The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Harvard University’s Cultural Agents Initiative host a conversation with Grant Kester, Professor of Art History, and Director of the University Art Gallery at the University of California, San Diego. Kester is a leading figure in the development of critical frameworks to address “relational” or “dialogical” art practices. His fundamental books Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art (2004) and The One and the Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context (2011) shaped the field of dialogical art, and expanded its lenses beyond the US and Europe. Kester’s most recent writings point out the analytical and political shortcomings of current models of art theory in addressing works that cross boundaries between art and activism. Together with moderator Professor Doris Sommer, and respondent, Director of the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts, James Voorhies, both of Harvard University, Kester teases out new analytical criteria and research methods that better situate dialogical art in the contemporary arts landscape. Sommer’s recent book, The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities (2013), serves as an alternative framework for inquiry from the perspective of the humanities, underscoring the importance of creativity and aesthetic judgment as catalysts for social change.

This conversation takes place in gallery 265 around Pedro Reyes’s sculpture Colloquium as part of the exhibition “Conversation Piece.” Its format breaks down the proscenium as a separation between speaker and audience in favor of a more collaborative, salon-style approach. A multidisciplinary artist trained as an architect, Reyes draws from modernist furniture design, theatre, therapy, and the graphic arts. Each of this sculpture’s interlocking panels is cut in the shape of a blank cartoon “speech bubble” to scale with the human body—an open invitation for dialogue to ensue. Modeled after the classic Isamu Noguchi coffee table that harmoniously melds form and function, Colloquium is part of a series of works that serve as forums for conflict resolution. Its pristine surface and white color symbolize the potential of peaceful dialogue to engender social change. Over the course of the exhibition, this sculpture also serves as a dynamic platform for impromptu conversation.

This event took place December 10, 2014, as part of the exhibition “Conversation Piece,” October 10, 2014–March 15, 2015.

Image: Screen-printed shirts by Taller Popular de Serigrafía.

Installation shot from the exhibition Production/Counter-Production at the University of California, San Diego, curated by Jennifer Flores Sternad. Courtesy of Grant Kester

Photo by Ricardo De Lima


Sponsors

Performance Art at the MFA is supported by Lorraine Bressler.