Relational art or relational aesthetics is a mode or tendency in fine art practice originally observed and highlighted by French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud. Bourriaud defined the approach as "a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space."  The artist can be more accurately viewed as the "catalyst" in relational art, rather than being at the centre. 
One of the first attempts to analyze and categorize art from the 1990s,  the idea of relational art  was developed by Nicolas Bourriaud in 1998 in his book Esthétique relationnelle (Relational Aesthetics).  The term was first used in 1996, in the catalogue for the exhibition Traffic curated by Bourriaud at CAPC musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux.  Traffic included the artists that Bourriaud would continue to refer to throughout the 1990s, such as Henry Bond, Vanessa Beecroft, Maurizio Cattelan, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Liam Gillick, Christine Hill, Carsten Höller, Pierre Huyghe, Miltos Manetas, Jorge Pardo, Philippe Parreno, Gabriel Orozco, Jason Rhoades, Douglas Gordon or Rirkrit Tiravanija. The exhibition took its title and inspiration from Jacques Tati's film Trafic (1971), in which Tati's protagonist is a Parisian automobile designer preparing a new model for an international auto show. In a denoument that became a fundamental relational aesthetics strategy, particularly for Tiravanija, Tati's entire film is about the designer's journey to the auto show at which he arrives just in time for the show to close.    
Bourriaud wishes to approach art in a way that ceases "to take shelter behind Sixties art history",  and instead seeks to offer different criteria by which to analyse the often opaque and open-ended works of art of the 1990s. To achieve this, Bourriaud imports the language of the 1990s internet boom, using terminology such as user-friendliness, interactivity and DIY (do-it-yourself).  In his 2002 book Postproduction: Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World, Bourriaud describes "relational aesthetics" as works that take as their point of departure the changing mental space opened by the internet. 
Bourriaud explores the notion of relational aesthetics through examples of what he calls relational art. According to Bourriaud, relational art encompasses "a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space." The artwork creates a social environment in which people come together to participate in a shared activity. Bourriaud claims "the role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real, whatever scale chosen by the artist."  
Robert Stam, the head of new media and film studies at New York University, coined a term for the shared activity group: witnessing publics. Witnessing publics are "that loose collection of individuals, constituted by and through the media, acting as observers of injustices that might otherwise go unreported or unanswered." The meaning of relational art is created when arts perception is altered while leaving the original artifact intact. 
In relational art, the audience is envisaged as a community. Rather than the artwork being an encounter between a viewer and an object, relational art produces encounters between people. Through these encounters, meaning is elaborated collectively, rather than in the space of individual consumption. 
Writer and director Ben Lewis has suggested that relational art is the new "ism", in analogue with "ism"s of earlier periods such as impressionism, expressionism and cubism. 
In "Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics", published in 2004 in October , Claire Bishop describes the aesthetic of Palais de Tokyo as a "laboratory", the "curatorial modus operandi" of art produced in the 1990s.  Bishop writes, "An effect of this insistent promotion of these ideas as artists-as-designer, function over contemplation, and open-endedness over aesthetic resolution is often ultimately to enhance the status of the curator, who gains credit for stage-managing the overall laboratory experience. As Hal Foster warned in the mid-1990s, 'the institution may overshadow the work that it otherwise highlights: it becomes the spectacle, it collects the cultural capital, and the director-curator becomes the star.'"  Bishop identifies Bourriaud's book as an important first step in identifying tendencies in the art of the 1990s  but also writes in the same essay that such work “seems to derive from a creative misreading of poststructuralist theory: rather than the interpretations of a work of art being open to continual reassessment, the work of art itself is argued to be in perpetual flux.”  Bishop also asks, "if relational art produces human relations, then the next logical question to ask is what types of relations are being produced, for whom, and why?"  She continues that "the relations set up by relational aesthetics are not intrinsically democratic, as Bourriaud suggests, since they rest too comfortably within an ideal of subjectivity as whole and of community as immanent togetherness." 
In "Traffic Control", published one year later in Artforum , artist and critic Joe Scanlan goes one step further in ascribing to relational aesthetics a palpable peer pressure. Scanlan writes, "Firsthand experience has convinced me that relational aesthetics has more to do with peer pressure than collective action or egalitarianism, which would suggest that one of the best ways to control human behavior is to practice relational aesthetics."
In 2002, Bourriaud curated an exhibition at the San Francisco Art Institute, Touch: Relational Art from the 1990s to Now, "an exploration of the interactive works of a new generation of artists."  Exhibited artists included Angela Bulloch, Liam Gillick, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Jens Haaning, Philippe Parreno, Gillian Wearing and Andrea Zittel. Critic Chris Cobb suggests that Bourriaud's "snapshot" of 1990s art is a confirmation of the term (and idea) of relational art, while illustrating "different forms of social interaction as art that deal fundamentally with issues regarding public and private space." 
In 2008, Guggenheim Museum curator Nancy Spector organized an exhibition with most of the artists associated with Relational Aesthetics, but the term itself was shelved in favor of calling the show Theanyspacewhatever. The exhibition included stalwarts Bulloch, Gillick, Gonzalez-Foerster, Höller, Huyghe, and Tiravanija, along with loosely affiliated artists Maurizio Cattelan, Douglas Gordon, Jorge Pardo, and Andrea Zittel. 
The LUMA Foundation has presented many artists associated with Relational Aesthetics.
Nicolas Bourriaud is a curator and art critic, who has curated a great number of exhibitions and biennials all over the world.
Liam Gillick is a British artist who lives and works in New York City. Gillick deploys multiple forms to make visible the aesthetics of the constructed world and examine the ideological control systems that have emerged along with globalization and neoliberalism. He utilizes materials that resemble everyday built environments, transforming them into minimalist abstractions that deliver commentaries on social constructs, while also exploring notions of modernism.
Christopher Sperandio is an American artist known for his collaborative work with British artist Simon Grennan.
In art, institutional critique is the systematic inquiry into the workings of art institutions, such as galleries and museums, and is most associated with the work of artists like Michael Asher, Marcel Broodthaers, Daniel Buren, Andrea Fraser, John Knight (artist), Adrian Piper, Fred Wilson, and Hans Haacke and the scholarship of Alexander Alberro, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Birgit Pelzer, and Anne Rorimer.
Rirkrit Tiravanija is a Thai contemporary artist residing in New York City, Berlin, and Chiangmai, Thailand. He was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1961. His installations often take the form of stages or rooms for sharing meals, cooking, reading or playing music; architecture or structures for living and socializing are a core element in his work.
Matthieu Laurette is a media and conceptual contemporary French artist who works in a variety of media, from TV and video to installation and public interventions.
Miltos Manetas is a Greek painter and multimedia artist. He currently lives and works in Bogotá.
Henry Bond, FHEA is an English writer, photographer, and visual artist. In his Lacan at the Scene (2009), Bond made contributions to theoretical psychoanalysis and forensics.
Collin Ambrose Assenga commonly known as Senior, is a Tanzanian.He lives and works in Tanzania
Traffic is the title of a group exhibition of contemporary art that took place at CAPC musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux, France, through February and March, 1996.
Walead Beshty is a Los Angeles-based artist and writer.
Air de Paris is a contemporary art gallery owned and directed by Florence Bonnefous and Edouard Merino, now located in Romainville, France.
Aperto ’93 is the title of an exhibition of contemporary art conceived by Helena Kontova and Giancarlo Politi, and organized by Helena Kontova for the XLV edition of the Venice Biennale, directed by Achille Bonito Oliva in 1993. It reprised and expanded the concept of the exhibition Aperto, a new section in the Biennale for young artists ideated by Bonito Oliva and Harald Szeemann in 1980.
The term Context art was introduced through the seminal exhibition and an accompanying publication Kontext Kunst. The Art of the 90s curated by Peter Weibel at the Neue Galerie im Künstlerhaus Graz (Austria) in 1993 (02.10.–07.11.1993).
Claire Bishop is a British art historian, critic, and Professor of Art History at The Graduate Center, CUNY, New York where she has taught since September 2008.
Social practice or socially engaged practice is an art medium that focuses on engagement through human interaction and social discourse. Social practice goes by many names, including relational aesthetics, new genre public art, socially engaged art, dialogical art, and participatory art. Social practice work focuses on the interaction between the audience, social systems, and the artist or artwork through aesthetics, ethics, collaboration, methodology, antagonism, media strategies, and/or social activism.
Joseph Grigely is an American visual artist and scholar. His work is primarily conceptual and engages a variety of media forms including sculpture, video, and installations. Grigely was included in two Whitney Biennials, and is also a Guggenheim Fellow. He lives and works in Chicago, where he is Professor of Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The CCS Hessel Museum of Art is an art museum located on the campus of Bard College, in Annandale-On-Hudson, New York. The museum was built in 2006. The Hessel Museum is housed in the Center for Curatorial Studies (CCS). The Museum draws from the Marieluise Hessel Collection of Contemporary Art, which comprises more than 1,700 objects on permanent loan to Bard. The Hessel Museum activates the collection for research, teaching and learning for students, faculty and the general public through exhibitions, publications, public programs, and events – on site and through digital resources.
Barbara Steiner is an Austrian art historian, curator, author, and editor. Steiner is the director of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation. She served as the director of the Leipzig Museum of Contemporary Art from 2001 to 2011, and as the director of Kunsthaus Graz from 2016 to 2021.
Jared Madere is an American contemporary artist and curator who lives and works in Berlin, Germany.