The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and German conceptual artist Jochen Gerz (b. 1940) invite the community of Greater Lansing to take part in The Gift, a photography project that explores the artistic process, participation, generosity, and the democratization of the art world. Since October 29, 2012, local residents—the people who have built and will be part of this new museum—have had the opportunity to pose for portraits at an instant photo lab in downtown East Lansing. During the museum’s opening weekend, portrait sessions continue at the pop-up studio adjacent to this installation. The resulting photographs are printed immediately, inserted into frames, and installed here as a monumental wall of gridded portraits—an ever-changing collection of faces that continues to grow as more and more visitors sit for the camera. To reach the broadest possible audience, the museum is partnering with the weekly Lansing newspaper, City Pulse, to publish each day’s photographs both in print and online.
The Gift: Lansing, Michigan is ultimately both a portrait of a community and an investigation of the museum’s place within that community. The project breaks down the traditional divide between viewer and art object, literally making visitors part of a work of art. Simultaneously, The Gift resituates the process of making and installing artworks—tasks normally completed before the galleries are opened—rendering these steps a central and visible part of the museum experience. A key aspect of Gerz’s concept is that he is not present for the production of the portraits. Instead in an earlier visit to the museum he worked to train a group of students and others to establish a context in which they, in partnership with the museum, become producers. Ultimately, the work questions not only traditional notions of authorship but also conventions surrounding ownership: at the conclusion of the installation, each visitor who has sat for a portrait will be invited to return to the museum to take part in a celebratory event at which the artist will distribute the photographs. Significantly, instead of receiving their own image, each sitter will take away a portrait of another individual—a stranger with whom, as a result of The Gift, he or she shares a collective experience. These works are considered to be “on permanent loan” from the Broad MSU; their distribution thus extends the museum’s collection out into the world in endless private installations.
Jochen Gerz was born in Berlin in 1940. He lived in Paris between 1966 and 2007. He currently lives and works in the Southwest of Ireland. Since the end of the 1960s, Gerz has worked with new media. Following his first performances in public space, he created photos/texts, installations, performances and videos for exhibition in galleries and museums. This period included contributions to Documenta 6 and 8, participation in the German Pavilion at the 37th Venice Biennale in 1976 (with Beuys and Ruthenbeck), and numerous group and solo exhibitions and retrospectives in German, European, and North American museums. Since the mid-Eighties (and exclusively since 2000), Gerz has returned to working on social processes in public space, which in part evolve over several years. The public itself stands at the centre of this work and his art would not be possible without its participation. Jochen Gerz is a member of the Academy of the Arts, Berlin, and an honorary professor at the Braunschweig University of Fine Arts. Awards and honours (selection): German Critics' Choice Award, Berlin 1996; Ordre National du Mérite, Paris 1996; Peter Weiss Award, Bochum 1996; Grand Prix National des Arts Visuels, Paris 1998.