“Caught in the Act: The Viewer as Performer”

“Caught in the Act: The Viewer as Performer,” an all-Canadian contemporary exhibition at the National Gallery in Ottawa, rides a global wave of museum shows and art festivals that have variously been called participatory, interactive, performative, experiential or relational. It is concurrent with “theanyspacewhatever” at the Guggenheim, which includes the usual suspects, such as Rirkrit Tiravanija and Maurizio Cattelan, and with Christoph Büchel’s “Deutsche Grammatik,” an exhibition that converts the hallowed galleries of Kassel’s Fridericianum into such everyday spaces as a gym, supermarket and conference room.

There is, of course, nothing new in artistic efforts to overcome the alleged gap between the viewer as passive observer and the artwork as an autonomous, fixed object. The various strategies employed in “Caught in the Act”–transformation of architectural space, electrically charged objects that react to the viewers’ presence, and installations that foreground the communal aspects of art making–have a long history that can be traced back to Marcel Duchamp, Dada, Allan Kaprow’s happenings and the Fluxus movement, to name but a few of their antecedents. In the NGC’s exhibition, curator Josée Drouin-Brisebois has emphasized the continuity of experiential art by including works from the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s (by Mowry Baden, Jana Sterbak, Max Dean and Rebecca Belmore). These older works present, as she writes in the catalogue, a framework for the “new practices” of BGL (Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière), Geoffrey Farmer, Massimo Guerrera, Glen Johnson, Rodney LaTourelle, Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, and Kent Monkman. Discovering connections among the works of different periods provides an added interest to this lively exhibition….

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