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  • Writer's pictureART HISTORY

Alexander Alberro, "Art and Work in the 21st Century"

Thu, 23 May 2024 • 06:00PM - 07:30PM Nelson Mears Auditorium, Chau Chak Wing Museum

Image: Ian Burn shaving in Mirror Piece, photographed by Mel Ramsden, 1967.


What is the relationship between art and work in the 21st century? 

The word "work" points in two directions. On the one hand, it refers to the artwork: its historical conditions of possibility, its materiality and visibility, and its financial value. On the other hand, the idea evokes the relationship between art and labour: the power structures that shape creative work and subjectivity, and the individual and collective techniques available to disrupt these structures. 

This lecture considers conceptual art's engagement with these aspects of work for art history and asks the question: are artists in the 21st century encountering the same issues?


This lecture also marks the publication of Ian Burn: Collected Writings 1966-1993, a major new volume edited by Ann Stephen and published by the Power Institute. 


Ian Burn has been described as many things: an activist, a trade-unionist, a journalist, an art critic, a curator and an art historian—or, as he once described himself in a moment of self-deprecating alienation, ‘an ex-conceptual artist’.

Born in Geelong in 1939, Burn studied painting in Melbourne and went on to live and work in London and New York. Burn moved back to Australia in 1977 and passed away in 1993 at the age of 53.


Burn sought to grapple with how art history intersects and engages with contemporary art and political debate, arguing for a decentred view of the world. His legacy is international and can be seen in retrospective exhibitions as recent as 2022, and his work remains a key touchstone in art history.


Edited by Burn’s friend, frequent collaborator and eminent art historian, Dr Ann Stephen, this volume brings together 49 pieces of Burn’s own agile and expansive writings alongside a vast collection of his artworks. The collection concludes with reflections on Burn’s life and work from prominent figures and past collaborators in the form of memorial lectures.


Alexander Alberro, Virginia Bloedel Wright Professor of Art History at Barnard College / Columbia University, has published widely on modern and contemporary art and theory. He is the author of Abstraction in Reverse: The Reconfigured Spectator in Mid-Twentieth Century Latin American Art (2017) and Conceptual Art and the Politics of Publicity (2003). His Interstices: At Contemporary Art's Boundaries, which focuses on the negotiations at the margins between art frameworks, is forthcoming in 2025. Alberro has also edited many important anthologies, including Working Conditions: The Writings of Hans Haacke (2016); Museum Highlights: The Writings of Andrea Fraser (2005); Conceptual Art and the Politics of Publicity (2003); Recording Conceptual Art (2001); and Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology (1999).  


Ann Stephen is the Senior Curator, University Art Collection, at the Chau Chak Wing Museum at the University of Sydney. Ann's curatorial career over four decades has been in public and university museums. She joined Sydney University Museums as the senior curator of the University Art Gallery in 2009 and has been responsible for the University Art Collection and developing the art exhibition and publication program. As President, Art Association of Australia and New Zealand (2011–14), Ann has been a mentor for early career academics as well as many colleagues in art history and art curatorship. She has curated many exhibitions including those accompanying the following publications including ‘Bauhaus Diaspora’, ‘Modern Times’ and ‘Modernism & Australia’ & her monograph on Ian Burn, ‘On looking at Looking’. In 2015 she was invited to join the Scientific Committee of the European Network for Avant-garde and Modernism Studies. She has been awarded two ARC grants and many prizes for her publications. She was appointed a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 2009. Since 2014, she has been chair of ‘Art Monthly Australasia’.


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