As an artist and writer whose practice emerged from Conceptual Art, I find this to be a problematic heritage. Contemporary devaluations of the term “conceptual” — whether as a qualification applied to contemporary art or as a rubric for some practices of the 1960s and 1970s — prompt me to maintain a critical distance from that category. From the standpoint of my work, a skeptical attitude towards Conceptual Art and its various off springs has proven to be neither uncomfortable nor unfruitful. While I acknowledge my origins as an artist in Conceptual Art as enabling, I am not about to swallow whole representations of that past by others.
My earliest work as an artist was as a member of the collective Art & Language in New York (1972-1976) and a bit later as one of several founding editors of The Fox (1975-76) and Red-Herring (1976-78). In that context, we developed an essayistic practice of art where the bulk of our work was generated through dialogue; an allegiance to any particular visual media was unfeasible. In practice, our work was realized through a multiplicity of forms, the choice of which would be determined strategically in response to a specific lived situation. Over time, the idea of versatility — the strategy whereby an artist seeks to engage with her circumstances through the proliferation of media or through the adoption of multiple cultural roles — became a commonplace of contemporary art practice. It is now unexceptional for an artist to write in the morning, organize exhibitions at noon, and invent community projects or manage an art gallery in the evening. All these activities and more are routinely considered to be components of a holistic profile of art practice. Yet not every instance of versatility demonstrates critical intent or is based on a principled desire to disaffirm consensus; each case deserves scrutiny and evaluation on its merits.
The critical analysis of the conditions of production and dissemination of art has engaged my interest throughout my career. My work continues to examine, comment on, and intervene in the situation of art as it continues to migrate from the studio and the showroom to the world at large. This is the dynamic world of the expanded field gone mad; it is the setting within which my work as an artist and writer is largely embedded. Of particular interest to me is the variety of theoretical discourses, improvised social structures, and more permanent institutions that continue to be developed by artists and others in order to sustain and deepen this historic transition while trying to maintain a degree of control over their work.
In general, I employ a wide range of intellectual and expressive resources and modes of dissemination in the production of my work; projects are often designed to have a public life outside the conventional mediating structures of art. The main areas of expertise that I have developed over the course of my practice include postwar American art, Conceptual Art, participatory and activist art, the historical patterns and consequences of technological change in art and design, digital and hybrid media, the fraught question of interdisciplinary research and practice in art, and the contemporary behemoths of art education and the art market.
The work generated by these interests often sprints back and forth across time, illuminating crucial aspects of our contemporary context by offering new interpretations for hoary historical trajectories. While my work frequently addresses art and artists directly — for instance, speaking to the sustainability and independence of communities of artists within and outside major urban centers — the affordance to other communities of such specific models of cultural autonomy is increasingly an area of concern and promises to become the basis for future projects.
Michael Corris has exhibited in North America, Europe, and Australia; his artwork and artist bookworks are held in public collections including the Museum of Modern Art (New York) (“The Artist Out of Work,” 1999; “Committed to Print,”1988), the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), The Getty Research Institute (Los Angeles), Le Consortium (Dijon), Victoria and Albert Museum (London), Tate Modern (London), Staatsgaleri (Stuttgart), The Château de Montsoreau-Museum of Contemporary Art, and Le Musée des Beaux-Arts (La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland).
Corris has published widely on contemporary art in journals and magazines such as Art Monthly, Artforum, Art in America, Art History, and art+text. His writings on art have been published in collections including Alex Alberro & Blake Stimson (eds), Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology (MIT Press, 1999), Terry R Myers (ed.), Painting (Documents of Contemporary Art) (MIT Press and Whitechapel, London, 2011), and Leaving Skull City (Les Presses du Réel, 2016).
Recent monographs and chapters in edited publications include Conceptual Art: Theory, Myth and Practice (Cambridge University Press, 2004), Ad Reinhardt (Reaktion Books, London, 2008), Art, Word & Image: 2,000 Years of Textual/Visual Interaction (Reaktion Books, London, 2010) (with John Dixon Hunt and David Lomas), “From Abstract Expressionism to Conceptual Art: A Survey of New York Art, 1940-1970”, in Art & Visual Culture: 1850-2010: Modernity to Globalisation (eds. Steve Edwards and Paul Wood) (TatePublishing, London, 2012), The Dallas Pavilion (Free Museum of Dallas Press, 2013) (with Jaspar Joseph-Lester), “‘My Name is David and I Will Be Your War Artist for the Day’: David Cotterrell Shoots a Video”, in Joanna Bourke, ed., War and Art: A Visual History of Modern Conflict (Reaktion Books, London, 2017), “Escape from Flatland: David Diao’s Handmade Visualizations of Information”, in Philip Tinari, ed., David Diao: Works 1969-2015 (Prestel, 2018), and The Dallas Pavilion 2 (Free Museum of Dallas Press, May 2019).
Corris is series editor for Art Since the 1980s, published by Reaktion Books.