The Editors

George Albert Smith, Grandma’s Reading Glass, 1900. Still from film, 01:20 minutes. Public domain.

July 3, 2024

Once a week I stand in front of a work of art in order to write about it. This exercise, designed to keep my eye in, has certain constraints. The text must be written in the presence of the work, in a single sitting, and without recourse to external resources. Not the least consequence of this workout has been the revelation of my own ignorance when denied access to online dictionaries (what is it called again when you scratch marks into oil paint?). But the most relevant here is how difficult it is for any visitor to spend a long time looking at things in exhibition spaces: I am endlessly being told by invigilators to keep moving, to get up from the floor, to stop obstructing the flow.

Last week, for instance, I visited another of those group shows dedicated to queering an abstract noun. The final room contained a standing speaker playing spoken word and music, an incense burner, and a dozen books of theory arranged as if to be read. The intention, it seemed, was to create an environment for self-education and reflection, and so I took a seat on the ledge running around the room’s perimeter. Almost immediately I was told that I could not sit there, or indeed anywhere. Which begs the question of who is likely to read the books laid out or listen to any significant part of the seventy-minute soundtrack, and by extension whether the provision of these materials is anything more a performance of, or gesture towards, the sharing of knowledge.

The discrepancy between the stated intentions of the show and the failure to provide the basic means for their achievement is indicative of more than mere curatorial oversight. Rather, it reveals the logics of circulation and spectatorship that structure exhibition spaces. “The bench,” as Clémentine Deliss has written, “is anathema to the capitalist space of the modern museum,” set up to discourage the “repose and study” once synonymous with the appreciation of objects.1 Try standing in front of a painting for an hour: in many places, you will attract the same suspicion from the invigilator as you would staring at a jeweler’s window from a shopping mall’s security guards. And so, instead, I have started seeking out public spaces more amenable to unhurried observation—parks, graveyards, churches, bars—and writing about the pictures, inscriptions, prints, architectures, and objects I find therein.

This month’s program focuses on those artists and spaces working to challenge these tendencies. Bertolt Brecht—for whom the conventions of artistic presentation must always express a political agenda—is the subject of a show combining archival visual material with performances from his unfinished plays. An artist is commissioned by a foundation to reimagine a nineteenth-century opera in collaboration with writers, performers, and musicians. There is a biennial set in a mountain community, a major survey of one great filmmaker best known for a three-hour-long meditation on the life of a sex worker, and the screening of another’s late work in an abandoned church. Readers engaged professionally in the art world will be aware of the escalating pressures on institutions to function as high-circulation, fiscally remunerative emporia. We’ll be investigating some of the strategies through which those pressures are resisted. The close and prolonged attention from which art criticism springs is, we continue to believe, one of them.


Clémentine Deliss, The Metabolic Museum (Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2020), 15.

RSVP for Obstructions

July 3, 2024

Thank you for your RSVP.

will be in touch.


e-flux announcements are emailed press releases for art exhibitions from all over the world.

Agenda delivers news from galleries, art spaces, and publications, while Criticism publishes reviews of exhibitions and books.

Architecture announcements cover current architecture and design projects, symposia, exhibitions, and publications from all over the world.

Film announcements are newsletters about screenings, film festivals, and exhibitions of moving image.

Education announces academic employment opportunities, calls for applications, symposia, publications, exhibitions, and educational programs.

Sign up to receive information about events organized by e-flux at e-flux Screening Room, Bar Laika, or elsewhere.

I have read e-flux’s privacy policy and agree that e-flux may send me announcements to the email address entered above and that my data will be processed for this purpose in accordance with e-flux’s privacy policy*

Thank you for your interest in e-flux. Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.