The Myth of Participatory Art: An Analysis of the Contradictions Present in Marina Abramović’s The Artist is Present and Hélio Oiticica’s Parangolés
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Participatory artworks, despite the efforts of artists and theorists alike, remain commodifiable, highly profitable, and ultimately support the conception of the artist as a singular genius. These works must negotiate the paradoxes and contradictions that are inherent to their production, exhibition and dissemination. I believe that artists, participants, critics, curators and historians will be in a better position to negotiate the contradiction of participatory art once a critical intervention in the discourse has occurred—an intervention that would illuminate the fact of paradoxes, analyze the content of these paradoxes, and recognize the conditions from which such paradoxes necessarily emerge. The aim of this thesis is to provide evidence of specific paradoxes that exist within the conception, display, marketing, and dissemination of participatory art with the hope of shedding light on the ways that participatory art is mythologized and typically represented within a narrow set of art historical paradigms. Ultimately this thesis suggests tactics for the presentation and discussion of participatory art that will acknowledge these paradoxes and provide an accurate presentation of participatory art’s processes. My analysis rests on two case studies: Marina Abramović’s The Artist is Present, 2010, and Hélio Oiticica’s Parangolés, 1965. Abramović’s The Artist is Present consisted of Abramović sitting at a table for 8 hours a day at the New York Museum of Modern Art, from March 14 until May 31, 2010. Hélio Oiticica’s Parangolés, is a series of colourful capes and costumes that were inspired and worn by the samba dancers of the Rio de Janeiro shantytown of Mangueira, as a means of freeing colour from the plane of the canvas. This thesis articulates the ways in which art historians and theorists construct Abramović’s biography to support the notion of a singular artistic genius, while maintaining Abramović’s connection to collaborative art practices. It addresses the meaning of objects that are the byproduct of participatory works; the profitability of participatory art; the ways in which participatory art is historicized and subsumed by art institutions; and the apparent incongruity of Parangolés being attributed to a single author, despite the many types of labour required in its creation.