Talk “Understanding Site-specific Art” at American Society for Aesthetics Annual Conference, Phoenix, AZ

I will be presenting my work on October 10th 2019 at the annual ASA conference. Here’s my handout.

Introduction: state of the art

Three approaches to site-specific art according to the literature (esp. Miwon Kwon, One Place after Another, 2002):

  • phenomenological: e.g. Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels, Utah Desert, 1976;
  • institutional: e.g. Mierle Laderman Ukele, ‘Maintenance Art’ performances, 1973;
  • discursive: e.g. Group Material’s festival guide for Points of Entry, 1996 (for criticisms see Jason Gaiger, “Dismantling The Frame”, BJA 49, 2009).



Schermata 2019-05-21 alle 21.03.14.png

  1. All artworks or instances of artworks are physically located. Some artworks are sited.

Physically located artworks: e.g. Giorgio Morandi, Still Life, 1946. For all artworks, aspects of the physical environment where they are encountered matter to their perception only in so far as they contribute to making the vehicles of the works perceivable in a way that respects their makers’ sanctions (see Sherri Irvin, “The Artist’s Sanction in Contemporary Art”, JAAC 63, 2005).


Sited artworks: e.g. Ryder Cooley, Deer mural, Albany (NY), 2007; Carlo Marocchetti, Gioacchino Rossini, Pesaro (Italy), 1864; Lorenzo Quinn, Support, Venezia (Italy), 2017. The vehicles of some artworks aren’t single physical objects or events but rather sets constituted by certain physical objects or events plus the sites where they are installed or take place. Such works are sited. Again, to understand whether the work’s vehicle extends to the space where the work is installed we need to understand what has been sanctioned by the work’s maker. Most, or perhaps all sited artworks respond to the sites where they are sited, i.e. display certain features as a consequence of their maker’s creative engagement with aspects of their site of collocation. Being sited is the first condition for site-specificity.




  1. Only some sited artworks incorporate their sites into their artistic media

An art-medium isn’t merely the physical vehicle of an artwork (e.g., for paintings, the pigment on a surface) but it consists of compositional ingredients that are themselves informed by the purposiveness of the entire work (e.g., for paintings, purposeful systems of brushstrokes, i.e. intended forms and colors). The purpose is to communicate some content or, as D. Davies puts it, “to articulate an artist’s statement” (“Medium in Art”, The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, ed. J. Levinson, OUP 2005: 183). Paintings, for instance, are, at a minimal level, about the objects depicted by the forms and colors intentionally traced on their surfaces.

My view is that sited artworks divide into two groups: on the one hand, there are artworks that respond to their sites by articulating certain contents through their media (e.g. Rossini’s statue); on the other hand, there are works that respond to their sites by incorporating their sites into their media, thereby conveying some content through such sites (e.g. the deer mural, Support, José Fuster’s Fusterlandia [since 1975]). Both kinds of works can respond to either particular sites or to sites qua tokens of certain types of sites.


I suggest that only works that incorporate their sites into their media are good candidates for qualifying as site-specific. For the notion of specificity to a site to make sense the link to the site has to be strong and such a strong link is displayed by works that incorporate their site into their media, and not by merely site-responsive works. Still, I believe, this is not yet enough for a work to count as site-specific.

  1. Only some sited artworks are (partially) about their sites

Works that aren’t about their sites: e.g. the deer mural.

Works that are (partially) about their sites: e.g. Rossini’s statue; Support; Fusterlandia.

Being (partially) about the site is the third condition for site-specificity.By restricting the realm of site-specific art to works like Support and Fusterlandia I believe we can do justice to a key concern of art-theoretical literature on site-specific art, which stresses that site-specific art is a peculiarly (although perhaps not exclusively) contemporary phenomenon, concerned with making the public’s attention focus on the works’ locations. Such a switch of attention is secured by works that are both about their locations and such that they exploit their locations creatively by incorporating them into their media. On the contrary, works that are about their locations but merely respond to their sites by articulating a certain content through their media are extremely widespread and don’t seem to have developed consistently out of a concern with making the public’s attention focus on their locations – such category includes not only contemporary works such as e.g. Laderman Ukele’s ‘maintenance art’ performances, but also e.g. the Rossini and Garibaldi statues as well as many works of architecture from the past (e.g. St. Peter’s Basilica in Roma is both sited and about its site – the city of Rome – to whom it pays homage by reproducing numerous features of ancient Roman architecture).




Talk “Understanding Site-Specific Art” at the Philosophy of Art Conference, Inter University Centre, Dubrovnik, Croatia

I am participating into the Philosophy of Art Conference in Dubrovnik (more info here),  giving a talk on site-specific art on April 9th 2019.

Here’s a provisional abstract:

Scholars call ‘site-specific’ a wide variety of artworks: for instance, Carl Andre’s metal plates installations, Andrea Fraser’s gallery talks, works of community art, and also works such as Michelangelo’s Last Judgement fresco in the Sistine Chapel and Pietà Vaticana. As a result, we get a quite confused picture of what it means for a work to be site-specific. This paper develops a strategy for looking deeper into site-specific art, filling a void in the literature. In the first section, assuming that ‘site-specific art’ designates an art genre, I make some preliminary remarks on what conception of art genres guides my investigation of site-specific art. In the second section, I identify some key features usually possessed by site-specific works: (1) being sited; (2) being such that their artistic content emerges from the artist’s manipulation of the site, among other things; (3) being site-concerned. In the third section, I make some remarks on the historical span of site-specific art. In the fourth section, I illustrate the peculiarity of site-specific works of installation art.

Robert Smithson, Broken Circle (1971)


Talk: “Exhibitions and Museums: When Are They Art?” at Aesthetics Research Centre, University of Kent

On Wednesday 3rd of April 2019 I’ll be giving a talk at the Aesthetics Research Centre, University of Kent in Canterbury (UK).

Abstract: Marcel Broodthaer’s Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles (1968) confronted the public with an exhibition that criticized traditional museum practices by means of appropriating them. This work was explicitly intended to qualify as both an exhibition and a work of conceptual art. In this talk, I explore the hypothesis that the artwork status of some exhibitions might instead have remained, so far, unnoticed, even by their makers. To illustrate my view, I analyze the exhibition of pre-and proto-historic artifacts at Berlin’s Neues Museum and argue that such exhibition is a work of site-specific installation art.

Here’s the link to their full program:

Palladio Museum, Vicenza, Italy

Talk: “Exhibitions and Museums: When Are They Art?” at the Aesthetics Seminar, Department of Philosophy, Uppsala University

Neues Museum, Berlin, copyright: Elisa Caldarola

On February 13th 2019, I will be giving a talk at the Aesthetics Seminar in the Department of Philosophy at Uppsala University, Sweden.

The title of the talk is “Exhibitions and Museums: When Art They Art?”.

Abstract: The claims that certain museum-exhibits and exhibitions are artworks or that they share significant resemblances with artworks are currently circulating in both art-theoretical and philosophical literature (see e.g. Carrier 2006; Hein 2006; Foster 2013; Ventzislavov 2014; Voorhies 2017). In the first part of my talk, I show how recent research on art-kinds and conventions in art-making (Lopes 2008; 2014; Xhignesse 2016; 2019 forthcoming) offers a framework for making sense of such claims. In the second part, I argue that some museum-exhibits and exhibitions are works of installation art.


Carrier, David (2006), Museum Skepticism. A History of The Display of Art in Public Galleries, Duke University Press.

Foster, Hal (2013), The Art-Architecture Complex, Verso.

Hein, Hilde (2006), Public Art. Thinking Museums Differently, Altamira Press.

Lopes, Dominic (2008), “Nobody Needs a Theory of Art”, The Journal of Philosophy, 105(3): 109-27.

Lopes, Dominic (2014), Beyond Art, Oxford University Press.

Ventzislavov, Rossen (2014), “Idle Arts: Reconsidering The Curator”, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 72: 83-93.

Voorhies, James (2017), Beyond Objecthood: The Exhibition as a Critical Form since 1968, MIT Press.

Xhignesse, Michel (2016), Attempting Art: an Essay on Intention-Dependence, PhD Thesis submitted to McGill University, Montreal.

Xhignesse, Michel (2019), “What Makes a Kind an Art-Kind?”,TheBritish Journal of Aesthetics, forthcoming.




Talk: “Lo spazio nella scultura e nell’installation art. Una proposta ispirata dal lavoro di Susanne K. Langer” at SWIP Italia workshop

On December 13th 2018 I will deliver the talk “Lo spazio nella scultura e nell’installation art. Una proposta ispirata dal lavoro di Susanne K. Langer” at the workshop “Le donne filosofe dall’antichità ai giorni nostri” organized by Società Italiana per le Donne in Filosofia (SWIP Italia) at the University of Bergamo. Here you can find the program of the event and the abstract of my talk.




Langer.jpgL’opera di Susanne K. Langer è un importante punto di riferimento per l’estetica. Nel mio intervento sosterrò che alcune osservazioni di Langer sull’esperienza delle opere di scultura non solo illuminano aspetti centrali dell’arte scultorea (come già sostenuto da Robert Hopkins in “Sculpture and Space”, in Kieran, M. e Lopes, D. (a cura di), Imagination, Philosophy and the Arts, Routledge 2003), ma contribuiscono anche alla più profonda comprensione di una pratica artistica di origine più recente: la installation art.

Langer (Feeling and Form, Scribner 1953: 86-92) osserva:

            1) che la nostra esperienza dello spazio che ci circonda è organizzata in funzione dei possibili movimenti e delle possibili azioni che potremmo compiere in tale spazio;

            2) che quando esperiamo una scultura, siamo in grado di immaginare di vedere lo spazio attorno a essa come se fosse organizzato in funzione dei possibili movimenti e delle possibili azioni della scultura. Secondo Langer, l’esperienza di una scultura è legata essenzialmente all’esperienza di organizzazione dello spazio attorno a essa – cosa che non avviene, per esempio, nel caso dell’esperienza di un dipinto.

Hopkins (2003) evidenzia che l’analisi di Langer si concentra su un aspetto centrale dell’esperienza di molte sculture, ma non di tutte: i ritratti in forma di busto, per esempio, sono sculture che non sembriamo esperire immaginando di vedere lo spazio attorno a esse organizzato dai loro possibili movimenti e azioni.

La mia ipotesi è che Langer abbia individuato un aspetto distintivo dell’esperienza di molte sculture così come di molte opere d’installation art.

Spesso, chi distingue fra scultura e installation art sostiene che mentre le sculture sono opere che occupano uno spazio limitato all’interno dell’ambiente in cui sono esposte, le opere d’installation art sono tutt’uno con tale ambiente (v. p. es. la voce “Installation Art” nel dizionario online di termini artistici delle Tate Galleries: Per esempio, Bang – un’opera d’installation art di Ai Weiwei – era costituita da 886 sgabelli recuperati da scuole distrutte dal terremoto del 2008 nella regione del Sichuan, che componevano un’ampia struttura rizomatica installata nel 2013 in un padiglione della Biennale di Venezia.

Se però, come sostiene Langer, per molte sculture un certo tipo di esperienza dello spazio attorno a esse è centrale per un’appropriata esperienza di tali opere, sembra che il ruolo dello spazio espositivo non possa fungere da discrimine fra opere d’arte scultorea e opere d’installation art.

Langer, piuttosto, può aiutarci a comprendere l’installation art. Esperire Bang, per esempio,significava trovarsi circondati dagli sgabelli, molti dei quali sospesi scompostamente a mezz’aria, come a ricostruire un istante durante una violenta scossa di terremoto. Immaginare di vedere lo spazio attorno agli sgabelli come organizzato in funzione dei loro possibili movimenti era certamente un aspetto centrale dell’esperienza dell’installazione.

La mia proposta è che molte sculture e molte opere d’installation art condividono la capacità di orientare la nostra attenzione su oggetti tridimensionali spazialmente collocati che coinvolgono la nostra immaginazione visiva nella particolare maniera descritta da Langer. Che ne è, dunque, dell’ipotesi che le opere d’installation art si distinguano dalle sculture per via del loro rapporto con lo spazio d’installazione?

Ritengo che si possa recuperare il senso di questa idea appoggiandosi alla teoria sulla definizione delle forme d’arte avanzata da Dominic Lopes (Beyond Art, OUP 2014: cap. 7). Secondo Lopes, in linea di principio due forme d’arte diverse possono impiegare lo stesso medium, ma differire nelle consuetudini di apprezzamento del medium. La mia proposta è che la situazione di scultura e installation art è proprio un caso del genere.

Un medium artistico è un materiale (o un agglomerato di materiali) ad alcuni aspetti del quale dobbiamo prestare attenzione per apprezzare appropriatamente un’opera in una certa forma d’arte come tale. La consuetudine di apprezzamento di certi aspetti di un certo medium è distintiva di una particolare forma d’arte. Per esempio, nel caso della pittura a olio, la consuetudine prevede di prestare attenzione alle configurazioni e ai colori impressi tramite pennellate su superfici bidimensionali (il medium), concentrandoci p. es. sul contenuto figurativo che veicolano e sulle proprietà espressive di cui costituiscono la base di emergenza.

Sia nel caso della scultura che in quello dell’installation art, il medium è costituito da oggetti tridimensionali spazialmente collocati che coinvolgono la nostra immaginazione visiva nella particolare maniera descritta da Langer. Tuttavia, mentre la consuetudine di apprezzamento della scultura prevede che ci si concentri sull’oggetto scultoreo e sull’immaginazione delle sue potenzialità di movimento nello spazio, la consuetudine di apprezzamento delle opere d’installation art prevede che l’osservatore si concentri sulla propria presenza fisica all’interno di uno spazio condiviso con oggetti tridimensionali di cui può immaginare visivamente le potenzialità di movimento nello spazio. Apprezzare Bang richiede di concentrarsi su che effetto fa sentirsi circondati da 886 sgabelli che possiamo immaginare di vederci cadere addosso.