The One and the Many

Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context

The One and the Many

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 29 illustrations, incl. 15 in color, 1 table Published: September 2011

Author: Grant H. Kester

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Cultural Studies, Theater and Performance

Collaborative and collective art practices have proliferated around the world over the past fifteen years. In The One and the Many, Grant H. Kester provides an overview of the broader continuum of collaborative art, ranging from the work of artists and groups widely celebrated in the mainstream art world, such as Thomas Hirschhorn, Superflex, Francis Alÿs, and Santiago Sierra, to the less-publicized projects of groups, such as Park Fiction in Hamburg, Networking and Initiatives for Culture and the Arts in Myanmar, Ala Plastica in Argentina, Huit Facettes in Senegal, and Dialogue in central India. The work of these groups often overlaps with the activities of NGOs, activists, and urban planners. Kester argues that these parallels are symptomatic of an important transition in contemporary art practice, as conventional notions of aesthetic autonomy are being redefined and renegotiated. He describes a shift from a concept of art as something envisioned beforehand by the artist and placed before the viewer, to the concept of art as a process of reciprocal creative labor. The One and the Many presents a critical framework that addresses the new forms of agency and identity mobilized by the process of collaborative production.


The One and the Many . . . offers in-depth discussion of individual artists in relation to his vision of reparative collaboration,and attacks some of the cherished verities of current critical theory.” — Eleanor Heartney, Art in America

“By pointing out that many contemporary artists’ practices already exist quite comfortably as political activism, or urban planning, or community education Kester enables the discussion to shift from why something is art to what is at stake. The book also provides a thorough and rich description of a variety of projects. . . .” — Amber Landgraff, C Magazine

“Kester is a seasoned art critic with a long track record of insightful writing on the shift from public art and identity politics in the 1980s and '90s to the new phenomenon of community art in the '90s and 2000s. . . . Kester, the consummate pedagogue, shows us ideology at work by comparing different kinds of art.” — Marc James Leger, Afterimage

“Like all good researchers, Kester started with a simple question, which was, ‘Why have so many artists over the past decade and a half been drawn to collaborative or collective modes of production?’ Secondary questions soon emerged. ‘What forms of knowledge do collaborative, participatory and socially engaged practices generate?’ And, adding complexity and depth, ‘How do we determine which transgressions matter in the arts?’ Kester takes us on a journey from performance photographers in Myanmar to project housing in Alabama, and along the way details, through methodology more often associated with the social sciences, how artists blend creativity with a sense of social conscience and still manage somehow to keep it visual.” — Peter Hill, Times Higher Education

“Proposing nothing less than a paradigm shift in the definition of the aesthetic, Kester argues for a move beyond evaluations of visual or textual signification to considerations of the often-unforseen effects of collective interaction. . . . [T]here is a productive tension between the modest, local practices Kester focuses on and the ambitious scope of his argument.” — Sami Siegelbaum, Art Journal

“Tackling some of the most hotly debated subjects in art and criticism today, The One and the Many represents a decisive intervention into what we can expect to be a much longer discussion about the nature of collaboration in contemporary art.”
— Sarah E.K. Smith, Reviews in Cultural Theory

The One and the Many is brilliant, innovative, and brave, offering important insight on the intersection of art and politics. It complements the growing research into situational, collaborative, ‘global’ art projects but offers something new and stimulating by considering these works in relation to a loosely Marxian understanding of labor relations and through close readings of how they actually function over time. It develops new ways of thinking that should have a huge impact on debates in the field.” — Amelia Jones, author of Self/Image: Technology, Representation, and the Contemporary Subject

“In this comprehensive study, Grant H. Kester reminds us that the role of the avant-garde is always to question the nature of art’s identity and that that identity is also always in-process. Within this evolving continuum, many contemporary artists now define their work collaboratively. The One and the Many examines this phenomenon, providing the necessary philosophical, theoretical, and historical depth to position such practice as the essential art ‘work’ of the twenty-first century.” — Carol Becker, author of Thinking in Place: Art, Action, and Cultural Production

“This engaging, intelligent, and timely book is the next salvo in an ongoing debate about the way ‘collaboration’ is understood in contemporary art. Grant H. Kester’s provocative arguments take the debate in new directions, transforming its focus and quality.” — Jennifer A. González, author of Subject to Display: Reframing Race in Contemporary Installation Art


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Grant H. Kester is Professor of Art History and Chair of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art and the editor of Art, Activism, and Oppositionality: Essays from Afterimage, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. The Semantics of Collaboration

2. Art Practice and the Intellectual Baroque

Chapter 1: Autonomy, Antagonism, and the Aesthetic 19

1. From Text to Action

2. Park Fiction, Ala Plastica, and Dialogue

3. Relational Antagonism

4. The Risk of Diversity

5. Programmatic Multiplicity

6. Art Theory and the Post-structuralist Canon

Chapter Two: The Genius of the Place 67

1. Lessons in Futility

2. Enclosure Acts

3. The Twelfth Seat and the Mirrored Ceiling

4. The Atelier as Workshop

5. Labor, Praxis, and Representation

6. The Divided and Incomplete Subject of Yesterday

7. Memories of Development

8. The Limits of Ethical Capitalism

9. The Art of the Locality

Chapter Three: Eminent Domain: Art and Urban Space 155

1. Blindness and Insight

2. The Invention of the Public

3. The Boulevards of the Inner City

4. Park Fiction: Desire, Resistance, and Complicity

5. A Culture of Needles: Project Row Houses in Houston

Notes 229

References 281

Index 295

Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4987-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4972-3
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