Work Ethic by Helen MolesworthWork Ethic by Helen Molesworth

Work Ethic

byHelen Molesworth

Hardcover | October 23, 2003

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During the 1960s, artists from Alan Kaprow and Yoko Ono to Andy Warhol and Richard Serra stopped making "art" as it has been thought of since the Renaissance. They staged performances that mixed everyday life with theater and in yet other, often ironic, ways challenged the system of marketing, display, and aesthetic discourse that ascribes exceptional monetary as well as cultural value to paintings and sculpture. Work Ethic, published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name organized by The Baltimore Museum of Art, brings together a cross section of such radical endeavors and opens a fresh perspective on their genesis and meaning. Most of the avant-garde interventions considered in Work Ethic entailed performances and other procedures generally interpreted as linking a "dematerialization" of the object with the free play of concepts.

By contrast, Helen Molesworth and her collaborators in Work Ethic set such activities in the context of the workplace and contend that they engage issues of management, production, and skill that accompanied the emergence of the information age. The result is a major breakthrough in understanding the structures and ambitions of a wide range of art-making. Work Ethic reproduces all the diverse material—Bruce Nauman videotapes to Roxy Paine’s painting machine—in the Baltimore exhibition and provides insightful discussion of each piece’s history, structure, and significance.

Four essays introduce topics, like utopian fantasies of pleasurable work, that are of general relevance to setting the material into a postindustrial context. Throughout this catalogue, there is as well a lively dialogue on the museum’s relationship to art that questions the rules of both the workplace and the art world. The exhibition, "Work Ethic," will be at The Baltimore Museum of Art from October 12, 2003, to January 11, 2004, and at the Des Moines Center for the Arts from May 15 to August 1, 2004.

Helen Molesworth is Chief Curator of Exhibitions at the Wexner Center for the Arts.Darsie Alexander is Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photography at The Baltimore Museum of Art.Chris Gilbert is Associate Curator at the Des Moines Center for the Arts. Miwon Kwon is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Cali...
Title:Work EthicFormat:HardcoverDimensions:248 pages, 9.72 × 7.16 × 1.16 inPublished:October 23, 2003Publisher:Penn State University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0271023341

ISBN - 13:9780271023342

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Table of Contents



Lenders to the Exhibition




1. Work Ethic

Helen Molesworth

2. Reluctant Witness: Photography and the Documentation of 1960s and 1970s Art

Darsie Alexander

3. Herbie Goes Bananas: Fantasies of Leisure and Labor from the New Left to the New Economy

Chris Gilbert

4. Exchange Rate: On Obligation and Reciprocity in Some Art of the 1960s and After

Miwon Kwon


5. The Artist as Manager and Worker: The Artist Creates and Completes a Task

6. The Artist as Manager: The Artist Sets a Task for Others to Complete

7. The Artist as Experience Maker: The Audience Completes the Work

8. Quitting Time: The Artist Tries Not to Work

Checklist of the Exhibition

Contributors’ Notes

Selected Bibliography


Photo Credits

Editorial Reviews

“This catalogue, which includes stimulating essays as well as sustained catalogue entries on exhibited artists, is ambitious indeed. It attempts nothing less than a revision of how we understand the cataclysmic changes in art production during the 1960s. Curator Helen Molesworth proposes that what has often been called the ‘dematerialization’ of the artwork should be understood as a new relationship between the artist and her or his labor. In short, with the development of a new ‘post-industrial’ economic paradigm, Molesworth argues, artists began to put pressure on the socially charged bifurcation between manager and laborer in new ways. Most interestingly, in lieu of romantic notions of singular creativity, the artist began to divide into both worker and manager, and the work of art, to some degree, became the residue of this contradiction. . . . It is laudable and significant that this catalogue includes intelligent entries on the works of important exhibiting artists.”—David Joselit, Yale University