Sabine Breitwieser — Collecting

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Sabine Breitwieser

Sabine Breitwieser, formerly chief curator of media and performance art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, is director of the Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria.

In the Renaissance and baroque periods, aristocrats and church dignitaries began collecting rarities and curiosities and displaying them for selected visitors in so-called Kunst- und Wunderkammern, or art and curiosity cabinets. One of the first collections of this type belonged to Ferdinand II of Tirol, archduke of Austria, and was housed in Ambras Castle, near Innsbruck.1 Such collectors contributed personally to the growth of their holdings by commissioning artists with exceptional skills in craftsmanship to produce masterful art pieces made of exotic materials such as ivory, ostrich eggs, and coral, which were sometimes thought to be endowed with magical powers. The contents of the collections were determined exclusively by the subjective interests and obsessions of the individual collectors. Likewise, the presentation consisted of a highly personal accumulation of objects with numerous related anecdotes. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, institutions were organized by field and promoted a rational, scientific form of collecting; this impulse led to the creation of different museum types dedicated to art, crafts, natural history, and ethnology.

The problem of collection categories and the inherent limitations of the concept of the museum were described by Claude Lévi-Strauss, who used the American Museum of Natural History in New York as an example. To this day the museum features a room containing collections of objects from indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Already in 1943 Lévi-Strauss had hoped this collection “would disappear from the ethnographic museum to find a place in the museum of the fine arts.”2 In addition to the obsolete categorizations that relegate art objects from certain cultures to ethnographic collections, a variety of collecting practices pose ethical questions. In recent years, particularly problematic forms of acquisition and growing calls for restitution have taken center stage. Ritual objects raise the urgent question of access and use by those for whom such objects maintain a value that exceeds aesthetics and social history. Recently agreements have been reached making it possible for the temporary use of such objects in rituals performed in museums.

The constantly changing concept of art and artistic practice confronts the contemporary art museum as an institution with numerous challenges regarding its organization, structure, and spatial facilities. Experimental and interdisciplinary art as well as the use of new technologies have led in recent decades to the emergence of multimedia art forms that are not restricted to static objects but are time-based and include live elements. Recently museums, which previously excluded such art forms, have also tried to incorporate these often rather complex artistic practices into their collections. At the same time they realized that innovative programming has the potential to create new audiences. Such institutional strategies have resulted in the support and popularization of numerous performance-based art forms. The consequences of this turn are still developing and have not yet been fully evaluated. Different artistic fields were once separately collected, displayed, and received, and painting and sculpture have until now been the dominant mediums of high culture. Only recently, new aesthetic and art-historical comparisons are being made between visual art and dance, theater, and music. Artists are increasingly inspired to move among different fields and institutions, and leading figures from performing arts disciplines are suddenly assuming an important role in the art world.

The renewed interest in artists such as Simone Forti and Yvonne Rainer—as well as the relatively recent international success of a new generation of artists such as Jérôme Bel, Tino Sehgal, and Meg Stuart—have raised anew questions about the politics of collecting art, questions that Fluxus, happenings, conceptual art, and performance art had posed in the 1960s and 1970s. The experience of documenting ephemeral works and writing instructions used in delegating an artwork’s execution led artists to develop innovative concepts relating to the sale of their works. Developed in 1971 by the conceptual art dealer Seth Siegelaub and the attorney Robert Projansky, “The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement” secured for artists numerous rights to their work after a sales transaction. Sehgal, by contrast, sells his performance-based works, which he calls “situations,” exclusively by means of a personal, oral act of communication between the contractual parties and witnesses. Both art sales that are documented in writing and those that refuse documentation of any sort test the legal and institutional limits on property transactions. Given that a personal encounter with an artist is generally highly appreciated by collectors, this archetypal form of purchasing by means of personal “delivery,” as in the case of Sehgal, has its own attraction. In 2003, Andrea Fraser demonstrated in compelling fashion the complex relationships and manifold expectations that exist among collectors, artists, institutions, and the public. In an untitled commissioned work that she initiated, Fraser had sex with a collector for money. A museum itself can even be considered a performance, something Boris Charmatz exemplified at the Centre chorégraphique national de Rennes et de Bretagne in France. After taking over direction of the institution in 2009, he emptied it of its collected objects and renamed it Museé de la danse.

But all this innovative spirit does not solve the question of how ephemeral artworks—such as the legendary action TAPP und TASTKINO (Tap and touch cinema), which VALIE EXPORT first performed in 1968 in Vienna—can best enter art collections and be re-exhibited. One proposal would be to situate the histories of such works, as told through their objects and documentation, in the context of their origins as well as of the present. This would mean always “collecting” the work anew and thereby constantly exhibiting it from new perspectives.

Translated from the German by Michael Shane Boyle.


  1. This collection has been on display in the Kunstkammer of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna since April 2013. 

  2. Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Way of the Masks, trans. Sylvia Modelski (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982). 


For Further Reference

Gustav Metzger, Manifesto, Auto-Destructive Art, London, November 4, 1959.

Marcel Broodthaers, Musée d'Art Moderne, Département des Aigles, Section Publicité, 1968–72.

Valie Export, TAPP und TASTKINO (Tap and touch cinema), 1968.

David Lamelas, Gente di Milano, 1970.

Adrian Piper, Untitled Performance for Max’s Kansas City, New York, 1970.

Seth Siegelaub and Robert Projansky, “The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement,” 1971.

Martha Rosler, Monumental Garage Sale, University of California at San Diego, 1973. There have been many Garage Sales since then, most recently Meta-Monumental Garage Sale at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, November 2012.

Sanja Iveković, Dvostruki Zivot (Double Life), 1974–75, Tragedija Jedne Venere (Tragedy of a Venus), 1975; Slatki Zivot (Sweet Life), 1975–76; Gorki Zivot (Bitter Life), 1975–76.

Franz West, Passstücke (Adaptives), mid-1970s–.

Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods, Auf den Tisch! (Onto the table!), 2005–11.

Jérôme Bel, The Show Must Go On, 2001.

Tino Sehgal, Kiss, 2003.

Andrea Fraser, Untitled, 2003.

See Also

Choreography — Sabine Breitwieser

Choreography — Janine Antoni

Collecting — RoseLee Goldberg

Martha Rosler, Meta-Monumental Garage Sale, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

James Luna, The Artifact Piece, 1985–87. Courtesy of the San Diego Museum of Man.

Franz West, Adaptive, 1975. Performer: West’s half brother Otto Kobalek. Photo: Friedl Kubelka. Courtesy of Archive Franz West, Vienna. © Archive Franz West.

Andrea Fraser, Untitled, 2003. Project and video. © Andrea Fraser.

VALIE EXPORT, TAPP und TASTKINO (Tap and touch cinema), 1968. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Bildrecht, Vienna. Photo © Werner Schulz.

Paul Chan, Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, 2007. Photo: Frank Aymami. Courtesy of Creative Time.

Andrea Fraser, Projection, 2008. Still from a 2-channel HD video projection installation. © Andrea Fraser. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nagel Draxler.

David Levine, Bystanders, 2015. Installation view, Gallery TPW, Toronto. Performer: William Ellis. Photo: Guntar Kravis.

VALIE EXPORT, TAPP und TASTKINO (Tap and touch cinema), 1968. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Bildrecht, Vienna. Photo © Werner Schulz.

My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade), Broke People’s Baroque Peoples’ Theater, 2010. Courtesy of Alexandro Segade.

Richard Maxwell, Neutral Hero, 2012. The Kitchen, New York. From left: Janet Coleman, Bob Feldman, Lakpa Bhutia, Andie Springer, Jean Ann Garrish. Photo © Paula Court.

Miguel Gutierrez and Tarek Halaby in Gutierrez's Last Meadow, 2009. Dance Theater Workshop, New York, September 2009. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Mac Wellman, Muazzez, 2014. Performer: Steve Mellor. Chocolate Factory Theater, Queens, New York (a co-presentation with PS 122). Photo: Brian Rogers.

Janine Antoni, Yours Truly, 2010. Ink on paper, 5 7/8 x 8 1/2”. © Janine Antoni. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Yvonne Rainer, score for “Trio B: Running,” from The Mind Is a Muscle, 1966–68. Graphite and ink on paper, 8 5/16 x 7 5/16". The Getty Research Institute. © Yvonne Rainer.

Susan Leigh Foster, The Ballerina’s Phallic Pointe, 2011, a performed lecture in the series Susan Foster! Susan Foster! Three Performed Lectures, produced by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and performed at the Philadelphia Live Arts Studio, 2011. Photo: Jorge Cousineau.

Opening performance of the exhibition “Trisha Brown: So That the Audience Does Not Know Whether I Have Stopped Dancing,” Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2008. Brown improvises movements across a large piece of paper on the Medtronic Gallery floor, holding charcoal and pastel between her fingers and toes, drawing extemporarily. Photo: Gene Pittman for Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Allora & Calzadilla, Sediments Sentiments (Figures of Speech), 2007. Mixed-media installation with live performance and pre-recorded sound track, dimensions variable. © Allora & Calzadilla. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

Martha Rosler, Meta-Monumental Garage Sale, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Lucinda Childs, Pastime (1963), 2012, performed by Childs at Danspace as part of Platform 2012: "Judson Now." Photo © Ian Douglas.

Siobhan Davies and Helka Kaski, Manual, 2013. Photo © Alan Dimmick. Courtesy of Glasgow Life.

“Performance Now,” curated by RoseLee Goldberg. Installation view, Kraków Theatrical Reminiscences, Poland, 2014. Photo: Michal Ramus. Courtesy of Independent Curators International (ICI).

Steve Paxton, Intravenous Lecture (1970), 2012. Performed by Stephen Petronio with Nicholas Sciscione. Part of Platform 2012: “Judson Now,” curated by Judy Hussie-Taylor, Danspace, New York. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Installation view, “Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham—Robert Raschenberg,” curated by Darsie Alexander at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2011. Photo: Gene Pittman for Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Chief Dalcour and the Serenity Peace Birds in “Public Practice: An Anti-Violence Community Ceremony,” curated by Delaney Martin and Claire Tancons for New Orleans Airlift, October 25, 2014. Photo: Josh Brasted.

Ain Gordon and David Gordon, The Family Business, premiered 1993. Performers: David Gordon, Ain Gordon, Valda Setterfield. Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein. Courtesy of the photographer and Pick Up Performance Co(s).

Hotel Modern, Kamp, 2005. Photo: Herman Helle.

Janine Antoni, Anna Halprin, and Stephen Petronio, Rope Dance, 2015. Photo © Hugo Glendinning. Courtesy of the artists and The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia.

Sarah Michelson, Devotion Study #1—The American Dancer, 2012 Whitney Biennial, February 26, 2012. Photo © Paula Court. Performers: Eleanor Hullihan and Nicole Mannarino.

Ralph Lemon, How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?, 2009. Archival print from original film. © Ralph Lemon.

Pope.L, The Great White Way, 22 miles, 9 years, 1 street (Whitney version), 2001. © Pope.L. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York. Photo: Lydia Grey.

Iannis Xenakis, Terretektorh, Distribution of Musicians, 1965. Collection famille Xenakis. Courtesy of the Iannis Xenakis Archives. © Iannis Xenakis.

Lisa Bielawa, Chance Encounter, premiered 2007. Co-conceived with Susan Narucki. Photo: Corey Brennan, 2010, Rome.

Claudia La Rocco, 173-177 [or, Facebook Is Inescapable], 2013. Headlands Center for the Arts. Courtesy of José Carlos Teixeira.

Pina Bausch and the Tanztheater Wuppertal, Palermo, Palermo, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 1991. Photo: Maarten Vanden Abeele.

Tomás Saraceno, Observatory, Air-Port-City, 2008. In “Psycho Buildings: Artists Take on Architecture,” curated by Ralph Rugoff, Hayward Gallery, London. Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York.

Christian Marclay, Chalkboard, 2010, paint and chalk, 210 x 1,045 inches. Installation view, “Christian Marclay: Festival,” 2010, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Collection of the artist; courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo: Christian Marclay.

Steven Schick at the “Peacock” in the Paul Dresher Ensemble Production of Schick Machine, 2009, by Paul Dresher, Steven Schick, and Rinde Eckert. Mondavi Center, UC Davis, Davis, CA. Photo: Cheung Chi Wai.

Ralph Lemon in An All Day Event: The End, part of Platform 2012: “Parallels.” Danspace, New York. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Installation view, “Allison Smith: Rudiments of Fife & Drum,” The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT. Photo: Chad Kleitsch. Courtesy of The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.

David Levine, Habit, 2012. Installation view, Luminato Festival, Toronto, 2011. Photo: David Levine.

Meredith Monk, Shards (1969–73), 2012. Part of Platform 2012: “Judson Now,” curated by Judy Hussie-Taylor, Danspace, New York. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Berlin, Bonanza, 2006. A documentary project focusing on Bonanza, Colorado, population 7. © Berlin. berlinberlin.be.

Gob Squad, Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good), 2007. Photo © David Baltzer / bildbuehne.de / Agentur Zenit Berlin.

Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz, Hole in Space, 1980. On screens in front of Lincoln Center and The Broadway department store in Los Angeles, passersby could see and talk to their counterparts on the opposite coast, and many “reunions” were quickly set up, in this early example of video conferencing. Courtesy of the Sherrie Rabinowitz and Kit Galloway Archives.

Hans Haacke, News, 1969/2005. Installation view, “State of the Union,” Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, 2005. © Hans Haacke / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

Pauline Oliveros, circa 1967. Courtesy of the CCM Archive, Mills College, Oakland, CA.

The Builders Association, Elements of Oz, 2015. Photo: Gennadi Novash. Courtesy of Peak Performances @ Montclair State University.

Ain Gordon, A Disaster Begins, 2009. Veanne Cox. Here Arts Center, New York. Photo: Jason Gardner. Courtesy of the photographer and Pick Up Performance Co(s).

The Wooster Group, BRACE UP!, 1991. Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte. Anna Köhler (on monitor) and Willem Dafoe. Photo © Mary Gearhart.

Joanna Haigood and Charles Trapolin, The Monkey and the Devil, performance installation, 2011. Performers: Matthew Wickett, Sean Grimm, Jodi Lomask. Photo: Walter Kitundu.

Jarbas Lopes, Demolition Now, in “SPRING,” curated by Claire Tancons for the 7th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, 2008. Photo: Akiko Ota.

Lisa Bielawa, Crissy Broadcast (part of Airfield Broadcasts), San Francisco, 2013. Photo: James Block.

Erwin Wurm, One Minute Sculpture, 1997/2005. © Erwin Wurm. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Ethyl Eichelberger as Minnie the Maid, 1981. Photo: Peter Hujar. The Peter Hujar Archive. Courtesy of Pace MacGill and Fraenkel Galleries.

Wu Tsang with Alexandro Segade, Mishima in Mexico, 2012. Color HD video, 14:32 minutes. Courtesy of the artists, Clifton Benevento (New York), Michael Benevento (Los Angeles), and Isabella Bortolozzi (Berlin).

Young Jean Lee, Untitled Feminist Show, 2012. Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York, 2012. Hilary Clark, Regina Rocke, and Katy Pyle. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.

Romeo Castellucci, On the Concept of the Face Regarding the Son of God, 2010. Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, 2013. Photo: Kevin Monko.

Jérôme Bel, Le dernier spectacle (The last performance), 1998. Photo: Herman Sorgeloos.

Troubleyn / Jan Fabre, Mount Olympus, 2015. Performance lasts 24 hours. Photo © Wonge Bergmann for Troubleyn / Jan Fabre.

Siobhan Davies Studios, Roof Studio, London. Photo: Peter Cook.

Emily Roysdon, Sense and Sense (a project with MPA), Sergels torg, Stockholm, Sweden, 2010. Courtesy of the artist.

David Lang’s home studio. Photo © Jorge Colombo.

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1964 (replica of 1913 original). Wheel and painted wood. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gift of the Galleria Schwarz d’Arte, Milan, 1964. © Succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, 2016.

Historical interpreters from Freetown Living History Museum, as part of Allison Smith’s 2008 project The Donkey, The Jackass, and The Mule, with the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Photo: Allison Smith and Michelle Pemberton.

Rimini Protokoll, Situation Rooms, 2013. Photo © Ruhrtriennale / Jörg Baumann.

Jeanine Oleson and Ellen Lesperance, We Like New York and New York Likes Us, 2004. A “wry look back” at Joseph Beuys’s performance with a coyote, I Like America and America Likes Me, René Block Gallery, New York, 1974. Courtesy of the artists.

Christine Hill, Volksboutique Organizational Ventures, 2001. Mixed-media installation, Kunstverein Wolfsburg, Germany. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.

Andrea Fraser, Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk, 1989. Performance. Performance documentation: Kelly & Massa Photography. Courtesy of the artist. © Andrea Fraser.

Theaster Gates, Dorchester Projects, Chicago, 2012. © Theaster Gates. Photo © Sara Pooley. Courtesy of White Cube.

John Cage, two pages from 4'33" (original version, in proportional notation), 1952/1953. Ink on paper, 11 x 8 1/2" each sheet. Acquired by The Museum of Modern Art through the generosity of Henry Kravis in honor of Marie-Josée Kravis. © 1993 Henmar Press Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission of C. F. Peters Corporation. Photo © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY.

Yoko Ono, Painting For The Wind, summer 1961. First published in Yoko Ono: Grapefruit (Tokyo: Wunternaum Press, July 4, 1964). © Yoko Ono.

Rosemary Lee, Square Dances, 2011, commissioned by Dance Umbrella. Square Dances took place in four central London squares throughout a day, with different casts in each: 10 children in Woburn Square, 100 women in Gordon Square, 35 men in Brunswick Gardens, 25 dance students in Queen Square. Each performance involved bells, ranging from a huge church bell that struck every minute; to a handmade musical instrument using bells within its barrel structure, created and composed by Terry Mann; to tiny hand bells for the dancers. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.

Joanna Haigood and Wayne Campbell, Ghost Architecture, 2004. An aerial dance installation centering on the architectural and social history of the site. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.

Ann Hamilton, the event of a thread, 2012–13. Park Avenue Armory, New York. Curated by Kristy Edmunds. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Robert Wilson and Marina Abramović, The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, premiered 2011. Park Avenue Armory, New York, 2013. Foreground: Willem Dafoe. Photo: Joan Marcus. Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory.

Richard Maxwell, Neutral Hero, 2012. The Kitchen, New York. From left: Janet Coleman, Bob Feldman, Lakpa Bhutia, Andie Springer, Jean Ann Garrish. Photo © Paula Court.

Ann Liv Young, The Bagwell in Me, 2008. Photo: Scott Newman, Revel in New York.

Xavier Le Roy, “Retrospective,” 2012–. Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, 2012. Photo: Lluís Bover. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies.

Ethyl Eichelberger as Minnie the Maid, 1981. Photo: Peter Hujar. The Peter Hujar Archive. Courtesy of Pace MacGill and Fraenkel Galleries.

David Levine, Habit, 2012. Installation view, Luminato Festival, Toronto, 2011. Photo: David Levine.

Rimini Protokoll, 100% Yogyakarta, 2015. Teater Garasi, Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia. © Goethe-Institut Indonesien / KDIP Viscom.

Bebe Miller Company, A History, 2012. Angie Hauser and Darrell Jones. Photo: Michael Mazzola.