Theses Doctoral

The Spirit of Sabotage: Contemporary Art and Political Imagination in Post-industrial Spain

Evinson, Katryn

This dissertation is a study of artistic projects that, in response to Spain’s transition into a neoliberal economy, renew the disruptive gesture of the avant-garde, from the country’s 1986 entry into the European Union, to the post-15M uprisings. To do so, I argue that Iberian artists revived strategies of sabotage typical of the 19th-century worker’s struggle, including power cuts, political infiltration, misappropriation of funds, and the destruction of property, to wield the art world’s contradictions against itself. Institutions sponsored these interventions precisely because in attempting to sabotage the art system, museums were able to marshal the idea of the artist’s freedom as a stand-in for Spain’s democratic identity, while also promoting art that fit the regime of spectacle driving the art market.

Combining archival research and interviews with visual and cultural analyses of primarily conceptual art projects, each chapter focuses on a sociopolitical concern with Spain’s neoliberalization with which these artworks wrestle. The first chapter centers on imaginaries of technology given the country’s EU-imposed deindustrialization. One of the cases I examine is Catalan sound artist TRES Blackout (2000-16) concerts where he disconnected buildings from the grid, aestheticizing a pre- and post-industrial experience. The second chapter considers how the promotion of contemporary art was crucial for the State’s shift toward financialization, helping tourism and real estate markets’ development.

These conditions, I argue, led to a new wave of institutional critique, questioning the museum’s social role. Among the works I analyze is Andalusian-Catalan visual artist Luz Broto’s architectural piece, Abrir un agujero permanente (2015), in which she bored a hole in the façade of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona and ran a workshop to change the museum’s bylaws for the hole to remain, without authorization, rendering institution making an artistic process in the vein of institutional critique. The third chapter addresses how artists found ways to counter the institution’s capture of cultural labor, such as Núria Güell’s manual, Cómo expropiar a los bancos (2013) —alongside others—on how to obtain bank loans and default on them. Through the lens of sabotage, we can see how artists pry open, in both symbolic and concrete ways, the increasingly nebulous relationship between labor and capital.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Bosteels, Bruno
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 5, 2023