Barbara Pfenningstorff

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Barbara Pfenningstorff's MPhil/PhD Art research project

Aesthetics of immanence (2014)

This thesis is concerned with the spatial contingencies which affect the production and reception of art. The initial argument is premised on 19th century museum architecture and its role in the aesthetic judgement and containment of art. As an idealist formation, the art museum has survived to this day. However, the thesis claims that art is an immanent space which makes sense of the contingencies it contains, and not the other way round. Since the late 1960s, then, artists such as Robert Smithson and Donald Judd have recovered what they term 'architectural afterthought' and 'space as a main aspect of art'. Building on Miwon Kwon's and James Meyer's theories on site-specificity, it is shown that today, the force of this impulse has given way to spatial dispersal, institutional immersion and corporate assimilation.

Museums, in turn, have changed with these developments and have incorporated them accordingly. After a short discussion of relevant philosophical spatial concepts, it is further assessed how contemporary art practices make sense of their own space today. It is found, that artists as diverse as Gerhard Richter, James Turrell and Andrea Zittel have set up architectural sites which imbue their constructions with affective contingencies such as analogy, atmosphere and relation.

The agency of these works thus furthers the impulse of Smithson and Judd and embodies an immanence of ideal and contingent space. The practice section, finally, stands on its own. It explores experimental sites which exemplify their process, economy of labour and the site-specific or -responsive nature of their display. Their formal configuration is re-organised in the event of each categorical site. In keeping with the claim of the thesis, the forms and (re-)presentations of the work are not awaiting or finalising content but become active productions in themselves.