In Andrea Fraser's performance art piece, a video titled Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk, the artist assumes the character of Jane Castleton, a docent at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The fictional Castleton leads the audience through what starts as an ordinary tour but slowly becomes more and more bizarre as she discusses not works of art but objects such as the museum's water fountains and restrooms. Fraser's script borrows from many eclectic sources, including Good Housekeeping magazine, a 1960s anthology on poverty, and the writings of Immanuel Kant.
While watching this piece in the gallery, I couldn't stop laughing out loud at Castleton's absurdity. At the same time, Fraser's messages about identity, class, and elitism in the art world left me with a new awareness of the art museum's function not only as a building that contains art but as an institution with the power to distinguish "good" art from "bad" art.
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