the Serpentine Gallery in London, where he exhibited "Away from the Flock" (a sheep in a tank). An artist poured black ink into it, and was subsequently prosecuted, at Hirst's wish. The artist's defence was that he thought Hirst would benefit from the publicity and one critic (Tony Parsons) said the artist's action proved that what Damien Hirst does is art. The exhibit was restored at a cost of £1000.

Two men jump naked into Tracey's bed, 1999

A notable case of an unauthorised intervention—which did no damage, yet was still liable for prosecution—occurred at 12.58 p.m. on October 25, 1999, when two artists, Yuan Chai and Jian Jun Xi, jumped on Tracey Emin's installation "My Bed", in the Turner Prize at Tate Britain, wearing only underwear. They called their performance "Two Naked Men Jump Into Tracey's Bed". They were arrested for their action, but no charges were pressed. Chai had written, among other things, the words "ANTI STUCKISM" on his bare back. They said they were "improving" Emin's work, because they thought it had not gone far enough, and opposed the Stuckists, who are anti-performance art. [,12119,201733,00.html "Satirists Jump into Tracey's Bed", The Guardian, October 25, 1999] Retrieved March 22, 2006]

Banksy, c.2000

"Banksy" is the operating name of one of the best-known interventionists in the UK. He has carried out many graffiti stencillings, usually with a specific message or comment. He has also infiltrated his own artwork into museums, where they have remained for varying amounts of time before being removed. In May 2005, for example, he hung his own version of a primitive cave painting, showing a human pushing a shopping trolley, in the British Museum. His work is now a desirable art commodity.

Lennie Lee, c.2005

In February 2005 Jewish artist, Lennie Lee, was censored for exhibiting a piece called "Judensau" (Jew pig) in Treptow Town Hall gallery, Berlin. The intervention was organized by the other artists working in the show who claimed (incorrectly) Lee was one of them. Lee's work was designed to put the institution in a difficult position. If they left it on the wall they would be accused of anti-semitism by their opponents. On the other hand, if they took the work down, they would be censoring the work of a Jewish artist dealing with antisemitic stereotypes.

The authorities were forced to take the piece down. The piece attracted considerable attention from the media. Lee offered to remove his "Judensau" on condition that a 14th century sculpture of a "Judensau" was removed from the side of Martin Luther's church in Wittenberg. Martin Luther, in addition to founding the Lutheran church, was a well-known antisemite. His book On the Jews and Their Lies had an influence on Nazi ideas. [ [ "Uproar in town hall Treptow"] Morgen Post online. Retrieved 3 June 2006] [ [ "Censorship"] Berlin online. Retrieved June 3, 2006]

Taking a hammer to a urinal, 2006

On January 4, 2006, while on display in the Dada show in the Pompidou Centre in Paris, Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain" was attacked with a hammer by Pierre Pinoncelli, a 77 year old French performance artist, causing a slight chip. Pinoncelli, who was arrested, said the attack was a work of performance art that Marcel Duchamp himself would have appreciated. [ Pierre Pinoncelli on BBC website] ] This may be true, as on one occasion visitors to a Dada show were invited to smash up the exhibits with an axe. Previously in 1993 Pinoncellia urinated into the piece while it was on display in Nimes, in southern France. Both of Pinoncelli's performances derive from neo-Dadaists' and Viennese Actionists' intervention or manoeuvre.

The "Fountain" attacked by Pinoncelli was actually number 5 of 8 recreated by Duchamp at a much later date, after the original one was lost. Another is on display in the Indiana University Art Museum, and there is one also in Tate Modern, where in 2000 it too was the target of a urination performance (unsuccessful according to the gallery) by Yuan Chai and Jian Jun Xi.

Landmine Trail, c.2007

On April 1, 2007 stencil "artivist" Will St Leger planted 100 fake "landmines" in five public parks in Dublin, Ireland. The 'landmines' made from enamel plates, were painted army green with the word 'LANDMINE' and a symbol of a skull and crossbones stencilled onto them. St Leger claimed that he was highlighting the lethal threat that landmines posed to people in mine areas. In an interview with Metro newspaper he said, "The only time that people really think about things is if they encounter them in their everyday lives".

Illicit confronts the approved

Although the legal technicalities are straightforward, when an unauthorised intervention intervenes in an officially-sanctioned one, the moral issues may be far less straightforward, especially when the legal act meets with widespread public disapproval (even to the point of considering it vandalism), while the illicit reaction to it satisfies a public sense of justice.

tring up the perpetrator, 2003

In spring 2003, artist Cornelia Parker intervened in Auguste Rodin’s sculpture "The Kiss" (1886) in Tate Britain by wrapping it in a mile of string. [,,909667,00.html "No Strings Attached" The Guardian] Retrieved March 22, 2006] . This was a historical reference to Marcel Duchamp's use of the same length of string to create a web inside a gallery. Although the intervention had been endorsed by the gallery, many people felt it offensive to the original artwork and an act of vandalism rather than art. This reaction then prompted a further, unauthorised, intervention, in which Parker's string was cut by Stuckist Piers Butler (but as a maverick action outside the group), while couples stood around engaging in live kissing. [ "String up the Perpetrator" A Stuckist on Stuckism] Retrieved March 22, 2006]

ticking it to Goya, 2003

In 2003, Jake and Dinos Chapman montaged clown and other "funny" faces onto a set of etchings of Goya's "Disasters of War" (which they had purchased), thereby intervening in the original work. Aside from complaints on the grounds of bad taste, this act was described by some as "defacement", although the set was a late 1930s printing. Ostensibly as a protest against this piece, Aaron Barschak (who later became famous for gate-crashing Prince William's 21st birthday party dressed as Osama bin Laden in a frock) threw a pot of red paint over Jake Chapman during a talk he was giving in May 2003.

The Chapmans then added monster heads to Goya's "Los Caprichos" etchings and exhibited them at the White Cube in 2005 under the title "Like a dog returns to its vomit". Like other interventionists they asserted this was an improvement on the original: "You can't vandalise something by making it more expensive." However, Dinos pointed out one problem: "sometimes it is difficult to make the original Goya etchings any nastier; in one I found a witch sexually molesting a baby.". [,,1598777,00.html "Frieze Show Puts the 'Art' into Party, The Guardian, October 23, 2005] ]

Throwing something at boxes, 2006

Another example at the Tate was an intervention in Rachel Whiteread’s "Embankment" installation in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern on February 25, 2006. Whiteread's site-specific installation consisted of large piles of white plastic cubes, made by using a mould from cardboard boxes. Jonathan Meese, a German performance artist had staged a scheduled event in this environment, erecting props, and giving a wild monologue. During this, an object was thrown, or fell, from the walkway over the hall, landing with a bang. This was seen as intentional and considered by some people an art intervention, while others thought it was simply vandalism. [ Association of Illustrators discussion forum] Retrieved March 22, 2006] A month later, the Tate pronounced on this incident, "works get interfered with all the time and people often are unsure of the boundaries or social etiquette of Art and react accordingly, sometimes going beyond the pale." [ "Jonathan Meese's Rachel Whiteread Tate Intervention Intervened in....",] Retrieved April 9, 2006]

Outwitting the rules

A non-authorised and yet not illicit ploy is sometimes adopted, by carrying out purportedly "normal" behaviour, while finding loopholes in the regulations, pushing them to the limit and using them against the regulators.

Duchamp "takes the piss", 1917

A seminal example of this approach took place in 1917 when Marcel Duchamp submitted a urinal (laid on its back, signed by him "R.Mutt 1917", and titled "Fountain") to the Society of Independent Artists exhibition. The Society had proclaimed their open-mindedness by stating they would accept all work submitted, only anticipating that conventional media (paintings) would be. Duchamp was a member of the Society's board, and interpreted the regulations at face-value. His entry was immediately rejected as "not being art", and he resigned from the board shortly after. The original "Fountain" was lost—an indication of the scant regard Duchamp held for it. Fifty years later, Duchamp commissioned reproductions, which were then highly sought by museums.Wikipedia article on "Fountain" Retrieved March 26, 2006]

In 1961, fellow Dadaist, Hans Richter, wrote to Duchamp::You threw a bottle rack and urinal in their faces as a challenge and now they admire them for their aesthetic beauty.Duchamp wrote "Ok, ça va très bien" ("that's fine") in the margin beside it, and the quote is often erroneously attributed to him.

In a further piece of art intervention, in 1995, Brian Eno urinated in the reproduction of the Duchamp's Fountain in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Matthieu Laurette in Tournez Manege, 1993

In 1993, Matthieu Laurette established his artistic birth certificate by taking part in a French TV game called 'Tournez manège' (The Dating Game) where the female presenter asked him who he was, to which he replied: 'A multimedia artist'. Laurette had send out invitations to an art audience to view the show on TV from their home, turning his staging of the artist into a performed reality.

Apparition: The Today Show, NBC, 31 December 2004, (Guy Debord Is So Cool!)(2004)

Matthieu Laurette’s Apparition: The Today Show, NBC, 31 December 2004, (Guy Debord Is So Cool!)(2004) renegotiates the critique of mass media: amongst love message banners and goofy signs being held up by the audience of the outdoor-broadcast of the NBC infotainment show on Rockefeller Plaza in New York, Laurette held a pink cardboard sign stating “GUY DEBORD IS SO COOL!”

tuckist clowns at the Tate, 2000–05

The Stuckists have followed Duchamp's lead in exploiting regulations to their own advantage in yearly demonstrations outside the Turner Prize (2000-05) at Tate Britain. Prior to their first demonstration (dressed as clowns), they obtained written permission from the gallery that this form of dress was acceptable, and then walked round the Turner Prize wearing it. [ "The Real Turner Prize 2000",] Retrieved March 22, 2006] [ "Send in the Clowns for Turner", Evening Standard, October 16, 2000] Retrieved March 22, 2006 from]

In 2002, when Martin Creed won with lights going on and off in an empty room, they flicked flashlights on and off outside, and in 2003 displayed a blow-up sex doll to parody Jake and Dinos Chapman's bronze (painted) sculpture modelled on one, by claiming they had the original. [,,1102084,00.html "Turner Prize Goes to Perry – and Claire", The Guardian, December 8, 2003] Retrieved March 22, 2006] . Although barred from the prize ceremony, they have succeeded in infiltrating it psychologically to the extent that twice they have been mentioned by the guest of honour on live TV, just before the announcement of the winner. [ "Archive of demos"] Retrieved March 22, 2006] They have also handed out manifestos to arriving guests at the Tate (and the Saatchi Gallery), thus getting their message carried into the events from which they were excluded. [ Stuckists demo at the Saatchi Gallery] Retrieved March 22, 2006]

As the Stuckists condemn performance art as not real art, it raises the question as to whether their activities—which are carried out by artists and would therefore normally be classified as "art"—are still classified as "art", if they do not classify it that way themselves. On one occasion they were given an award for conceptual art by the proto-MU group nevertheless.

Art or vandalism?

It is clear that the legitimacy and artistic value of an art intervention may vary, depending on the perception and standpoint of the viewer. The following statement, entitled "Stuckism Handy Guide to the Artworld", first appeared on the Stuckist website with specific reference to the Meese incident at Tate Modern, and was then posted by Jennifer Maddock on the Artforum board with the comment, "I found a pretty cynical attempt to differentiate between vandalism and intervention while I was reading about the event in Tate Modern, for example the Stuckists' cynical definition": [ Artforum discussion forum] ]

There are clearly cases where vandalism takes place, though this can sometimes be by mentally imbalanced individuals. Sometimes art vandalism is used to make a political protest. Whether this is or isn't regarded as a legitimate political act, it is not normally seen as art, nor until recently would the question have even arisen. However, with the increasing dissolution of boundaries between art and life, and the broadening of art's scope, there has been an increasing tendency to view unusual or spectacular actions as art, even though the actions were never intended as art.

Tracey Emin gets drunk, 1997

There was some confusion about Tracey Emin's drunken outburst on Channel 4 television during a debate on the Turner Prize in 1997, when she swore at the rest of the panel and walked out. Newspapers referred to it as a "performance", though somewhat satirically. Emin does not seem to have regarded it as art herself. She has on other occasions been quite categorical about stating that certain of her actions were definitely not art, one of these being some posters she put up in the vicinity of her home, when her cat "Docket" was lost.

Damien Hirst and 9/11, 2002

Public outrage followed one attempt to reclassify an event in art terms on September 10, 2002, the eve of the first anniversary of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, when Damien Hirst said in an interview with BBC News Online::The thing about 9/11 is that it's kind of like an artwork in its own right ... David Hockney said that it was the 'most wicked piece of artwork'—a lot of people have compared it to a work of art. Of course, it's visually stunning and you've got to hand it to them on some level because they've achieved something which nobody would have ever have thought possible—especially to a country as big as America. So on one level they kind of need congratulating, which a lot of people shy away from, which is a very dangerous thing. [ Transcript of Hirst's 9/11 comments] Retrieved March 26, 2006] The following week, he issued a statement through his company, Science Ltd: :I apologise unreservedly for any upset I have caused, particularly to the families of the victims of the events on that terrible day. [ "Hirst apologies for 11 Sept Comments" BBC website] Retrieved March 26, 2006]

Other meanings

Corporate art intervention

The book "Privatising Culture: Corporate Art Intervention Since the 1980s" by Chin-Tao Wu was published in 2001 in New York. This examines the effect of policies by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan to encourage increased private funding of the arts, and how, for example, the consequent change in membership of trustee boards from academics to corporate executives has inevitably lead to potential conflicts of interest. [ "Privatising Culture: Corporate Art Intervention Since the 1980s, Book Review", Afterimage, September 2002] Retrieved March 22, 2006 from]

Intervention where therapy will do

The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children uses the term "art intervention" in the sense of art therapy. [ The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children] Retrieved March 22, 2006] , as does the University of Hong Kong, which states::Therapeutic art intervention for older adult. :The use of artistic intervention to improve the quality of life of the elderly persons has gained attention from health care professionals quite recently. The course will introduce the theoretical perspectives and applications of art orientations in service delivery. Advanced skills of using different artistic and non-verbal communication means to enhance expression of those with dementia and neurological impairment will be taught by progressive and experiential methods. [ University of Hong Kong, M.Soc.Sc, Gerontology] Retrieved March 22, 2006. Only available as Google cache]

Two words for one

There is also a widespread use of the term "art intervention" to refer not to a particular intended or achieved act, but generically to any presence of art or artists in an environment, where this may not have previously been the case, i.e. it just means "art". The extensive use of this is shown in instances from the London Borough of Bexley ("This Strategy aims to put 'culture at the heart of regeneration', and will build on the success of the first major Public Art intervention in the borough—The Erith Arts Project"), [ Borough of Bexley, Erith Arts Project] Retrieved March 22, 2006] to Neal Civic Center in Florida ("Plans include video documentation of this project so it can be used as a prototype for rural art intervention programs nationwide"), [ Art Attack! Neal Civic Center, Florida] Retrieved March 22, 2006] and Mayor Howard W. Peak, City of San Antonio, Texas (with the wish to "disseminate 'best practices' models of national art intervention programs"). [ Best Practices Database, City of San Antonio, Tx] Retrieved March 22, 2006]

ee also

*Installation art
*Performance art
*Conceptual art
*Appropriation (art)
*Found art
*John Fekner
*Yuan Chai and Jian Jun Xi
*Stuckist demonstrations
*Classificatory disputes about art

Notes and references

External links

* [ Stuckism official web site]
* [ Banksy gallery site]
* [ Banksy official web site]
* [ Banksy stencil graffiti images]
* [ John Fekner website]
* [ street art mexico by engendro]

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