But what do we really mean by spectacle in a visual art context? „Spectacle“ has a particular, almost unique status within art history and criticism, because it directly raises the question of visuality, and because it has incomparable political pedigree (thanks to the Situationist International).[…] As frequently used by art historians and critics associated with the journal October, it denotes a wide range of attributes: for Rosalind Krauss writing on the late capitalist musem, it means the absence of historical positioning and a capitulation to pure presentness; for James Meyer, arguing against Olafur Eliasson`s Weather Project (2003), it denotes an overwhelming scale that dwarfs viewers and eclipses the human body as a point of reference; for Hal Foster writing on the Bilbao Guggenheim, it denotes the triumph of corporate branding; for Benjamin Buchloh denouncing Bill Viola, it refers to an uncritical use of new technology. In short, spectacle today connotes a wide range of ideas – from size, scale, and visual pleasure to corporate investment and populist programming. And yet, for Debord, „spectacle“ does not describe the characteristics of a work of art or architecture, but is a definition of social relations under capitalism (but also under totalitarian regimes). Individual subjects experience society as atomized and fragmented because social experience is mediated by images – either the „diffuse“images of consumerism or the „concentrated“ images of the leader. As Debord`s film, The Society of the Spectacle (1971), makes clear, his arguments stem from an anxiety about a nascent consumer culture in the ’60s, with its tidal wave of seductive imagery.
Clair Bishop: Lecture for Creative Time`s Living as Form. Cooper Union, New York, May 2011