Relational Aesthetics (Bourriaud) is a special plea for the value (virtue, even) of visually impoverished 1990s neo-conceptual art. Bourriaud is careful to distinguish Relational art from what he regards as exhausted modernist forms. But his concept of Relational art is haunted by that modernist prophet Walter Benjamin.
Relational art is an aesthetic social space or event. If a social context is artistic, and activities or materials can be en-art-ed by that context, then the artwork is auratic. And even more so if the work en-arts the context. That is, there is something special and perceivable about the artwork and its context that would be lacking if the same base physical or social materials were not being used as art.
Bourriaud admits that relational art is auratic, but he does not see this as a problem:
“The aura of art no longer lies in the hinter-world represented by the work, nor in the form itself, but in front of it, within the temporary collective form that it produces by being put on show.” – Relational Aesthetics, p61.
It is a problem, though. Relational art may not be modernistic but its auratic nature makes it pre-modern, not post-modern. This is the art of icons and fetishes, of ritual and alchemy. It is a deeply regressive art, even beyond its managerial aspirations and the nostalgia for performance and social art that Bourriaud simply chooses to ignore.