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 European Society of Aesthetics Conference, Warsaw

I’ve refined my arguments on site-specific art and on June 14th I’m presenting a revised talk at the Conference of the European Society of Aesthetics in Warsaw.

Here’s the conference program.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Maintenance Art: Inside, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT (1973)


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)


Site-specific art bibliography

Here’s a list of sources on site-specific art, chronologically ordered. It includes some work on minimal art, land art, in situ art, installation art, public art, and participatory art. I will keep updating it. Suggestions are welcome! (You can use the comments section below).

Judd, Donald (1965), “Specific Objects”, Arts Yearbook, 8: 74-82; reprinted in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Eds.) (1992), Art in Theory: 1900-1990. An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Oxford, UK and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 809-813.

Morris, Robert (1966-1967), “Notes on Sculpture I-III”, Artforum, 4 (6): 42-44; 5 (2): 20-23; 5 (10); reprinted in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Eds.) (1992), Art in Theory: 1900-1990. An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Oxford, UK and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 813-822.

Fried, Michael (1967, new edition 1998), Art and Objecthood, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Barry, Robert (1969), “Interview with Arthur Rose”, Arts Magazine, 43 (4): 22-23; reprinted in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Eds.) (1992), Art in Theory: 1900-1990. An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Oxford, UK and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 839-840.

Tuchman, Phyllis (1970), “An Interview with Carl Andre”, Artforum, 7 (10).

Alloway, Lawrence (1972), “Robert Smithton’s Development”, Artforum, November.

Krauss, Rosalind E. (1977), Passages in Modern Sculpture, Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.

Krauss, Rosalind E. (1979), “Sculpture in the Expanded Field”, October, 8: 30-44.

Hobbs, Robert (1981), Robert Smithson. Sculpture, Ithaca, NY: The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University.

Buchloh, Benjamin (1981), “Michael Asher and the Conclusion of Modernist Sculpture” in Chantal Pontbriand (ed.), Performance Text(e)s and Documents. Proceedings of the Conference ‘Multidisciplinary Aspects of Performance: Postmodernism’, Montréal: Parachute.

Hobbs, Robert (1982), Robert Smithson: A Retrospective View. 40th Venice Biennale 1982, United States Pavillion, Ithaca (NY): Cornell University, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art.

Sonfist, Alan (ed.) (1983), Art in the Land: A Critical Anthology of Environmental Art, New York: Dutton.

Buchloh, Benjamin H. D. (1986), “The Primary Colors for the Second Time: A Paradigm Repetition of the Neo-Avant Garde”, October, 37: 41-52.

Krauss, Rosalind (1986), “Portrait of the Artist…Throwing Lead”, in Laura Rosenstock (ed.), Richard Serra/Sculpture, New York: The Museum of Modern Art.

Crimp, Douglas (1986), “Serra’s Public Sculpture: Redefining Site Specificity”, in in Laura Rosenstock (ed.), Richard Serra/Sculpture, New York: The Museum of Modern Art.

Danto, Arthur (1987), The State of The Art, New York: Prentice Hall Press.

Escobedo, Helen (1988), “Site-Specific Sculpture or the Mythology of Place”, Leonardo, 21 (2): 141-144.

Sayre, Henry, M. (1989), The Object of Performance, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Serra, Richard (1989), “Tilted Arc Destroyed”, Art in America, May.

Weyergraf-Serra, Clara and Buskirk, Martha (Eds.) (1991), The Destruction of Tilted Arc: Documents, Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.

Mitchell, W.J.T. (ed.) (1992), Art and The Public Sphere, Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press.

Senie, Harriet F. and Webster, Sally (Eds.) (1992), Critical Issues in Public Art. Content, Context and Controversy, New York: Harper Collins.

Foster, Hal (1994), “What’s Neo about the Neo-Avant Garde?”, October, 70: 5-32.

Stein, Judith (1994), “Space and Place”, Art in America, December.

Serra, Richard (1994), Writings, Interviews, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tiberghien, Gilles A. (1995), Land Art, Paris: Carré.

Feagin, Susan (1995), “Paintings and their places”, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 73 (2): 260-268.

Flam, Jack (ed.) (1996), Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hein, Hilde (1996), “What Is Public Art?: Time, Place, and Meaning”, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 54 (1): 1-7.

Horowitz, Gregg M. (1996), “Public Art/Public Space: The Spectacle of the Tilted Arc Controversy”, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 54 (1): 8-14.

Kelly, Michael (1996), “Public Art Controversy: The Serra and Lin Cases”, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 54 (1): 15-22.

Crow, Thomas (1996), “Site-Specific Art: The Strong and the Weak”, in Thomas Crow, Modern Art in the Common Culture, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Foster, Hal (1996), “The Crux of Minimalism” in Hal Foster, The Return of the Real. The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century, Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.

Foster, Hal (1996), “The Artist as Ethnographer” in Hal Foster, The Return of the Real. The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century, Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.

Alberro, Alexander (1997), “The Turn of the Screw: Daniel Buren, Dan Flavin, and the Sixth Guggenheim International Exhibition”, October, 80: 57-84.

Lippard, Lucy (1997), The Lure of the Local: Sense of Place in a Multicentered Society, New York: New Press.

Kastner, Jeffrey (ed.) (1998), Land and Environmental Art (Themes and Movements), London: Phaidon.

Beardsley, John (1998), Earthworks and Beyond. Contemporary Art in the Landscape, 3rd edition, New York, London and Paris: Abbeville.

Foster, Hal (1998), “The Un/Making of Sculpture”, in Russel Ferguson, Anthony McCall and Clara Weyergraf-Serra (eds.), Richard Serra. Sculpture 1985-1998, Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art; Göttingen: Steidl.

O’Doherty, Brian (1999), Inside the White Cube. The Ideology of the Gallery Space, expanded edition, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Coles, Alex (ed.) (2000), Site-specificity: the Ethnographic Turn, London: Black Dog Press.

Kaye, Nick (2000), Site-Specific Art. Performance, Place and Documentation, London and New York: Routledge.

Suderburg, Erika (ed.) (2000), Space, Site, Intervention. Situating Installation Art, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Dal Lago, Francesca, Dong, Song, Dali, Zhang, Wang, Zhang and Jianwei, Wang (2000), “Space and Public: Site Specificity in Beijing”, Art Journal, 59 (1): 74-87.

Reynolds, Ann et al. (2001), Robert Smithson. Mapping Dislocations, New York: James Cohan Gallery.

Alberro, Alexander & Norvell, Patricia (eds.) (2001), Recording Conceptual Art: Early Interviews With Barry, Huebler, Kaltenbach, Lewitt, Morris, Oppenheim, Siegelaub, Smithson, and Weiner, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kwon, Miwon (2002), One Place After Another. Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Attlee, James and Le Feuvre, Lisa (2003), Gordon Matta-Clark: The Space Between, London: Nazraeli.

Reynolds, Ann (2003), Robert Smithson. Learning from New Jersey and Elsewhere, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Thai, Eugenie et al. (2004), Robert Smithson, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Doherty, Claire (ed.) (2004): Contemporary Art. From Studio to Situation, London: Black Dog.

Gross, Boris (2005), “The Mimesis of Thinking”, in Donna De Salvo (ed.), Open Systems. Rethinking Art c. 1970, London: Tate.

Cooke, L. et al (eds.) (2005), Robert Smithson: Spiral Jetty. True Fictions, False Realities, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rendell, Jane (2006), Art and Architecture: A Place Between, London: I.B.Tauris.

Rorer, Anne (2006), “Minimal Art, Arte Povera, Conceptual Art: Reflections on the Herbert Collection”, in Public Space / Two Audiences. Works and Documents from the Herbert Collection, Museo d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona and Kunsthaus Graz am Landesmuseum Joaneum.

Bishop, Claire (ed.) (2008), Participation, London: Whitechapel Gallery & Boston: MIT Press.

Wilder, Ken (2008), “The Case for an External Spectator”, The British Journal of Aesthetics,  48(3): 261-277.

Doherty, Claire (ed.) (2009), Situation, London: Whitechapel Gallery & Boston: MIT Press.

Gaiger, Jason (2009), “Dismantling the Frame: Site-Specific Art and Aesthetic Autonomy”, The British Journal of Aesthetics, 49 (1): 43-58.

Rugg, Judith (2010), Exploring Site-Specific Art. Issues of Space and Internationalism, London and New York: I.B. Tauris.

Gillgren, Peter (2011), “Siting Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in a Multimedia Context: Art, Music and Ceremony in the Sistine Chapel”, Konsthistorisk tidskrift/Journal of Art History,  80 (2): 65-89.

Gillgren, Peter and Snickare, Mårten (Eds.) (2012), Performativity and Performance in Baroque Rome, Abingdon, UK and New York: Ashgate.

Selz, Peter and Stiles, Kristine (Eds.) (2012), “Installations, Environments, and Sites” in Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art. A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings, 2nd edition, Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

Bishop, Claire (2012), Artificial Hells. Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, London and New York: Verso.

Commandeur, Ingrid and van Riemsdijk-Zandee, Trudy (2012), Robert Smithson. Art in Continual Movement, Amsterdam: Alauda.

Selz, Peter & Stiles, Christine (eds.) (2012), Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Groom, Amelia (ed.) (2013), Time, London: Whitechapel Gallery & Boston: MIT Press.

Krauss, Rosalind E. (2013), Perpetual Inventory, Boston: MIT Press.

Doherty, Claire (2015), Out of time, out of space. Public art (now), London: Art Books.

Beier, Simon et al. (2016), Kunstmuseum Basel. Sculpture on the Move. 1946-2016, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.

Skillen, John (2017), Putting Art (Back) in Its Place, ebook edition, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

Osborne, Peter (2017), The Postconceptual Condition: Critical Essays, London: Verso Books.

Gillgreen, Peter (2017), Siting Michelangelo: Spectatorship, Site Specificity and Soundscape,  Lund: Nordic Academic Press.

Simoniti, Vid (2018), “Assessing Socially Engaged Art”, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 76 (1): 71-82.

Richard Serra, Tilted Arc, Federal Plaza, New York City, 1981-1989 – Photo: James Ackerman