Born in 1965 in (United States)
Lives and works in (United States )
Andrea Fraser was born in 1965 in Billings, Montana. Formally trained as a painter, her mother was a committed feminist artist whose practice developed to include performance, video and photography. Initially a philosophy student, her father went on to became a pastor. In 1967, her parents moved to Berkeley (California), which was at that time the high temple of counter culture, in particular the Free Speech Movement and protest marches against the Vietnam War. At 16, Andrea Fraser decided to leave high school to study art in New York, successively attending the New York School of Visual Arts (1982-1983), the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum (1984-1986), then New York University (1986-1987).
The writings of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu had a strong influence on the work of Andrea Fraser. Her exploration of the conflicts and hierarchies of the art world, as well as the role of culture as a symbol of power and a source of social differentiation fuelled the artist’s research. Andrea Fraser was particularly focused on conceptualising her work and her theoretical texts thus formed an integral part of her artistic practice. In 2005, she published a collection entitled Museum Highlights, The Writings of Andrea Fraser.
In 1986, Andrea Fraser was invited to participate in the “Damaged Goods” exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York) where she decided to offer a guided tour. It was during this performance entitled Damaged Goods Gallery Talk Starts Here that she created the character of Jane Castleton, the archetype of the voluntary guide. Fraser focuses here on the strategic role of the guide’s speech and the visitors’ expectations with respect to this. During this visit, Jane Castleton throws her listens off course by combining information pertaining to the security of the building, thoughts on the financial management of the museum and theoretical considerations on the fetishistic desire to possess objects.
In 1989, with Museum Highlights, Andrea Fraser adopted this persona again at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Alternating between laudatory tirades and parodies of the visitors’ reactions, Fraser strives to deconstruct the preconceived notions of an exhibition visit. Her impassioned descriptions of the museum facilities (water fountain, toilets) mocks the authoritative discourse usually associated with guides.
At the American Fine Arts, Co. in New York in 1991, with May I Help You? Andrea Fraser pursues her investigations on the discussions and interactions between the professionals of the art world and visitors. She uses three actors to play the characters employed by the gallery. Their job is to declaim a fifteen-minute monologue to each person that enters the exhibition. Written and directed by Andrea Fraser, this monologue questions the educating of tastes in correlation to social structures. The influence of Pierre Bourdieu’s book Distinction : A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1979) is clear in this work. Although she was influenced by the performance movements of the 1960s and 1970s, which focused on the engagement of the artist’s body, she distanced herself from these by delegating the production of some of her performances.
In association with Austrian curator Helmut Drexler, Andrea Fraser initiated her Services research in 1994, designed to approach artistic work from an economic perspective. Services seeks to redefine what an artwork is in a post-industrial society and results in the conclusion that it belongs to the tertiary sector : she provides a service. Andrea Fraser then engaged in a genealogical project, archiving artistic practices or “services” from the late 1960s onwards.
Later, in 1995, Andrea Fraser was invited by the Fondation Generali to conduct research on the cultural archives of this insurance and financial investment company. The outcome of this study was the work Project in Two Phases which led Andrea Fraser to question her identity as an artist absorbed within an institution. In her work, Andrea Fraser does not position herself outside of the institution’s system of control but considers her position as an artist as a practice of resistance from within.
In 2001, with Kunst muss hängen Andrea Fraser reproduced word for word a speech that artist Martin Kippenberger had pronounced drunk in 1995. Fraser was interested here again in the question of the artist’s freedom within the institution and the impact of speaking out in public. This performance was initially filmed at the Nagel de Cologne gallery and has since been presented in the form of a video installation, thus in turn becoming a representation of her performance. Andrea Fraser strives here to disrupt the notions of authenticity and originality in art through her pronounced taste for appropriation, imitation and subversion.
Little Frank and His Carp is a six-minute video of a performance that took place in 2001 at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, in the Spanish Basque country. Filmed by a hidden camera, she presents an intervention that is not authorised by the museum : Andrea Fraser procures the audio guide of the architectural visit of the building designed by architect Frank Gehry. She conscientiously obeys the narrator’s instructions and reacts to the injunctions of this voice that guides her emotions. The accent placed on “the sensuality of the building’s curves” leads Andrea Fraser to rub herself lasciviously up against the building to the point of simulating coitus. This work highlights the normative character of the institutional discourse imposed on the visitor, which in their intention to communicate often only provide limited over-interpretations.
Official Welcome is a work commissioned by the Maryland Institute College of Art Foundation in 2001 for a private reception. During this performance, Andrea Fraser plays on the ritual of award ceremonies in the art world by reappropriating the stereotyped attitudes of orators that are more or less hardened to this exercise. During her speech, she progressively undresses, gradually exposing more of her body to the audience.
Untitled (2003) further exacerbates this process of reification of the artist’s body. Lasting sixty minutes, this silent video shows the sexual relations of a man and woman in a New York hotel room. The camera’s point of view is raised, in the manner of surveillance cameras. We cannot make out the man, but we recognise Andrea Fraser. It was in fact a work commissioned by a collector (the man in the video). The artist insisted that the transaction of this work follow the usual methods of sale at a gallery : repurchased by the collector, the gallery received 50% of the sale and the artist the other half. Besides the filmed encounter in question, the collector obtained one of the five editions of the video. More than simply mocking the cliché of art as a form of intellectual prostitution or the fruit of a voyeuristic sensationalism, Andrea Fraser illustrates the situation of the artist’s claim to power over the art market’s distribution stakeholders. A transgressive work, Untitled deals with the underlying relationships between artists, galleries and collectors but also poses the question of the emotional expectations of exhibition audiences.
With her recent installation (2009) entitled Projection, Andrea Fraser has returned to her research on the psychological structures that underpin human rehis installation consists of two video projections that face one another at each end of a room, presenting the same actor (Andrea Fraser), dressed in the same way and sitting in the same armchair, directly addressing the camera. The text of this work is based on recordings of psychoanalytic sessions and focuses on the latent projections of individuals, particular in the field of artistic production.
Following artists such as Michael Asher, Daniel Buren or Hans Haacke, Andrea Fraser engages in an examination of the mechanisms of the art world. She became a prominent figure of the “institutional critique” movement. This movement grew out of the conceptual practices of the sixties and challenged the alleged neutrality of art exhibition sites, revealing the power relations involved between its agents. It seeks to reveal the historical and social constructions that frame and determine the production and reception of art.
Translated by Anna Knight