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).



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  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).




Monday, 1 April 2019, David Davies (McGill University), “Artistic value(s) and the value of art: a non-aestheticist account of artistic value”

Venue: Sala Stefanini, Piazza Capitaniato, 3 – Padova, 16.30-18.30

The talk will be live-streamed and will remain available on YouTube. Remote participants can watch the live webcast and ask questions using the YouTube Live chat channel.

Abstract: Philosophical debates about ‘artistic value’ examine the kinds of values that artworks have and ask which of these values bear upon the appreciation of worksas such. What one takes to contribute to artistic value depends upon one’s conception of what makes something art. On standard ‘aestheticist’ conceptions, what makes an artifact an artwork is that it is intended to be appreciated ‘for its own sake’: artistic value is then the value it has when so treated. Aestheticist conceptions of artistic value also understand the latter as experiential. On this conception, it is difficult to see how instrumental and achievement value can be part of artistic value, and for many this also applies to cognitive and ethical value. I explore these debates, and develop and defend an alternative conception of artistic value, grounded in an alternative conception of what makes something a work of art. On this conception, artworks are distinguished by the way in which they are designed to perform whatever may be their intended functions. Artistic value is then a matter of performing a given function well in virtue of performing it in the ways distinctive of artworks.

The Aesthetics Lecture Series is part of the Analytic Philosophy and Philosophy of Art Graduate Seminar organized by Prof. Massimiliano Carrara, Prof. Giuseppe Spolaore, Prof. Gabriele Tomasi, Dr. Elisa Caldarola, and Dr. Vittorio Morato for the academic year 2018-2019 at the FISPPA Department (Philosophy, Sociology, Pedagogy, and Applied Psychology) of the University of Padova, Italy.

The Aesthetics Lecture Series is funded by the University of Padova through the initiative “Supporting TAlent in ReSearch@University of Padova” – STARS Grants (Starting Grant 2018-2020, APAI – “A Philosophy of Art Installation”, P.I. Dr. Elisa Caldarola).