Symposium Keynote Lecture by Sven Spieker: Wither the “Educational Turn?” An Apology for Didactic Art


Soviet poster from the 1920’s. Translation: “There are those who are clever, and those who are idiots! One goes for the book, the other for a drink!”

Wednesday, April 29, 4:00 p.m.
MacLean Ballroom, 112 S. Michigan Ave.

Alongside “the contemporary” and “the archive,” few concepts command as much attention in today’s art world as education and its avatar, “the educational turn.” While the educational turn promises an art focused on participation and the social production of alternative forms of knowledge, it often displaces its own allegiance not only to its neo-liberal nemesis, “global education,” but also to related, and seemingly opposing phenomena, especially the various forms of didactic art that circulated in the 20th century. My talk will unpack these legacies and suggest ways in which a more complex, and more historically informed, understanding of the relationship between art and instruction, or art as instruction, may help us do art (history) differently.

Sven Spieker received a BA (with distinction) from the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at the University of London (1987) and a PhD from Oxford University (Merton College). After extended stays in Moscow and Los Angeles, Spieker accepted an appointment as assistant professor at Indiana University, Bloomington (1991). In 1995 Spieker took up a position at the Department of Germanic, Slavic and Semitic Studies and the Comparative Literature Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. As an affiliate faculty member in the departments of Art and Art History, he teaches courses in 20th-century European as well as Russian and East-Central European art. In 2004 Spieker was a visiting professor at Constance University, Germany; and in 2015, at the Freie Universität, Berlin. His honors and awards have included fellowships at the Stanford Humanities Center (Stanford University); the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University; the Literaturzentrum in Berlin; and Monash University (Melbourne). Spieker has been a referee for the Stanford Humanities Center, the MIT Press, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is the founding editor of ARTMargins Print, a journal devoted to contemporary art practice in the global margins, and a member of the editorial collective that runs ARTMargins Online. Current projects include a Critical Anthology of Conceptual Art in Eastern Europe; a study of Didactic Art, as well as a book about Kazimir Malevich in the media age.

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