Not on display
Official Welcome (Hamburg Version) 2001–3 is a single channel colour video in which the American artist Andrea Fraser performs a speech to an audience at the Kunstverein in Hamburg. Wearing a black dress and standing on a white platform in front of a lectern and microphone, Fraser is filmed by two static digital cameras as she adopts a succession of different personae during the speech. Her performance is a satirical rendering of the rhetoric and rituals that traditionally constitute an ‘official welcome’ to an exhibition, with Fraser mimicking the language and gestures of archetypal figures associated with the art world, including patrons, museum directors, curators, critics and artists. Although Fraser does not explicitly inform the audience of the specific role she is inhabiting at any one time, the changes between different personae are signalled by distinct shifts in her tone, language and posture, often to comic effect. For instance, while she is fluid and grandiose during some sections, at other times she stutters as if struggling to articulate her thoughts. Around two-thirds of the way through the thirty-minute video, Fraser begins to undress. She moves to the side of the lectern in her black underwear and high-heeled shoes and tells the audience, ‘I’m not a person today. I’m an object in an artwork. It’s about emptiness’. She subsequently removes the last of her clothing and continues the speech naked. Towards the end of the performance, she puts her clothes back on, before beginning to cry. The video finishes with Fraser walking from the podium to applause from the audience. Official Welcome (Hamburg Version) can be shown as a video projection or on a monitor.
For this work Fraser adapted a script that she initially wrote in the summer of 2001, having been commissioned to do so by the MICA Foundation. She first performed the speech in November 2001 at the New York home of collectors Barbara Morse (the MICA Foundation’s president) and Howard Morse, and the video work Official Welcome 2001 is a two channel installation that documents this performance. Official Welcome (Hamburg Version) captures the performance that Fraser delivered in September 2003 at the Kunstverein in Hamburg, as part of a retrospective of her work staged at the institution. The artist has delivered versions of Official Welcome at other venues around the world, although these performances have not generated video works.
The original text of Official Welcome (reproduced in Fraser 2007, pp.212–28) includes quotations, unattributed in the actual performance, from a number of contemporary artists and critics including Benjamin Buchloh, Gabriel Orozco, Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin and Kara Walker, as well as comments made by Bill and Hillary Clinton. Each time Official Welcome is performed, Fraser adapts small elements of her script so that the speech includes specific references to the institution involved in the event. For the version performed in Hamburg, Fraser incorporated comments on her work written by Yilmaz Dziewior, the curator of the show at the Kunstverein.
Both the content of the speech and the manner in which Fraser performs in the video satirise the conventions of formal art events. The work places particular emphasis on the exaggerated praise often given to an artist’s work by critics and curators, and the arrogance or false modesty that may be offered by artists in return. In 2012 Fraser suggested that Official Welcome is about
the profound ambivalence that’s haunted so much twentieth-century art and particularly avant-garde traditions – the kind of love-hate relationship that artists have with art, its institutions, and the people who support them.
(Fraser in Maloney and Beard 2012, accessed 8 December 2014.)
Official Welcome can also be viewed within the history of performance art, especially in its claim that the performer is ‘an object in an artwork’. In stripping down to her Gucci underwear and high-heeled shoes, Fraser draws a parallel with Show 1998, a work by the Italian artist Vanessa Beecroft in which fifteen female models (ten wearing Gucci underwear and high-heels and five in only their shoes) were positioned in the atrium of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. In Official Welcome the provocations Fraser issues while standing in her underwear – including ‘kiss my ass’ and ‘kiss my tits’ – draw attention to how the female body has been depicted in art throughout history and raise questions about the status of women within the art world more generally. According to the curator and critic Anke Kempkes, Fraser’s performance not only parodies ‘the social setting in all its aspects and expressive modes, it also integrates objectification, including her own in this particular context, into its theme’ (Anke Kempkes, ‘The Art of Talking Art’, trans. by Christopher Jenkin-Jones, in Dziewior 2003, p.16).
Fraser’s interest in exploring the different roles played by individuals within the art world, as well as the purposes and policies of art institutions, have seen her work closely aligned with the concept of institutional critique. This mode of practice, exemplified by the work of artists such as Hans Haacke and Michael Asher, emerged in the 1960s as a means of examining the structures and ideologies underpinning museums and galleries.
Yilmaz Dziewior (ed.), Andrea Fraser: Works 1984–2003, exhibition catalogue, Kunstverein in Hamburg, Hamburg 2003, pp.16, 212–17, 276–81.
Andrea Fraser, Museum Highlights: The Writings of Andrea Fraser, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2007, pp.212–28.
Patricia Maloney and Dena Beard, ‘Interview with Andrea Fraser, Part I’, Art Practical, 8 October 2012, https://www.artpractical.com/column/interview_with_andrea_fraser_part_i/, accessed 8 December 2014.
Supported by Christie’s.