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MAST Foundation, Bologna. Walead Beshty: Industrial Portraits

Walead Beshty’s monographic exhibition ‘Industrial Portraits’ represents people in their function and professional role in the art world

The duality of garments

Industrial Portraits, the monographic exhibition of the Los Angeles-based artist Walead Beshty hosted at MAST Bologna, showcased 364 portraits divided into seven categories of 52 photographs each – artists, collectors, curators, gallery owners, technicians, directors of museums and other art-industry professionals.

Walead Beshty’s work was presented as a part of a larger exhibition curated by Urs Stahel: Uniform: into the work / out of the work – a collective display of the works of 44 photographers showcasing over 600 pieces of clothing and uniforms, worn by workers in different historical, social, and professional contexts. By displaying the uniform in all of its symbolic and functional facets, Uniform: into the work / out of the work. investigated the duality of these garments, designed on one hand to convey a sense of belonging, whilst on the other hand serving as a symbol of classification, singling out an individual or group from the rest of the community.

Walead Beshsty’s objective is not to represent the character of the person being photographed, but rather to represent people in their function and professional role in the art world. Today, with workplace and work in general being very much in the spotlight, with new rules in terms of work environment and work practices, the creative industry can be seen as an example of fusion between work-life and private-life/leisure. Not necessarily for better or worse, simply an example of changing times.

Self-aware casual wear dominates the art industry

“I think the uniform of the art industry is essentially the uniform of late capitalist flexible labor, which differs from the industrial work aesthetic in that the signaling of position or authority are less overt – explains Walead Beshty – By and large a certain type of self-aware casual wear dominates the art industry, and the coding is more akin to streetwear. The uniform of late capitalism (post-Fordism), in all its variability, also underscores the evaporation of the division between work and life; that one is always dressed for work and could be expected to work at almost any time.”

The art world, and creative industries in general, present a vision of life as work, or at least the expectation of it, further collapsing the aesthetic signifiers of work and leisure into one, more or less, hybrid form. These conventions have become increasingly ubiquitous, especially since the creative industries have increasingly become fetishized by traditional corporations – like the implementation of open office spaces, cafés, entertainment, and so on, within the work environment.

It encourages its workers to locate more and more of their lives and identities within the working environment, rather than their homes and communities.” The system of economic production, consumption, and associated socio-economic phenomena in most industrialized countries since the late 20th century, is known as Post-Fordism. It is contrasted with Fordism, the system formulated in Henry Ford’s automotive factories, in which workers work on a production line, performing specialized tasks repetitively, and organized through Taylorist scientific management.

Post-Fordism is characterized by the following: small-batch production, economies of scope, specialized products and jobs, new information technologies, emphasis on types of consumers in contrast to previous emphasis on social class, the rise of the service and the white-collar worker, the feminisation of the workforce.


On view at MAST Foundation until September 2020

Via Speranza, 42

Bologna, Italy

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