Works Both Ways: 

Carey Young’s Projects for the Kunstverein München 
Mark Godfrey

Prologue: The Commission
19 January 2004

A rainy London winter’s night. A Lebanese restaurant on the Edgware Road. I’m seeing Carey Young, whose work I have followed for some time, and who has come to speak in various programmes I organise at the university where I teach. For a long time I have wanted to find an opportunity to write on Carey’s work, and now she has kindly invited me to meet Maria Lind of the Kunstverein München. The curatorial team that Maria directs has commissioned various works by Carey as part of her activities as a 'Sputnik', [2] and Maria is looking for someone to document all of them in the KM magazine. I am delighted and flattered to be asked. This is the first time I am writing for a European institution and it is a prestigious invitation.

Maria begins to describe Carey’s works to me: The Revolution is Us!, Debit and Credit, Getting Things Done When You're Not In Charge. I have already learnt about one of the works, Win-Win, from texts published on the KM website [3]. Perceiving that employees of art institutions continually face negotiation situations when dealing with ‘artists, potential sponsors, local officials and notable people, the media, the Kunstverein board, and also their own team’ [my emphasis] Young arranged a training day for the KM staff at which they learnt negotiation techniques. This was the starting point of Win-Win, which, she later wrote, ‘is an immense, dematerialised and highly formal process piece which has no site, no boundaries, and no defined end.’ ‘The piece’, she continued, is ‘specified as ‘existing’ at any time when these skills are used during interactions with others’. [4]

So Maria sits opposite me and continues to describe Carey’s works. By the end of the meeting, I am excited about writing this essay. I understand the kind of text required. It is mentioned that the fee will be in accordance with the KM’s status as a small art institution. I understand and appreciate this having worked in one of equivalent size in London and I don’t ask details – it would, I think, be rude. Nor do I push questions about deadlines, future republication rights… And so the meeting ends, and I start the task of thinking about the works.

1. Debit and Credit

As one of the five works commissioned by the Kunstverein München over the period of her three years as a Sputnik, Carey Young proposed to design and distribute a loyalty card that would function in the place of the KM membership cards already in operation, titling her project Debit and Credit (2003). The membership scheme had existed since the institution’s founding in 1823 and now cost 60 Euros a year. Membership entitled visitors to free entrance to exhibitions (a saving of 3 Euros), discounts in the shop, reduced prices at KM events, a newsletter, and various other privileges detailed at the back of this publication. Despite these entitlements, membership numbers were dropping. This was a problem for the KM, but not one specific to it. Membership societies are more generally threatened with obsolescence in a networked society. They are too often too formal, and tend to consist of middle class, middle aged people. Young noted that repeated visits to the Kunstverein would not result in any extra rewards. A member could visit twice a year or once a week; their privileges would remain the same. By contrast the loyalty scheme that Young set up offered repeat visitors an added incentive – a ‘credit’, a material reward. To get this reward they would need to come eight times, and have these visits registered. On one side of their credit-card sized card, there would be eight circles on a grid, rising up on an uneven, yet clear trajectory. At each visit, a KM staff member would stamp the circles. After eight visits, with all of the rising circles stamped, the member would receive a copy of Ulrich Kluge’s Die Deutsche Revolution 1918/19.

In her proposal text for the loyalty card, Young indicated some of the motivations for this project. She described the work as a scheme to assist the host institution. ‘The aim of a loyalty card programme would be to strengthen member relationships, gain new members and increase visits to the KM’. [5] The institution would improve its attendance figures; the cards would also serve as portable adverts for the KM, tucked away in members’ wallets, an occasional reminder of the institution. The loyal members meanwhile would receive a book that might serve as a useful reminder of the once radical politics of Munich immediately after World War 1. Later in 1937, of course, the building now occupied by the Kunstverein (then a plaster-cast museum), had been one of the venues for the Nazis’ Degenerate Art exhibition. Though there had been previous curatorial attempts to engage this memory, for some, this was a neglected history, a source of shame that deserved more attention. In any case the 1937 exhibition remained a persistent stain upon the image of the institution. Young’s scheme would subtly introduce a counter-memory into its circuits of association. So improved numbers for the KM, left-wing political histories for the members: satisfied customers all round.

Debit and Credit is typical of Carey Young’s work in that a ‘form’ or ‘device’ from the corporate-commercial sector is used in the creation of the art work. In other works, the form has been a self-affirmation text message service (I Believe in You, 2002-2004), a promotional freebie (Getting Things Done When You’re Not in Charge, 2004), an info-screen with a digital animation (The Revolution is Us!, 2003), a motivational speech (Optimum Performance, 2003), a non-disclosure agreement (Non-disclosure, 2003), a negotiation training course (Win-Win, 2002), a motivational training session (I am a Revolutionary,2001), a brainstorming meeting to generate creative ideas (Incubator, 2001), a call centre (Nothing Ventured, 2000), and a presentational skills training course (Everything You’ve Heard is Wrong, 1999). Elsewhere Young employs something we could call a feature of the corporate-commercial world rather than one of its forms - a feature such as ‘commuting to work’ (Lines Made By Walking, 2003), ‘office furniture’ (Social Sculpture, 2001), or ‘the stock market’ (Art and Life, 1999-2000). Other artists have employed ‘corporate and market structures’ in their works but their use has been understood as an act of ‘ironic collaboration’. [6] Is this the case for Young? Why is she using the forms of the corporate and commercial world in her artworks?

One possible answer to this question would be that once the form or device becomes incorporated into an art work, the viewer scrutinising the work can scrutinise the form. Young then would be offering her audience the chance in the autonomous space of the gallery to question these recent forms of corporate ‘culture’. In contact with her work we might begin to think critically about why a business operates a loyalty card scheme, why corporations farm out their customer service departments to call centres, how businesses appropriate the language of ‘creativity’, ‘friendship’, etcetera. For this to happen, the viewer needs to perceive the form as it really is outside the gallery, and this would explain why Young adopts these forms without altering or spoiling them. A comparison with the American artist Alex Bag helps make this point clear. In a recent exhibition at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York, Bag showed in one room a video compilation of fake adverts which satirised American companies such as Bechtel and AOL; in the other room were crude drawings imagining the activities of ‘Coven Services for Consumer Mesmerism, Product Sorcery, and Necromantic Reimagination of Consumption’, a fictional organisation she described as ‘part think tank, part P.R. firm, part corporate image consultant, and part advertising agency.’ Bag’s fake ads were rough, badly acted, poorly shot and edited, the drawings crude punk montages. The show was a gutsy debasement of corporate slickness. [7] Young’s works by contrast are as slick as the forms they bring to attention, all the better for the scrutiny to take place. Young’s works considered this way can be compared with historical practices as well as contemporary ones. Whereas earlier artists appropriated billboard advertising forms in an act of détournement to direct critical attention to specific corporations (think of Hans Haacke’s work about British Leyland’s involvement in Apartheid South Africa, A Breed Apart (1978)), Young conducts a more general enquiry about such forms themselves and refrains from attacking particular corporations. Young could be said to update the enquiry of artists such as Richard Prince and Barbara Kruger whose early work focused attention on 20th century forms of advertising. Young’s scrutinises the more advanced, more insidious and pervasive forms of early 21st century marketing.

And yet if we remember where the loyalty card would be found, we would be less likely to read Young’s work in this quite orthodox manner. Unlike Haacke’s Leyland works or Prince’s Marlboro photographs, or Bag’s videos and drawings, for that matter, Young’s work is situated outside the gallery space. But what, or where is its ‘site’? Certainly its ‘site’ is more complex than anything we can simply call ‘outside’. Received inside the KM, the loyalty card is transported outside nestled in the member’s wallet, but is used to grant re-entry into the KM, and indeed entry to other Kunstvereins. The eventual reward of KM visits is a book to be read outside. Young’s work destroys the distinction of inside and outside. Thought about in this way the work would encourage us to realise that Young no longer conceives art as a site with clear boundaries, and that therefore it cannot be an autonomous space or platform from which to critically scrutinise the forms of contemporary marketing. And just as permeable are the boundaries of ‘business’, hungry for creativity and self-criticism, the values once fostered in art.

So let us consider an alternative approach to Young’s works. This is that Young’s works are irony-free. The works suggest that effective forms from the ‘commercial sector’ can be brought over to do good constructive work in the ‘cultural sector’. A ‘loyalty card’ form can be used to promote the KM; a gallery can learn how to promote the work of the artists it represents; a team of museum workers can be provided with training to develop their negotiation skills, etcetera. The slickness of Young’s works is not a means of allowing the forms to be seen as they are, but is simply a result of their operation; the business processes need to be as efficient as they would be in the commercial sector. The works might suggest a much less oppositional stance towards corporations than the work of Young’s predecessors. Corporate strategies are not necessarily problematic, only problematic where directed to oppressive ends. Why not use incentive schemes, skills training, and the like? Perhaps in its resistance to them, the art world is hopelessly conservative. Why continue to see ‘art’ and business as necessarily oppositional?

If Debit and Credit on the one hand suggests a new attitude of the artist to corporate culture, on the other it exemplifies a new mode of relation to the art institution. Maria Lind has referred to ‘constructive institutional critique’ [8] and Young’s work might come under such a heading. Young’s project would seem somewhat distanced from the work of ‘first generation’ institution critique artists such as Michael Asher and Hans Haacke who were at pains to lay bare the ideological structures of the institution, sometimes by highlighting which businesses or politicians funded museum acquisitions or activities. Young’s work emerges just as such artists are repeatedly called in by institutions to administer a good dose of critique, just as their model seems compromised by over-acceptance. (Institutionalised critique?) Instead of mourning the lost possibilities of oppositional practice, though, why not work with this situation? Young assists the institution, or credits them. ‘Instead of seeing the host institution as something to be opposed and directly criticised,’ Young writes, ‘I have used the cards here to try and increase visits to the institution.’ [10]

Young’s concern with the peripheral mechanisms of the institution, its ‘Section Publicité’ (to recall Marcel Broodthaers’s work) rather than its physical structure, parallels the interests of artists like Louise Lawler and Andrea Fraser. [11] Fraser in fact wrote that Lawler’s work ‘is often conceived as a functional insert into a network of supports which is exterior to the gallery’ [12], and this could almost describe Debit and Credit. If Young works with membership schemes, Fraser has famously infiltrated docent tours (Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk, 1989) and videoed herself taking audio-guides a little too seriously (Little Frank and his Carp, 2001). But Young’s work, if institution-friendly, would steer clear of the comic mocking tone of Fraser’s. Or is it that simple? Despite the utopianism of Young’s rhetoric, the more we think about it, the more insidious Debit and Credit seems. On an immediate level, the work could be said to associate a Kunstverein with a retail outfit, where we usually encounter loyalty cards. For all that Young’s work refuses clear boundaries between art and business, for all the truth of acknowledging that small institutions are more and more reliant on commercial activities (hiring out their spaces for corporate events, seeking sponsorship for exhibitions, for instance) this comparison would necessarily deflate of the pretensions of the institution, as institutions usually see themselves as distinct and separate from the commercial sector. Young would not be the first artist to draw parallels between museums and shops – this was the underlying revelation of Michael Asher’s catalogue of de-accessioned paintings and sculptures from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art published on the occasion of ‘The Museum as Muse’, an exhibition at MoMA held in 1999. [13]

If Debit and Credit initially asks us to think of the KM as a shop, less immediately, the scheme implies that this is a shop having some trouble shifting stock. Why so? Let’s think how loyalty cards work. Loyalty card schemes are initiated by commercial outfits when they recognise that their products are interchangeable with those of a competitor. A customer might go to Sainsburys one day, but they might go to Tescos the next. Since Sainsburys cannot rely on superior products to secure repeat visits to the store, they offer a different kind of incentive: reward points which lead to discounts, in other words, extra products. This is a purely financial incentive but it is given the name of ‘loyalty’. Properly speaking, ‘loyalty’ derives from a pre-capitalist, feudal era, and described the allegiance an inferior had to their superior. Nowadays the term generally is used to name a faithful relationship between friends. The commercial outfit, needless to say, is using the term ‘loyalty’ to cover up the purely financial nature of its incentive and to endow the scheme with extra cachet – with a non-material value. But the key point here is that loyalty cards start at the point when the seller has to supplement their product. So what does this mean in relation to the KM loyalty card? Whilst Young’s project seems to offer to the KM a strengthening mechanism, it implies that the Kunstverein is interchangeable with any of its competitors, that its programme is just as valuable as that of any similar institution, that viewers need added incentives to visit again and again. We might now understand the word ‘debit’ in Young’s title: it is the KM that is lacking. This is more powerfully deflationary, as every director of every art institution without a collection would hope its programme is more ambitious than the next. Taken to the extreme, the logic of the loyalty card is even self-critical, for the KM programme includes Young’s own work.

Now I do not mean to suggest that Young is directly attacking the KM. We must understand this work as a model. This means that if we can point to the positive help it aims to offer the institution and the members – as I did above – we do not have to carry out an audit to see how many people actually got their cards stamped and actually read Kluge’s book. And if we point to the ‘insidious’ side, we do not have to take the work as a direct slur on KM programmes. But treating the work as a model, what emerges is that at the same time that the loyalty card offers a ‘constructive’ device for the institution, the very device suggests the institution’s insecurities and inadequacies. This does not mean thatDebit and Credit emerges as an ambiguous work, but rather a complex one with contradictory suggestions.

We can understand this in another way, through the notion of untranslatability. Young refers to the movement of the device, form, or feature of the corporate world into the art work in different ways. In conversation she has described an act of ‘importing’, or ‘adopting’ a form from the business world, or ‘overlaying’ one of its features onto an art context. Elsewhere she writes that a given work ‘displaces a process more often seen in business or workplaces in general, into a cultural dimension as a form of ‘readymade’ or found process.’ The difficulty in determining one word to describe the process of transfer of a form from one sphere to the other (one could imagine other terms too like ‘appropriate’, ‘cut/paste’, or ‘translate’) already suggests the displacement or translation itself might not be smooth. Theorists have long argued that translation is not an easy process of the transport of meaning from one language to another, with both transparent to each other like stacked sheets of glass. [15] Translation leaves as residue the obscure untranslatable. In the context of Young’s work we can say that the act of bringing a ‘form’ from the corporate to the cultural sector necessarily produces misunderstandings, sometimes shortages and sometimes surpluses of meaning. The ‘insidious’ side of Debit and Credit seems to me to be the mark of the ‘untranslatable’ in this instance, a surplus of meaning: Young might not have written about all the implications of the loyalty card, but they are there nonetheless. [16]

Interlude: The Terms
17 May 2004

It is the middle of the summer term. It seems like I have been marking essays for months but new ones keep coming. In the next few weeks there are exam boards and degree shows and deadlines for journals. An email arrives:

Dear Mark,
I hope you are well. Now I have more concrete information about deadlines etc for your text about Carey's work:
2000 words
Deadline 21 June
The fee is unfortunately symbolic rather than substantial: 250 euro. 
Please don't hesitate to contact me if you need any further information.
Will you go to the opening of Manifesta in San Sebastian?
All the best,

I hadn’t thought about the KM text for months. Maria had sent me a note the week after we’d met, briefly repeating the terms of the commission but this was long ago. The text had been there at the back of my mind, but I was putting it off whilst completing other projects. And anyway, for some reason I had thought I was to write it in late summer. Now suddenly a deadline is set for a month’s time! Had I misremembered the deadline from the meeting on 19 January, or had it not been set until this email? Why did Maria want the text so soon? How could I possibly write it on time? How set are this email’s ‘concrete’ bits of ‘information’? The first thing I must do is extend the deadline. I find this embarrassing: I usually keep my schedules and presumably Maria wants it then for a reason. I don’t want to cause any problems. If I’m asking for an extension, I better not question the payment. It is, admittedly, a slight disappointment. I had hoped through this commission to make a trip to the KM to see shows and to do some research nearby. 250 Euros will hardly pay for this trip. Still, I need to ask for more time, and so I better not ask for more money. I send off an email and hear back soon. Maria asks how much longer I need and we agree that early July is acceptable for both of us. I have got an extension. It was easy. Perhaps I should have bargained for more, but it’s too late. Oh well, I’ve got what I wanted, haven’t I?

2. Getting Things Done When You’re Not in Charge

In 1983, Louise Lawler produced a ‘Gift Certificate’ for the Leo Castelli gallery which she exhibited in a group show at the gallery. The displayed certificate was one of an edition of 500 and unlike the other works in the show, its price fluctuated. The gallery would record whatever price the collector paid for it on the certificate, and the certificate was later redeemable against the price of another work sold by the dealer. With comic economy, Lawler’s work, in Andrea Fraser’s analysis, ‘reduces the art work’ to ‘a supplement of the market.’ [17] Though Carey Young did not know Lawler’s Gift Certificate (from a period of institutional practice between Haacke’s and her own) the correspondence between the piece and her loyalty card does raise questions that can be directed to other works as well. For if as I have been saying Carey Young’s work needs to be distinguished from earlier models of institutional critique, she is at great pains to invoke work from the neo avant-garde, especially works produced between 1965 and 1975. Indeed it could be said that as each work of hers imports a different marketing or corporate ‘form’, it simultaneously invokes a particular art work from this period. These works are referred to in many different ways, but often very specifically.

Sometimes Young references specific precedents through her titles: The Revolution is Us!, another of the works made as a KM ‘sputnik’, is named after a Joseph Beuys edition, La Rivoluzione siamo Noi (1972) showing a booted Beuys, satchel across his chest, striding towards the camera. This work looks nothing like Beuys’s though: it is a digital video animation, played on info-screens positioned on platforms of the Munich subway system and in the window of the KM, consisting of repeating English translations of Beuys’s title. These scroll down the screen in different corporate fonts (such as Mobil, or Vogue), interrupted by the name of the corporation. Other times the reference is made through a combination of title and form: Social Sculpture (a roll of office carpet propped against a wall) refers to the German artist’s ideas and to his use of felt.Lines Made by Walking references in title and image Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking (1967), and Young describes the work as ‘re-inhabiting’ Long’s. Where his photograph was made in the empty English countryside, her video is made on London Bridge at rush hour. She walks against the flow of the commuters who move out of her way, creating an empty line on the pavement. Sometimes the reference is through a similar form rather than a title. Nothing Ventured recalled the telephone piece Walter de Maria made for When Attitudes Become Form. Some of Young’s works invoke precedents more obliquely:Everything You’ve Heard is Wrong recalls Marcel Broodthaers’ tape Speakers' Corner (1972) made at the same spot. Win-Win (2002-ongoing) makes reference to Dan Graham’s March 31, 1966 through its idea of infinite proliferation; I am a Revolutionary, in its humour and self-cancellation, recalls John Baldessari’s tape I will not make any more boring art (1971), and in its declarative bluntness, Keith Arnatt’s Trouser-Word Piece (1972). MeanwhileIncubator paid homage to Michael Asher’s 1974 exhibition at the Claire Copley Gallery in Los Angeles. Asher had taken down a wall in the gallery to reveal the commercial activities of the dealer; for Incubator Young set up the meeting between gallery directors and a venture capitalist, videoed the meeting, and then screened the video in the gallery within the recreated meeting room situation. (In passing, it is worth noting that to my knowledge, Young has not referenced work by any women artists of the late 1960s/early 1970s. One would imagine that figures like Mierle Laderman Ukeles and Martha Rosler would be important to her, though).

Describing an ‘Archival Impulse in Contemporary Art’, Hal Foster has recently questioned why artists like Tacita Dean and Sam Durant are drawn to this period and what kind of connections their works make to ones by Robert Smithson (Dean has also referenced Bas Jan Ader and Marcel Broodthaers). The referencing of the neo avant-garde has become extremely widespread recently (one could also mention Jonathan Monk, Dave Muller, Renee Green, and Matthew Antezzo) and of course each artist draws links to previous ones in different ways and for different reasons, but Young’s tendency to invoke other works is particularly perplexing, for as I have noted, she wishes to distance her practice from the aims of first generation critical artists. So various questions arise: is Young deliberately invoking historical work to highlight her difference from this generation? Is she producing a critique not of the institution but of critical practice, showing its former naivety? Would her work signal a kind of progress from the work of her precedents? Or might a work articulate (through an invoked precedent) the increasingly compromised situation of the artist? [18] These are general questions, but general answers will not do. Once more we need to look to specifics.

Getting Things Done When You’re Not in Charge (2004) was another of the four commissioned works for the Kunstverein München. This work consisted of four artist’s multiples: a yo-yo, a ruler, a lighter, and a pencil. On each, there was a printed statement taken from a revolutionary figure. The pencil, for example, had on it Marx’s ‘Workers of the world, unite!’ Sometimes the statement had a reflexive relationship with the object, so the object (if used) would demonstrate the statement, as it were. The lighter, for instance, carried the Black Panthers’ slogan ‘Power to the People’, and the yo-yo the simple word ‘Anarchy!’ The ruler was printed with Che Guevara’s mantra ‘It is not enough to change the world, it must be transformed’: here, the relationship of text to object seems ironic, as rulers tend to measure rather than transform. Where elsewhere Young uses specific and recognisable fonts from well known companies, the fonts on all the multiples were non-referential. The colours of the statements were either white on red (the lighter and pencil) or red on white (the yo-yo and ruler), colour clearly reinforcing the leftist content of the words. The multiples were given away at the KM, launching on the occasion of the opening of a Philippe Parreno show, placed in Perspex boxes. Nearby was clear information that they were one of Young’s projects for the institution. Visitors could take as many as they chose. Since that opening, Young herself has come across these objects as far away as Sweden, and has been interested in their random spread.

Following a mode of interpretation employed and then questioned earlier in this essay, one might want to say that Young here ‘adopts’ a corporate form. Go to any trade fair, and every company will supply you with stationary, key rings, and other everyday objects bearing their logos. These ‘free gifts’ or ‘freebies’ demonstrate the generosity of the corporation but also serve as constant advertising reminders as they are used again and again by the person who picked them up. They are not really ‘free gifts’ then: the value of the attention you pay the company far outweighs the price they pay to give you the pens and rubbers. The gifts ‘get things done’ (advertise the business) even when the business is ‘not in charge’. Young (it might seem) takes this form and carries out an act of détournement, replacing corporate advertising with revolutionary calls to arms…

But what happens when we see this work through the historical precedents? Young describes the multiples as ‘portable kinetic sculptures’ which might call to mind the works of Helio Oiticica and Lygia Clark but more importantly, Getting Things Done When You’re Not in Charge invokes another Brazilian artist to whom Young has often referred, but never so clearly as here, Cildo Meireles. Between 1968 and 1970, Meireles carried out several Insertions Into Ideological Circuits the most famous of which was the Coca-Cola Project(1970). The artist would take empty bottles and silkscreen political slogans onto their sides in the Coca-Cola font. While the silkscreened empties were being returned to the factory the messages were invisible, but they reappeared when the bottles were refilled, white figures against a coke-brown ground. Unspotted by the factory, the altered bottles would have been sent to various stores, and unsuspecting customers would buy them and (hopefully) read the message and discuss it, making unpredictable use of its words. According to existing accounts, there would be no knowledge who had written the message, no knowledge that this was the act of one Cildo Meireles, and no knowledge this was even an art work at all. The coke drunk, the empty bottle would go back to the factory, and the message continues to circulate.

Meireles’s Insertions have been well described by critics such as Alexander Alberro and George Baker. They make various claims for the Insertions’ radicality. First, Meireles’s works challenged the authority of the author. The objects were not signed or revealed as a creation of the artist. Second, the insertions questioned the traditional distribution of the art work. The works sidestepped the gallery system and inserted themselves instead into an existing circuit, a system set up to distribute commodities. The works not only piggyback the system but criticise the particular product they latch onto and the conditions of its circulation. As Alberro puts it ‘[i]n the 1960s, Coca-Cola represented, more than any other company, the aggressive imperialist expansion of capitalism through the spread of US multinational corporations in Latin American companies. Seen from this perspective the radically transformed bottles operated as at once a direct intervention in and an obstinate critique of the globalism of victorious US capitalism.’ [19] Finally the works actively attacked the Brazilian government through the content of the silkscreened message.

If we come back now to Young’s work, and read it through the Meireles, what happens? There are some immediate parallels. Like the Coke bottles, Young’s multiples are everyday portable objects each with a ‘use value’, and each printed with a slogan. They are inserted into a circuit, circulated through the random activities of the visitors to the KM. Some visitors might have taken them home and used them until the lighter fuel ran out, the yo-yo broke; some would have mislaid them and they would be picked up by total strangers. But from further comparison four ‘problems’ arise. First, if Meireles remained anonymous, Young is declared as commissioned author at the very moment of the work’s emergence. Second, Young uses the institution to disseminate the freebies rather than sidelining it – indeed if this work by Young is judged successful in reviews associating it with its commissioning institution, the reputation of the KM rises. Third, these lighters and yo-yos bear no relation to specific companies such as Coca-Cola even though Young’s work is produced at a time of increased opposition to multinational corporations. Fourth, where Meireles’s statements were so incendiary that he would have been arrested if discovered, the statements on Getting Things Done… are mere clichés. Their critical potential has long been emasculated by familiarity. You say you want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world: think of the millions of kids with Che t-shirts.

All this considered, why would Young so clearly invoke Meireles’s work when the invocation only serves to underscore his radicality? In his text on Meireles, George Baker writes on the problem of young 1990s artists ‘utterly deflat[ing] the critical potential of [….] earlier projects’. [20] This for him is a ‘catastrophe of recent art history’ and often happens because earlier projects remain unknown. Baker’s example is Andrea Zittel, who seems to show no knowledge of Michael Asher’s 1970s trailer works. But unlike Zittel (at least as Baker characterises her), Young knows her art history well and has deliberately invoked Meireles’s work. So if Young makes work that lays itself bare to the ‘problems’ enumerated above, presumably she does so for a reason. What could this be?

Perhaps we might think about this work as an acknowledgement of a contemporary politico-economic reality. If pop culture has emasculated revolutionary rhetoric, then marketing strategists have appropriated guerrilla distribution tactics (such as Meireles’s). [21] Insertion, in other words, goes both ways: Meireles’s methods are fucked. Young’s work acknowledges both aspects of this situation at once, and in so doing, refuses a position taken up by many other artists, a position of nostalgia. (I am thinking for instance of Sam Durant’s pencil drawings of 1960s protestors, which do not really tackle the marketability of protest rhetoric).

Perhaps we might see this project more allegorically, not just as a reflection on the marketability of revolutionary language and the recuperation of guerrilla distribution tactics, but as a reflection on the current crisis of critical practice. Especially in countries like Germany (so economically and politically stable, when compared to Brazil of the late 1960s), avant-garde artistic activity is now so easily accommodated – as easily accommodated in fact as revolutionary slogans – that artists can only acknowledge this confined situation in the form of the work, which she does. [22]

But Young’s work also speaks back to Meireles, and refuses a position of deference. After reading her work ‘through’ Meireles’s, we must read his through hers. And certain questions arise which are quite difficult to shake off. If Young’s work was ‘authored’, wasn’t Meireles’s too? He didn’t just silkscreen the slogan onto the Coke bottles, but the title and date of his project and his initials – almost providing all the information a museum gives in a wall label. And if Young’s work relied on the KM for its dissemination, didn’t Meireles’s too? TheCoca-Cola Project was displayed in New York at the Museum of Modern Art as early as 1970, despite the fact the slogan read ‘Yankees Go Home!’. George Baker has written of Christian Philippe Muller that his work shows that ‘[a] radical critique of art’s distribution form still depends on the physical and media institutions of art for its strategic critique to become readable’. [23] Young’s work shows this too, but reminds us this was always the case.

Young’s work can then be read through Meireles’s and can read it, it can acknowledge the compromised status of his strategies and valorise them at the same time. Just as Debit and Credit showed the multiplicity of Young’s works’ positions towards the institution and the commercial form, Getting Things Done… demonstrates that this level of complexity also exists in the relationship between her works and their invoked precedents.

Let us just, in conclusion, remind ourselves of some aspects of the situation from which Young’s works emerge. The art institution, first of all, can no longer be thought of as autonomous. In fact it is increasingly implicated in the world of business through its reliance on sponsorship, advertising, etcetera. Strategies of presentation, negotiation, marketing and advertising derived from the business world do not have to be considered as necessarily repressive. Nonetheless, some of the ways businesses use marketing are ripe for critical attention. The art work might be a vehicle through which to direct this attention. But the art work is reliant on the institution for its dissemination and visibility. Historical examples of critical practice provide some models for how this critique can be formed, but historical models of practice need updating because they are no longer appropriate to a political/economic reality. And yet now any model of critical practice is compromised, in ways which sometimes make historical modes more appealing. There are many different contradictions in this situation, but one thing is for sure: the artist cannot be secure in any traditional models of critique. Young’s ambition to confront this situation necessarily produces works with intense complexity. Though sometimes so economic as to seem simple, they reward thought by frustrating easy interpretation, and like impossible knots, tie you up as you try to unravel them. Perhaps it is precisely in their complexity, their foiling of quick interpretation, that they stage a moment of resistance to the spectacle and sound bite culture, the fluid narratives and instant messages of contemporary globalised capitalism.

Postscript: Negotiation(?)
6 July 2004

I have been writing this for two weeks. It has taken much longer than I thought. My text is almost 6000 words. I send it to Maria. Again, I feel I’m causing a problem. It is almost triple the length she wanted. I’m on the defensive, slightly apologetic. I don’t know if she will still be able to publish it. Some days later, I hear the length is not a problem. In fact, I should write more. This comes as a surprise and seems a bit strange, even though as I now recall I was asked to write on all fort of Carey’s sputnik works, and I have only written on two of them. No mention is made of money, though, no suggestion that I will now be paid more than the agreed fee. In fact it’s left to me to raise this, which I do (more embarrassment), but I am promptly offered a further 100 Euros. I’m asked to write more especially on Win-Win, the first work that Carey made for the Kunstverein. This was the work which involved the Kunstverein staff attending a ‘training course in negotiation skills’, which was described by Young as ‘an immense, dematerialised, and highly formal process piece.’

And it is as the instruction is given that I figure that if I hadn’t addressed it explicitly in my text, my writing has been part of Win-Win all along. Or not my writing, quite, but the circumstances of its appearance. Meeting me, offering the commission, setting me a deadline, letting me know the fee, editing my text, asking me to add to it an account of Win-Win: in all these processes, Maria might have been using negotiation skills acquired in the training session. In other words, she might have been extending Carey Young’s work in the very process of commissioning an account of it. (‘The piece is specified as ‘existing’ at any time when these skills are used during interactions with others.’ [25] ) So if I am to write about Win-Win, why not reflect on my own encounter with Maria, in other words, on the circumstances of the commissioning of this text. Haven’t I been seeing the piece in action? And can I therefore ask about its success?

‘The work is designed to be of practical use.’ [24] Win-Win prepared the staff of the Kunstverein for scenarios they would encounter in their professional life. It aims, according to Young’s statement, to help them achieve outcomes and objectives in such scenarios that are beneficial both to them and to the person or organisation with whom they are dealing. Win-Win is not about one party in a negotiation process securing their own objectives at the cost of the other’s, but about building outcomes that suit both. One scenario might be the meeting the assistant curator must have had with whoever controls the use of advertising info-screens on the platforms of the Munich subway. How can they persuade such a person to let an artist use this space for a while? What kind of discount could be arranged? Another such scenario is between the Kunstverein director and a prospective contributor to a Kunstverein publication. This is a more typical part of museum work and one would imagine that any curator is involved with it. So let us put Win-Win aside and consider this scenario in the abstract to ask a question: when an institution director invites a critic to write about an exhibition or a commissioned work, what are the typical objectives of each party?

The institution’s director wants to have a text to reflect critically on a work they are exhibiting or have commissioned. This text will bear witness to the seriousness of their own work, it will benefit the artist, and it will be a good opportunity for the critic. The critic wants their writing on the artist to be published. They will get their views into the public realm, their text will enter the artist’s bibliography, and they might at a later stage be asked to write by another institution. Fine. How do financial, business considerations factor in? (If we didn’t know they would already, Carey Young’s work shows us they always will.) The Kunstverein director has to manage their compromised budget. They probably cannot afford to pay the critic as much as they want. But they also can anticipate that the critic will accept a fee that’s lower than one for a magazine because of the prestige of the situation. And in any case, there are limited opportunities to publish critical writing nowadays. They might guess that the critic will not demand more money than is offered, especially if the critic is young and has not published frequently in museum catalogues, etcetera. These financial factors articulate the power dynamic in play. Though the critic will be given the power to air their views in print, the commissioner has the power to control the terms of the commission.

This describes the objectives and financial realities for both parties in the situation of which I was a part. Now let us re-introduce Win-Win. Given that Lind commissioned Win-Win, and was a participant in the negotiation skills training course, can I expect Young’s work to have altered the way Lind approached her part in this scenario? Should I expect Maria to have dealt with me in a different way to how another Kunstverein head would have dealt with another critic? Carey: ‘I intend that the work is manifested – or becomes perceptible – […] within the actions, attitudes, and effects of the Kunstverein team.’ The answer, according to the logic of Young’s statement, has to be ‘yes’.

The next question is: what should I expect the difference to have been? ‘Learning negotiation skills is said to mean that one can recognise situations for a potential negotiation, meaning that improved outcomes can be envisaged on a mutually beneficial, or ‘win-win’ basis.’ [26] If Young’s text describes Win-Winin Utopian terms (Win-Win suggests ‘potential, forward movement, and growth’), I should have expected Maria Lind to have asked me what my objectives were before accepting her commission, to have enquired about them rather than anticipating them. Maria had been told by Carey that I was interested in writing on her work, but there might have been other, more complex objectives than a simple opportunity to publish, and these could have been discussed. I should have expected her to have done this even if it meant forsaking some of the power she had in the process of the commission.

So, did Maria’s ‘actions’ and ‘attitudes’ make Win-Win perceptible? Did she fulfil the promise of Young’s work? The answer: it’s hard to judge. I was never explicitly asked what my objectives were. Finances and deadlines were announced rather than discussed. ‘Now I have more concrete information about deadlines etc for your text about Carey's work.’ At the same time I was treated well: in the first place, I was offered a commission. When the payment was announced, it was with some degree of apology: it was ‘unfortunately’ ‘symbolic’ rather than ‘substantial’. Then I was granted extra writing time, allowed to write over the word limit, and offered more money than had originally been suggested. But, in toto, were Maria’s dealings with me radically different to the dealings another Kunstverein director would have had with another critic? I’m not sure they were.

Does this mean that the pressures of work as a Kunstverein director did not allow for detailed phone conversations and emails to me of the sort Win-Winmight have led me to expect? Even that the finances of a small institution limit the possibilities of international phone calls? That Carey Young’s piece Win-Winsimply wasn’t taking place at points (for instance, on 17 May, when Maria sent me the email)? Or, if Win-Win by its own definition is always taking place, does it mean it was failing then? Was Win-Win operating when Maria accepted my request for an extension, when she suggested (with diplomacy) editorial changes? Perhaps, but perhaps this is how she would have operated anyway. Again, it is hard to tell. And in any case should one expect Win-Win to have a demonstrable result at every moment a KM staff member interacts with anyone?

Young writes that the work has an ‘uncanny quality’ because one is never quite sure where and when it is in operation. At times, as a critic, I felt uncomfortable that the commissioning of my text was part of the work that this text would hope to analyse, that there was no ‘outside’ for the text, just as there is no ‘boundary’ for the work. But at times I wondered whether the work wasn’t so much everywhere as nowhere. Perhaps the utopianism of Win-Win should be taken literally: ‘Win-Win’ happens in ‘no-place’? Everywhere, nowhere? Maybe it works both ways.

14 July
Post-post script

Where does Win-Win end? More pressingly, you may well be wondering by now, when will this text end? Reader, at the risk of annoying you with these additions, there is another twist in the tale. So a moment of patience, please.

A text like this one goes back and forth between the writer and the commissioner and the artist and the editor and the publisher. To pretend otherwise would be naïve. In this instance, Maria is the commissioner and the editor and the publisher and the director of the Kunstverein. What happens when the director of a Kunstverein receives a text which, in describing a work of art, turns out to describe and perhaps expose their working methods, and not entirely favorably at that? In other words, how did Maria react to what you have just read? With understanding and diplomacy. There were one or two perfectly reasonable requests that the story include some conversations between us that had I had not mentioned. I’m sure there are still parts of my description of our interaction that she would represent differently. Most importantly, through the conversation there was honesty and openness. Over 45 minutes Maria and I explained what we knew of the other, what we considered our objectives and obligations and shortcomings and difficulties during the process of the commissioning, writing, and editing of this text. We probably leant things about each other we did not know. For instance, I learnt that I had underestimated my own position of power during our encounter: as much as it was prestigious for me to be invited to write for the KM, it was prestigious for them to have commissioned a text by a critic publishing in various international journals. Through this discussion there was a degree of transparency that is probably quite rare in encounters between people who work around the exhibition and reception of contemporary art works.

Which is to say that my critical, skeptical response to Carey Young’s work Win-Win sparked a dialogue, and the dialogue was perfectly in tune with Young’s rhetoric. And so my skepticism started to diffuse.


Author's note: Many thanks to Dan Smith for his insightful comments on an early draft of this text and to Andrew Brown for his suggestions on a later one.

[2] The sputniks are a diverse group of artists, curators and theoreticians from germany and abroad, who were invited long-term to give critique and suggestions to the Kunstverein, and to contribute to the programme in different ways.
[3] See text by Katharina Schlieben, Kunstverein Muenchen website.
[4] Carey Young, artist’s statement on Win-Win
[5] Carey Young’, artist’s statement for Debit and Credit.
[6] Andrea Fraser, ‘In and Out of Place’, Art in America, June 1985, p. 125
[7] see John Kelsey, ‘Alex Bag, Elizabeth Dee Gallery’, Artforum (May 2004) p. 212
[8] Maria Lind, ‘Models of Criticality’, in Contextualize (Kunstverein Hamburg, 2002) p.150
[9] Isabelle Graw has commented on ‘an absurd situation in which the commissioning institution turns to an artist as a person who has the legitimacy to point out the contradictions and irregularities of which they themselves disapprove.’ Graw quoted in Miwon Kwon, One Place After Another (MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2002), p. 47
[10] Carey Young, artist’s Statement on Debit and Credit.
[11] For more on the shift from the physical to the functional site, see James Meyer, ‘The Functional Site, or The Transformation of Site Specificity’ in Erika Suderburg, (ed), Space, Site and Intervention (University of Minnesota Press, 2000), pp. 23-27
[12] Andrea Fraser, op. cit., p. 124
[13] Though primarily concerned with the way a museum determines what is historically recognised as the canon through the management of a collection, Asher also revealed how museums sell works in order to do this.
[14] Carey Young, Artist’s statement about the work ‘Win-Win’, 2002
[15] See Sarat Maharaj, ‘Perfidious Fidelity- The Untranslatability of the Other’ in Jean Fisher (ed.), Global Visions: Towards a New Internationalism in the Visual Arts (InIVA, London, 1994) pp.28-35
[16] In other works the index of the untranslatable is humour – this is particularly evident in Incubator where the gallerist fails to see his business in the same terms as the venture capitalist, and in the new work Terms and Conditionswhere two meanings of ‘site’ come into conflict. Misunderstanding, failure, and humour seem to characterize Young’s video works more than her object-based works, and I hope to discuss these issues further elsewhere.
[17] Andrea Fraser, op. cit., p. 126
[18] Young explains that by making continual references to works made between 1965 and 1975, she draws links between a ‘new economic paradigm arriving with the shift to a network society’ and ‘dematerialisation’. ‘Dematerialisation in art (and the subsequent ability of gallerists to sell conceptual artworks, even though they were often intended as an anti-market gesture) finds a contemporary parallel in the dematerialisation of goods and services within a knowledge-based economy.’ (Correspondence with artist, July 2004) 
For all the interest of this connection, it does not account for the materiality of many of the works Young references. The term ‘dematerialisation’ was an extremely contested one during the period of ‘Six Years’ described in Lucy Lippard’s book. Mel Bochner for instance wrote a vigorous critique of Lippard in a book review published in Artforum in June 1973 and if his work continually demonstrated the impossibility of dematerialised practice, so Beuys’s, Long’s, Meiereles’s, etcetera was insistently and difficulty physical – albeit forsaking traditional sculptural materiality. Most art historians of the period have long since abandoned Lippard’s term.
[19] Alexander Alberro, ‘A Media Art: Conceptualism in Latin America in the 1960s’, in Jon Bird and Michael Newman (eds.), Rewriting Conceptual Art(Reaktion, London, 1999), p. 149. See also George Baker, ‘Tourist Information: Cildo Meireles and Christian Philippe Muller’, TRANS No.3-4, pp.119-120
[20] George Baker, op. cit.
[21] Young has been interested in such forms of advertising, and in viral marketing,, and within her lectures has been known to show photographs of the promotional campaign for Missy Elliot’s Under Construction album; sticky tape with the album’s name was wound round lampposts approximating the warning tape around construction sites.
[22] This situation of course is not so simple. Maria Lind has pointed out to me that under the directorship of Walter Zanini, there was an avant-garde programme at the Sao Paulo Museum of Modern Art in the late 1960s. She also indicates that the reception of contemporary avant-garde work in Germany is not as warm as I make out. At least from my perspective, though, Germany appears to have more facilities for showing and commissioning avant-garde work than does Britain. Germany has Documenta, the DAAD, and a huge circuit of ambitious institutions where we have the Turner Prize, the Saatchi Gallery and the YBAs.
[23] George Baker, op. cit
[24] Carey Young, artist’s text on Win-Win
[25] Ibid.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ibid.