The Lure of the Social

Encounters with Contemporary Artists

Gretchen Coombs

The Lure of the Social

Gretchen Coombs

Distributed for Intellect Ltd

176 pages | 36 color plates | 9 x 9
Paper $45.00 ISBN: 9781789383225 Published June 2021 For sale in North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand only

The Lure of the Social is an intimate and personal exploration into the key individuals, institutions, and gatherings that make up the field of socially engaged art. In this book of encounters, the reader follows Gretchen Coombs on her journey through what could be considered the most significant shift in art world practices in the last two decades.

The book navigates a spectrum: at one end, the author works closely with socially engaged artists as part of her ethnographic research; at the other, she tries to find critical distance from which to write about their art projects and the institutional structures that support their work, such as art schools and conferences. Readers are introduced to artists, their work, and the key debates and issues facing this emergent field. In the course of her study, Coombs analyzes the contradictions and paradoxes of this field of practice and gives expression to the artists working to make art relevant in times of social and political uncertainty.


A Letter to the Preeminent Feminist Art Critic Lucy Lippard

Introduction: Art and Social Practice

Art & Social Practice: A Constellation of Influences


Contemporary Artists (and One Curartor)

Ted Purves

Come Together (Harrell Fletcher)

Jen Delos Reyes

Amy Spiers

Aaron Hughes

Gregory Sholette

Fallen Fruit: Austin Young and David Allen Burns

Chloë Bass

Gabrielle de Vietri

Carol Zou

Astra Taylor

Bek Conroy

Aaron Gach

Marisa Jahn

Nato Thompson


California College of the Arts

Otis Public Practice

The Shape of a Conference

Come Together

On and Off Stage

Field Notes

Spectres of Evaluation, Rethinking: Art/Community/Value

Open Engagement: Life/Work

Queens Museum, New York City, May 2014

A Lived Practice

Creative Time Summit: The Curriculum

Open Engagement: Place and Revolution

Creative Time Summit: The Curriculum

Civic Actions: Artists’ Practices Beyond the Museum

Creative Time Summit: The Curriculum

ENGAGE MORE NOW! A Symposium on Artists, Museums, and Publics

Open Engagement: Power

Creative Time Summit: Occupy the Future

College Art Association

Creative Time Summit: Of Homelands and Revolutions

Open Engagement: Sustainability


Review Quotes
Chris Kraus, author of Social Practices and After Kathy Acker: A Literary Biography
"Coombs’s important, engaging book puts the 'social' back into the often institutionalized medium of social practice. Through a series of studio visits, Coombs takes the reader behind the scenes, creating nuanced and telling portraits of some of today’s leading practitioners. Coombs's approach—at once critical and anthropological—is blissfully unrhetorical. The Lure of the Social captures the heart of one of the most important artistic movements to emerge in the twenty-first century, and one that is here to stay."
Lucy R. Lippard, author of Undermining: A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics and Art in the Changing West
"Artists and activists lured to the social—anyone interested in leaping the walls between art and life—will find this book a smart, accessible, and eye-opening treasure trove. It is full of fascinating projects, many new to me, presented on a first-name basis through the author's intimate discussions with the artists and facilitating organizations. The pros and cons of social practice art have rarely been so intelligently examined."
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