Disruptive Attitudes: Artists Counter the Art of Exhibiting in the Low Countries (1985-1991)

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD-Thesis - Research and graduation internal

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This dissertation looks at pivotal exhibitions of the mid-1980s in the Low Countries – Flanders and the Netherlands – to examine strategies devised by artists to take control over conditions that shape the appearance and reception of their work. Reflecting upon the pioneering work of artists from decades prior (who would, around this time, be associated with the term ‘institutional critique’), by the mid-1980s artists were cognizant of the mechanisms by which art is framed, reproduced, and distributed. Breaking art out of the systems that bestowed value upon it proved increasingly untenable, but taking an ideological standpoint within its institutions seemed equally disingenuous.

By 1985, when this dissertation picks up, the situation of contemporary art in Flanders and the Netherlands had changed dramatically from previous decades. A reduction in governmental support of artists on the one hand, and an increasing influence of private funders in art’s institutions, had altered the game. New conditions called for new strategies that would enable artists to assert control over the mediation of their work. These strategies reflect the social, political, and technological conditions in which the artists were living. The disruptive attitudes of artists as diverse as Guillaume Bijl, Barbara Bloom, Daniel Buren, Ulises Carrión, Fortuyn/O'Brien, Jef Geys, General Idea, Gerald Van Der Kaap, Barbara Kruger, and Wim T. Schippers, stand out in essential, yet under-investigated exhibitions of this time. These artists were responding to the framing apparatus, and as such, the exhibitions for which they produced works are an essential context.

This research addresses a pressing debate on the importance of a cultural policy that provides ample governmental support to artists to explore critical and innovative projects, offering essential historical and political context. It offers evidence that the mid-1980s was a transitional moment in the Netherlands and Flanders – in terms of critical engagement, institutional conditions, and cultural policies – and is therefore crucial for those seeking to understand the shifting structures in which art and artists operate at present. Furthermore, in its challenge to the terms by which critique and its implications are defined, this dissertation has significance for geographic regions and time periods well beyond the Low Countries suggesting that critique may be found in places still under-recognized by art historians.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Kwastek, Katja, Supervisor
  • Lütticken, Sven, Co-supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date20 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2021


  • exhibition history
  • institutional critique
  • mediation
  • subversive strategies
  • site specificity
  • curators
  • artists
  • 1980s
  • contemporary art
  • art museums


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