Questioning Authorship

In an artwork whose production requires the participation of many, who is the author? Artists from across movements and generations have challenged the idea of the author as a single, lone genius by inviting and drawing on the collaboration of others. Although much artistic exploration of authorship occurred during the postwar decades with the work of Japanese group the Gutai Bijutsu Kyokai (Gutai Art Association) and Fluxus, this section displays a wide breadth of Conceptual artists spanning up to the early 2000s. As discussed by cultural theorist Roland Barthes’s in his essay “The Death of the Author” (1967),  and modeled by precedents from the historical avant-garde such as Marcel Duchamp’s readymades (typically industrial commodity objects, purchased and shown as works of art), these works also radically question the convention and value associated with singular authorship.


The works in this section engage audiences in exchange, documentation, or movement that accumulates meaning through collective action. Some works, such as Christian Boltanski’s Instruction (1993), draw on the help of neighbors and friends. Others, including John Baldessari’s I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art (1971) and Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #118 (2001), function through the cooperation and involvement of complete strangers. Ultimately, these works make art more accessible by encouraging active contribution to the work by artist and viewer, disrupting the division between them. In defying expectations, these works challenge our cultural narrative of singular authorship by modeling it collaboratively and dialogically, offering something more complex, nuanced, and democratic. 

John Baldessari

b.1931, San Diego, CA, USA; d. 2020, Los Angeles, CA, USA

I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art, 1971

Pen, paper

In 1970, John Baldessari burned every painting he had made between 1953 and 1966. The resulting work, called Cremation Project, was fueled by Baldessari’s frustration with “traditional art” and his decision to turn towards Conceptual art. That same year, Baldessari started teaching a course at Cal Arts called “Post Studio Art.” He gave his class a list of art ideas intended to get them thinking about what art is and can be. Number 45 on that list was a precursor to I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art


In 1971 students at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design asked Baldessari to exhibit some of his work at the school. Unable to get to Canada, Baldessari sent instructions for the students to carry out his work themselves. His instructions were to write “I will not make any more boring art” on the walls of the gallery. With vague instructions and no supervision from Baldessari, the students filled the gallery walls. Baldessari filmed himself writing the sentence out on paper and gave the school permission to sell lithographs of his work. The exhibit and lithographs were made without Baldessari’s presence, posing additional questions about the authorship of the works displayed. Is Baldessari the author because he came up with the idea, or are the students the authors because they executed the work? 


FSU student Erin Walls executed this instructions-based work by John Baldessari in September 2020. Walls used time-lapse videography to document her execution of the work.


Alison Knowles

b. 1933, New York, NY, USA; currently works in New York, NY, USA

#10 Braid, 1964

Macrame cord

Alison Knowles made significant contributions to Fluxus—a movement in which process and activities were often situated as works of art. Knowles engaged in the performances of others and created her own. She notably created a series of event scores—instructions for simple actions, ideas, or objects from everyday life recontextualized as performance—that encourage participation from artists other than the original creator. These proposals, as Knowles calls them, illustrate how actions from our everyday lives can be interpreted artistically and often encourage multiple performers to work together. Most importantly, the event scores emphasize that anyone can execute the work of art. 

Her event score #10 Braid instructs the “usually two” performers to find something to braid and to do so. Nine pieces of macrame cord were used for this execution. This work requires some collaboration between the multiple performers as they must coordinate their movements to successfully create the braid. Like many of Knowles’ works, the simplicity of this piece invites anyone to engage with it and appreciate how they can create art through partnership.

FSU student Julie Cotton executed this work by Alison Knowles with the help of her roommates in October 2020. Cotton used videography and photography to document her execution of this work. Watch a video of the work here.


Sol LeWitt

b. 1928, Hartford, CT, USA; d. 2007, New York, NY, USA

Wall Drawing #118, 1971

Wall, colored pencils 

When an artist's work is instruction-based, but it is executed by someone else, who is the author of the work? Sol LeWitt is a central figure in the debate surrounding authorship in art. As a pioneer of instruction-based, Conceptual practice, LeWitt's works are notable because they have been created by someone else; this is what makes a LeWitt work a collaboration between the artist and the executor. LeWitt stated that concept mattered more than the physical appearance of the work. By providing instructions that can be executed again and again, he cemented the importance of the work as an idea.

A collaborative LeWitt work such as Wall Drawing #118 instructs the executor to draw a black line horizontally and to make alternating red, yellow, and blue lines above and below it. Many of LeWitt's instructions are left purposefully vague, which gives the person executing each work more creative liberties and often results in different results from the same instructions. While it can be debated whether the creator of the work is deserving of the same credit as the artist, the execution itself must be a collaborative effort between the two as the executor follows LeWitt's instructions.

FSU student, Brenna Gilliam, executed this instruction-based work by Sol LeWitt in September 2020. Gilliam used photography to document her execution of the work. 

Michelangelo Pistoletto

b. 1933, Biella, Italy; currently works in Biella and Turin, Italy

Sculpture for Strolling, 1995

Pressed Newspaper 

Michelangelo Pistoletto is an Italian painter, performance artist, and theorist, best known as an member of the primarily Italian Arte Povera or “Poor Art” movement of the late 1960s. Using a wide range of non-traditional “everyday” materials to make paintings, sculptures, and performances, the artists of the movement sought to break down the separation between art and everyday life.


Pistoletto’s work, Sculpture for Strolling, provides instructions to make a one-meter sphere entirely of pressed newspaper. The sphere is then rolled outside for a “stroll” through the city’s streets, welcoming anyone to participate. Preceded by the artist’s Scultura da Passeggio (Walking Sculpture) from 1967, which has been recreated for multiple museums around the world since its original performance, this work also encourages interaction in public space.


FSU student Nathalie Jarquin executed this work by Michelangelo Pistoletto with the help of her friend, Amie Goldman, in September 2020. Jarquin used photography to document her execution of creating the sculpture and strolling with it.


Marta Minujín

b. 1943, Buenos Aires, Argentina; currently works in New York, NY, USA, and Buenos Aires

Simultaneidad en Simultaneidad (Simultaneity in Simultaneity), 1966


In 1943, Marta Minujín interviewed subjects of her happening—a performance, event, or situation—Simultaneidad en Simultaneidad, using technology to bombard them with media. As a member of the Fluxus movement, her experimental art often focused on process rather than a product-focused result.


On October 24th, in the auditorium of the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires, sixty televisions broadcast the interviews of sixty media personalities alongside radio and audio recordings. These individuals had conducted these interviews eleven days prior, on October 13th. Minujín wanted to bombard her participants with every media source available at the time, using film, radio, phone calls, and televisions to achieve her objective. Her intention was to show how distracting mass media had become and how invasive it could be. Minujín also commented on live broadcasting and how manipulated media could be. According to Minujín, the participants were to be held “captive by communications media.” Simultaneidad en Simultaneidad is regarded in Argentina as the first ever video art performance. Minujín is hailed as one of Argentina’s most prominent contemporary artists, continuing her art to this day.


FSU student Alice Fabela executed this performance piece in October 2020. Fabela used videography to document her execution.


Christian Boltanski

b. 1944, Paris, France; currently works in Paris, France

Instruction, 1993

Photo album, wall 

French Conceptual artist Christian Boltanski is best known for his photographic installations. In Boltanski's works, objects (photos, pieces of clothing, bells, flowers, etc...) often suggest absent subjects and are an invitation to the viewer for meditation and contemplation.

In his piece Instruction —a work included in the do it exhibition conceived by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Boltanski, and Bertrand Lavier—Boltanski encourages his audience to participate in an exchange of photo albums with a neighbor, asks that all photos be enlarged, and hung up on the walls in the apartment of the work’s recreator. In this way, Boltanski incorporates the action of exchange into the work’s realization. His work suggests the necessity to explore collaboration and shared authorship in a constantly evolving art world. Because Boltanski hasn’t taken any of the pictures and isn’t the subject of any of the works, Boltanski's Instruction challenges the idea of authorship and reconceptualizes the role of the artist.

FSU student Nathalie Jarquin executed this instruction-based work by Christian Boltanski in October 2020. Jarquin used photography to document her execution of the work. 


Several projects executed in this online exhibition are from do it, a traveling exhibition conceived and curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, and organized by Independent Curators International (ICI), New York. do it was enacted at FSU's Museum of Fine Arts in Tallahassee, FL in the fall of 2020, and the following instructions-based works are courtesy of the artist, FSU MoFA, and ICI: CCTV Spray (2012) by Ai WeiweiInstruction (2002) by Eric van LieshoutSculpture for Strolling (1995) by Michelangelo Pistoletto, and Instruction (1993) by Christian Boltanski.

© 2020 by the Students of Florida State University's Art History 3854, The Museum Object