Art and Anthropology beyond Beautiful Representations: The Material Hyperreality of Artistic Ethnography

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Sergio Jarillo de la Torre


This paper takes its cue from two art objects that can be considered in themselves as nontextual experiments in ethnographic research. The series Museum Photographs by Thomas Struth, as Guggenheim Museum curators put it, “captures anonymous individuals and crowds looking at iconic works of Western art in the world’s most popular museums.” More than the aesthetic value of the artwork and its meaning, Struth’s reflection emphasizes the audience’s reaction to the art object, evidencing his concern with the social potential of artworks in the art world. In a similar way, Christoph Büchel puts the public at the center of his installation Simply Botiful by soliciting affective responses to hyperrealistic and emotionally loaded issues. This paper purports to look at Büchel’s installation with Struth’s conceptual lens as a methodological tool to disentangle the complex web of relations between people and things that gravitate around the art world. Ultimately, it poses the question: if art objects are mediators of and commentaries on reality, under which conditions can artistic practices serve the purpose of exploring new avenues of ethnographic inquiry? In English, extended summary in Russian.



Art, Photography, Struth, Büchel, Ethnographic Conceptualism, Authorship

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