Most forms of art-theater, film, dance, architecture, music-are inherently collaborative. With rare exceptions, all involve the participation of more than one individual. Only those forms of art-such as literature, painting, sculpture, and musical composition-that we think of when we speak of the author, artist, or composer are generally taken to be the work of one extraordinary human being. But in fact, this was not always so.The concept of the isolated genius emerged in the Renaissance along with capitalism and, while most writing or musical composition seems indeed to be a solitary endeavor, every mode or style of visual art can be made collaboratively. A collaboration can reflect the personality of a single artist as it did in the studio of Rembrandt where, according to recent scholarship, the marks of the Master’s most intimate subjectivity-brushstrokes, psychological insight, impasto, ‘touch’-turn out to have been applied at times by hands other than his own.

Thus, the one artist who has always been thought of as unique, as a particularly subjective kind of genius, seems to have engaged in a form of corporate art making. In this case, the collaboration retained the name and the characteristic of its dominant member, Rembrandt[1]. But a collaboration can also generate a completely new artistic personality. A remarkable group of fourteenth-century Sienese paintings, once thought to be the work of Sassetta, are now attributed to an unknown artist identified as the Master of the Osservanza.These paintings were probably produced in the workshop of Vico di Luca, perhaps in collaboration with Sassetta and the young Sano di Pietro. The group of works assigned to the Master of the Osservanza is so internally consistent, the collective personality so distinctive and so unlike that of its conjectured participants, that in the absence of definitive documentation it still seems as though the artist might eventually be proved to have been one person[2].

Whatever his antecedents, the Master of the Osservanza is, to all intents and purposes, an individual-a meta-artist–an entity greater than and different from the sum of its parts.It is this sort of collaboration that is the subject of our exhibition. Since the mid- to the late-1960s, collaboration as a mode of production and self-definition has become increasingly visible in the international art world. Even excluding groups of individual artists who assume a temporary collective identity for specific projects, such as Colab, the feminist Guerrilla Girls, or the AIDS activists Gran Fury, and those who work primarily in inherently collaborative media such as performance or video, the number of partnerships and artist-teams is now far too great to include all of them in a single comprehensive exhibition.

In Team Spirit, we have chosen to focus on collaborations which are sustained by the existence of a collective persona that has been operative over a prolonged period of time, in which the individuals as pairs or groups have had no substantial career outside the collective context. Working in an art world accustomed to value art as the expression of a single, powerful, and original ego, the collective entities represented in this exhibition operate as metaartists.They practice a kind of cooperative individualism; their works possess the qualities of originality and particularity of style that characterize the twentieth-century artist. Cubism, an earlier instance of a collaborative phenomenon, was the creation of Picasso and Braque. Those artists, like so many early modernist collaborators, chose not to merge their identities but to conceive of their joint activity, as did critics and scholars, as the pioneering of a new movement.

Thus, the movement had a name-Cubism-and the style was adopted and elaborated on by its followers, but each painting was the work of a single artist. The movement was collaborative; the works were not. Both the Dadaists and Surrealists explicitly encouraged joint artistic activity through their self-conscious engagement in the collaborative dynamic that generated artistic innovation. For the Dadaists, performance, collage, and photomontage were particularly adaptable to joint activity.

Performance, for the Dadaists, was often a political gesture, while for the Surrealists the game of the “exquisite corpse” involved the creation of a single image from a sequence of drawings by several artists, none of whom could see the work of those who preceded them. The creative ferment of these avant-garde groups tended to ignore distinctions between media, including distinctions between visual art, literature, and theater.