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Exhibition Histories

Exhibition as Social Intervention: ‘Culture in Action’ 1993

The fifth book in Afterall’s Exhibition Histories series focuses on ‘Culture in Action’, an exhibition with a new social agenda that challenged conventional understandings of public art.

Introduction by David Morris, Paul O’Neill. Text by Joshua Decter, Helmut Draxler, Joe Scanlan, Haf?ór Yngvason. Contributions by Mary Jane Jacob and interviews with artists Mark Dion, Simon Grennan, Daniel J. Martinez, Michael Brenson.

ISBN (paperback)


Table of contents

  • Introduction: Exhibition as Social Intervention— David Morris and Paul O’Neill
  • Culture in Action: Exhibition as Social Redistribution— Joshua Decter
  • The Turn from the Turns: An Avant-Garde Moving Out of the Centre (1986–93)— Helmut Draxler
  • ‘Culture in Action’, Chicago, 1993

— Cover of programme guide
— City map
— The Chicago Urban Ecology Action Group (1992 – 93), Mark Dion and the Chicago Urban Ecology Action Group

— Eminent Domain (1992–93), Kate Ericson, Mel Zieglerand a resident group of Ogden Courts
— We Got It! The Workforce Makes the Candy of Their Dreams (1992–93), Simon Grennan, Christopher Sperandio and Local 552 of the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers’ International Union of America

— Flood: A Volunteer Network for Active Participation in Healthcare (1992–95), Haha (Richard House, Wendy Jacob, Laurie Palmer and John Ploof) and Flood: A Volunteer Network for Active Participation in Healthcare

— Full Circle (1993) and Dinner at Jane’s (1993), Suzanne Lacy and a coalition of Chicago women

— Tele-Vecindario: A Street-Level Video Project (1992–95 and evolving into Street-Level Youth Media, ongoing), Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle and Street-Level Video

— Consequences of a Gesture (1993) and 100 Victories / 10,000 Tears (1993), Daniel J. Martinez, VinZula Kara
and the West Side Three-Point Marchers / Los Desfiladores Tres Puntos del West Side

— Naming Others: Manufacturing Yourself (1993), Robert Peters with Mushroom Pickers, Ghosts, Frogs and other Others

  • The New Public Art: As Opposed to What?— Hafþór Yngvason, 1993
  • ‘Culture in Action’— Joe Scanlan, 1993
  • ‘Chicago Is Culture in Action’— Mary Jane Jacob, 2013
  • Interviews

— Mark Dion in correspondence with Stephanie Smith
— Simon Grennan, of Grennan & Sperandio, in conversation with Lucy Steeds
— Daniel J. Martinez and Michael Brenson in conversation

  • Authors’ biographies
  • Selected bibliography
  • Picture credits for the project descriptions Acknowledgements
  • Index


Exhibition as Social Intervention: ‘Culture in Action ’ 1993

With an introduction by David Morris and Paul O’Neill, essays by Joshua Decter and Helmut Draxler, comprehensive documentation of the contributing projects, reviews from the time by Hafþór Yngvason and Joe Scanlan, a statement by Mary Jane Jacob, interviews with artists Mark Dion and Simon Grennan of Grennan & Sperandio and artist Daniel J. Martinez in conversation with Michael Brenson.

A show challenging conventional understandings of public art, ‘Culture in Action’ in Chicago had a new social agenda, and reworked what an exhibition of contemporary art might be. Through eight projects by artists, initiated in the early 1990s and developed in collaboration with local people, the intention was to engage diverse groups over time, in addition to the visiting public in 1993. In the fifth book in Afterall’s Exhibition Histories series, the course of these projects is illustrated and described, with critical reappraisal of this important exhibition in newly commissioned essays and interviews. In the core text, Joshua Decter reflects on how we might evaluate this controversial curatorial project now. Critical responses and reviews from the time reflect the contemporaneous reception, and a new essay by Helmut Draxler elaborates on the expanded context for art-making and display in those years, bringing European perspectives to bear. The introduction by David Morris and Paul O’Neill frames the whole, which further includes contemporary responses from the curator and three of the participating artists.

The Exhibition Histories series investigates exhibitions that have shaped the way contemporary art is experienced, made and discussed.


Published by Afterall Books in association the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, 2014. Distributed by Koenig Books and ARTBOOK | D.A.P.

The title is available to purchase here.