Reading group

Art Activism

11. 10./25.10./22.11./ 6.12./13.12. 2022

10.1. 2023 – 15:00

17.1. 2023 – 13:00

room D2TYM7 or ZOOM
led by Christian Drobe

We are organising the reading group for colleagues and PHD students of the Departent of Art History. Join us every other Tuesday at 13:00. Life or online.


The controversies surrounding antisemitic images at this year’s documenta have, in the opinion of many, revealed the limitations of critical practices in contemporary art. For some years now, it has become clear that the boundaries of art blurred and came under the influence of politics and societal issues, making a traditional autonomous concept of art seem obsolete. Under the labels art activism, participatory art or relational art, many concepts have emerged in recent years that describe this change in the art system. Whether or not they abandon the traditional concept of art, the now dominant political art creates tension within art theory, and questions how to deal with things such as identity politics, the effects of neoliberalism, populism, climate change or other phenomena of political crisis arise constantly. Art activism seems to have many roots, not only to the protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s or to concept art and institutional critique, but also to the historical avant-garde. The texts gathered here are intended to offer an insight into the history and current research on a contested field of contemporary art.

1.  Origins of Art Activism – 11 October 

W.E.B. Du Bois, Criteria of Negro Art, in The Crisis, Vol. 32, Oct 1926, pp. 290-297.

Theo van Doesburg, Kurt Schwitters, Tristan Tzara and others, “Manifest Proletkunst” (Manifesto of Proletarian Art), in Merz Vol. 2, April 1923, p. 24-25.

Lucy Lippard (1984) ‘Trojan Horses: Activist Art and Power’, in Brian Wallis (ed.) Art after Modernism: Rethinking Representation, New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art/David R. Godine, Publisher. pp. 341–358.

2. Feminism, Gender and Activism (in the 70s/80s) – 25 October

Lucy Lippard, Get the Message? A Decade Of Art For Social Change. New York, NY: E.P. Dutton, Inc., 1984 (Chapter 3, pp. 87-157)

Nina Felshin – But is it Art, The Spirit of Art as Activism (Bay Press 1995) (Intro + Chapter 8 & 11)

3. Participatory Art and other Theories – 8 November – 22 November

Claire Bishop, Artifical Hells. Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (Verso 2012) (First two chapters)

Piotr Piotrowski, From the Politics of Autonomy to the Autonomy of Politics, in P., Art and democracy in post-communist europe (2016), pp. 80-124 (chapter 3)

4. Monuments – 6 December 10 January 

Matthias Pauwels, Agonistic Entanglements of Art and Activism: #RhodesMustFall and Sethembile Msezane’s Chapangu, Performances, in De arte 54, 2019, no. 3, 3–22

Tom Holert, When the „Constant Renewal of Frameworks“ Might Not Suffice Anymore: Art History in Times of Fallism, in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, vol. 85, issue 2, 2022

(Further Reading: David Freedberg, Iconoclasm, 2021, last two chapters)

5. Politics and Performance – 17 January

Sarah Hegenbart, Restoring Beauty to Politics. Working towards a Distinction between Art and Political Activism against the Backdrop of the Centre for Political Beauty, in 21: Inquiries into art, history, and the visual Vol. 2 Nr. 2 (2021), pp. 125-158.

Paula Serafini, Performance action. The politics of art activism (Routledge 2018) (Intro + first 2 chapters)

6. Aesthetics – date not specified yet

Vid Simoniti, Assessing Socially Engaged Art. in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 2018

Oliver Marchart, Conflictual Aesthetics, Artistic Activism and the Public Sphere (Sternberg Press 2019), pp. 10-47.