Postsensual Aesthetics: On the Logic of the Curatorial

Postsensual Aesthetics: On the Logic of the Curatorial

Postsensual Aesthetics: On the Logic of the Curatorial
With Stefanie Hessler and James Voorhies

Free admission, first come first served

April 20, 2023, 7pm
172 Classon Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11205

Join us at e-flux on Thursday, April 20 at 7pm for a conversation between Stefanie Hessler and James Voorhies, presented on the occasion of the launch of Voorhies’s new book, Postsensual Aesthetics: On the Logic of the Curatorial, published by the MIT Press. 

The field of contemporary art has proven to be a dynamic arena for theoretical thinking and research over the past thirty years. The contemporary exhibition has become a discursive space for dialogue among participants entering from a range of disciplines to work alongside artists and curators. Exhibitions by figures like Ute Meta Bauer, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Okwui Enwezor, and Maria Lind, and work by such artists as Maria Thereza Alves, Amy Balkin, Heman Chong, Maria Eichhorn, Claire Pentecost, and Ines Schaber, show how advances in curating and publishing have contributed to the contemporary exhibition’s unprecedented expansion and influence on understanding and learning through art. 

Yet, while many artists and curators look to the book as a valuable consolidator for presenting archival- and research-based work, traditional aesthetics is indifferent to these multifaceted qualities of the contemporary exhibition form that bring content into the public realm through the cognitive activity of reading. Aesthetic value remains concerned with the sensual experience of the viewer and the autonomy of the discrete art object. The theoretical framework of “postsensual aesthetics” posed by Voorhies in his new book seeks to amplify and reposition methodologies by both artists and curators who foreground knowledge production. Postsensual Aesthetics takes a long perspective on this work, considering it as modes of mediation for public address—as expansive forms of exhibitions and, thus, as modes of curatorial production. Hessler and Voorhies will discuss these ideas and others proposed in the book, including thinking about how the exhibition could be seen as a composition of strategically coordinated elements that refuse to allow the physical site of exhibition to be the primary point of public contact.

Based in Miami Beach and New York City, James Voorhies is a writer, art historian, and curator of The Bass in Miami Beach.

Based in New York City, Stefanie Hessler is a curator, writer, and the director of Swiss Institute in New York.

Postsensual Aesthetics: On the Logic of the Curatorial
James Voorhies
176 pp., 5 x 8 in.
ISBN: 9780262047609
The MIT Press, February 2023

In this original work of aesthetic theory, James Voorhies argues that we live in the shadow of old ways of thinking about art that emphasize the immediate visual experience of an autonomous art object. But theory must change as artistic and curatorial production has changed. It should encompass the full range of activities through which we encounter art and exhibitions, in which reading and thinking are central to the aesthetic experience. Voorhies advances the theoretical framework of a “postsensual aesthetics,” which does not mean one that is beyond a sensual engagement with objects but rather embraces the cognitive connections with ideas that unite art and knowledge production. Cognitive engagements with art often begin with publications conceived as integral to exhibitions, conveying the knowledge and research artists and curators produce, and continuing in time and space beyond traditional curatorial frames. The idea, and not just visual immediacy, is now art’s defining moment.

Voorhies reframes aesthetic criteria to account for the liminal, cognitive spaces inside and outside the exhibition. Surveying a wide range of artists, curators, exhibitions, and related publications, he repositions the aesthetic theory of Theodor Adorno, and draws inspiration from Fredric Jameson and Rosalind Krauss, to describe a contemporary “logic of the curatorial.” He demonstrates how, even as we increasingly expect to learn from contemporary art, we must avoid an instrumentalist and reductive view of art as a mere source of information. Through an analysis of two major global exhibitions, dOCUMENTA (13) (artistic director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev) and Documenta11 (artistic director Okwui Enwezor), as well as Ute Meta Bauer’s curatorial work at the Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Voorhies explores the unique role that artistic research plays in the production of knowledge.

For more information, contact

–Two flights of stairs lead up to the building’s front entrance at 172 Classon Avenue.    
–For elevator access, please RSVP to The building has a freight elevator which leads into the e-flux office space. Entrance to the elevator is nearest to 180 Classon Ave (a garage door). We have a ramp for the steps within the space.             
–e-flux has an ADA-compliant bathroom. There are no steps between the event space and this bathroom.

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