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Extracting meaning from strangeness : strategies to enhance viewer engagement with contemporary art in the public art museum


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Deeth, Jane Alexandra 2009 , 'Extracting meaning from strangeness : strategies to enhance viewer engagement with contemporary art in the public art museum', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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This research questions the notion that contemporary art is difficult to engage with, and
considers what the public art museum can do to enhance viewers' experience of
contemporary art. Contemporary art in this context is understood as the discursive, ideas-based
art that has come to the fore since the 1960s. It is argued that because the formalist
aesthetic remains the dominant mode of responding to art, this has limited the capacity
for viewers to make sense of more conceptually based contemporary art and, therefore,
more discursive approaches need to be enacted for meaningful engagement to occur.
While the contributions that artists and curators make in this regard are acknowledged,
the focus of the analysis is the constructivist museum as described by George Hein,
Eilean Hooper-Greenhill and Elaine Heumann Gurian, especially the emphasis placed on
direct experience and participation. It is argued that while constructivism presents some
possibilities for increasing engagement, it also has limitations. In particular, in
emphasising individual learning over the specifics of artwork, advocates of
constructivism run the risk of maintaining the formalist aesthetic as the dominant mode
of response to contemporary art.
In critiquing the constructivist approach, Helen Illeris's concept of the performative
museum and recognition of the existence of a range of interpretive roles for art provides a
valuable construct. However, Illeris does not address the issue of how to guide viewers to
enact the role most appropriate for the type of art they are encountering. This is particularly problematic when it comes to the reception of discursive based art which
requires engagement with ideas rather than aesthetic form.
In seeking to understand the rules of engagement appropriate for discursive art practice,
aspects of reception theory, in particular ideas about the role of the reader/viewer
postulated by philosophers Hans-Georg Gadamer and Jacques Derrida and art
historians/theorists Keith Moxey, Mieke Bal, Ian McLean and Justin Paton, are
examined. Rather than using their interpretations of particular artworks to explain
contemporary art, however, the study examines their behaviours in the act of
interpretation. The parallels between these behaviours and the psychoanalytic
conversation of Jacques Lacan are discussed and, in doing so, practical strategies for
engaging viewers with the discursivity of contemporary art are devised and enacted in a
public art museum setting. From the results of this analysis, a reorientation of the role of
the public art museum in relation to contemporary discursive art practice is advocated in
which the expert speaker becomes the expert listener.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Deeth, Jane Alexandra
Keywords: Art, Australian, Art museums, Art, Modern
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2009 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Available for use in the Library and copying in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968, as amended. Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 2009. Includes bibliographical references

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