November 1, 2016 - e-flux - Avant Museology
November 1, 2016

e-flux / Brooklyn Museum

Anton Vidokle, Immortality and Resurrection for All!, 2017. HD video. Photo: Ayman Nahle.

Avant Museology
A two-day symposium
November 11–12, 2016

Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, NY 11238
United States
Hours: Wednesday–Sunday 11am–6pm,
Thursday 11am–10pm

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Taking its cue from the recently published book Avant-Garde Museologyedited by Arseny Zhilyaev, published by e-flux, and distributed by the University of Minnesota Press—the symposium will address the memory machine of the contemporary museum vis-à-vis its relationship to the current artistic practices, sociopolitical contexts, and theoretical legacies that shape and animate it. Where the museum may have once been a mere container for objects and ephemera, the mutability of the contemporary museum has facilitated the apparently seamless absorption of its own complex histories and paradoxical political and socioeconomic functions and ideas. It asks the question: can contemporary museology be invested with the energy of the visionary and political projects contained in the works that it circulates and remembers?

Friday, November 11, 6–9pm

Boris Groys: The Art Museum and Its Discontents
There is a long history of discontent regarding art museums. This discontent could be related to the main promise of the museum: to protect artworks. In response to this promise, people usually think that there is 1.) too much protection for art; and 2.) not enough protection for art. Most often, these two responses become intertwined. Though this may seem paradoxical, the art museum is nonetheless regularly criticized for being simultaneously too protective and not protective enough. 

Liam Gillick, Anne Pasternak, and Nancy Spector
Liam Gillick will moderate a discussion between Anne Pasternak and Nancy Spector—who are both relatively new to the Brooklyn Museum—about reconciling progressive, community-based projects or collaborative, experimental exhibitions with the reifying effects of a major art museum. Topics will include the exhibition theanyspacewhatever at the Guggenheim Museum in 2008, which brought together a group of artists who had worked together and separately since the early 1990s but who had not yet exhibited collectively within the constructs of an institutional environment. What is lost and what is gained when collaboration is dictated by an organizing entity? Similarly, the question of translation will be applied to many of the itinerant, social practice projects of Creative Time. Is there a space for such outreach in an encyclopedic museum? 

Hans Ulrich Obrist
Classical, traditional exhibitions emphasize order and stability. But in our own lives, in our social environments, we see fluctuations and instability, a plethora of choices, and limited predictability. Alexander Dorner, who ran the Hannover Museum in northern Germany in the 1920s, defined the museum as an energy plant, a Kraftwerk. He invited artists such as El Lissitzky to develop new and dynamic displays for what he called the “museum on the move,” where exhibitions would be in a state of permanent construction, and where the viewer could permanently create—and question—his or her own history.

Anton Vidokle: Immortality and Resurrection for All
Anton Vidokle will present part of a new film based on Russian Cosmist philosopher Nikolai Fedorov’s c. 1880 essay “The Museum, Its Meaning and Mission,” which is included in Avant-Garde Museology. Starring members of the present-day Fedorov Library in Moscow, as well as Arseny Zhilyaev, the film was shot last winter at the State Tretyakov Gallery, the Moscow Zoological Museum, the Lenin Library, and the Museum of Revolution. Entitled Immortality and Resurrection for All, the film is an artistic interpretation of Fedorov’s universal museum, where immortality and resurrection will be actualized.

Saturday, November 12, 11am–8pm

Arseny Zhilyaev
The editor of Avant-Garde Museology reflects upon the main conclusions drawn from his research for the book. Today many contemporary artists uphold the historical avant-garde’s negative attitude toward the museum as an institution for maintaining the class enemy’s order of things. In 1917, with the new social agenda of the Russian Proletarian Revolution, art was transformed from a bourgeois ghetto into a means of production in the service of a new communist society and a new human. Marxist museology appeared to provide a possible solution to the dilemma the historical avant-garde posed to artistic institutions. The display methodology and concept of the post-revolutionary museum drew closer to historical materialist practice, even echoing a number of avant-garde principles. According to Zhilyaev, the final stage in establishing museology as a means of production and a medium for social and human development is best described by the philosophy of Russian Cosmism, which envisioned the museum of art as the ultimate frontier for human expression—based not on social or physical contradictions, but on overcoming any limits imposed by nature or Earthbound political or economic orders. 

Molly Nesbit: Duchamp’s View
Marcel Duchamp was always considered by his peers to be the outlier, not part of any one avant-garde and yet setting the benchmarks by which the radicality of their work would be measured. On a few special occasions he designed installations for avant-garde exhibitions, but this was the exception, not the rule. In March 1961, Duchamp told a group of art students at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art that the great artist of tomorrow will go underground. In the draft for this talk, he used the French word maquis. The greater place of this resistance and Résistance can be seen throughout his work and measured empirically. In his own underground there was always already a politics casting its shadows over them all. 

Nikolay Punin: The Dead-end of Bourgeois Art
A few years after the Soviet Revolution, some museologists began thinking about the role of art and the art museum in the new socialist society. If socialism is the most advanced society, then its art should be the best, while the art of previous epochs must be considered inferior and presented accordingly. Thus, in the early 1930s, Fedorov-Davidov organized several “Marxist exhibitions” in which pre-Revolutionary modern art was labeled “bourgeois” and “formalistic.” Soon after, works by Malevich, Tatlin, and Rodchenko were removed from the museum walls and gradually erased from collective memory. Meanwhile, primarily thanks to Alfred Barr, the Russian/Soviet avant-garde was promoted and exhibited in the West and became an important part of the modern canon. However, in Russia today there seems to be a rising question of how to reclaim and reinterpret this avant-garde heritage through a different narrative, which looks for its origins perhaps not so much in Cubism and Futurism, but rather in Fedorov and Cosmism.

Fred Wilson
Wilson will speak about Mining the Museum and other museum projects that he has created over the past twenty-five years, particularly focusing on the aspects of his installations that question the orthodoxy of meaning, subvert the systems of display, and/or reveal the denial within the museum.  All of Wilson’s projects are inspired by observation, not premeditated intention. Projects may include ones the artist created at The Hood Museum of Art, The Ian Potter Museum of Art (Melbourne), The Seattle Art Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Old Salem Museum, The Allen Memorial Museum of Art at Oberlin College, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and others. 

Lynne Cooke
What defines whose work is shown and collected in museums of modern and contemporary art today? In the 1930s, Alfred Barr argued that the work of self-taught artists, beginning with Henri Rousseau (who had no formal academic training), constituted a tributary or division within the narratives of modern art that he was then constructing at MoMA. Recently, a number of institutions, spurred on by the example and advocacy of well-established artists, are beginning to revisit this notion—albeit in substantially revised terms.

Kimberly Drew: CTRL + F ‘Black’
Drew, a.k.a. @museummammy, will talk about her blog Black Contemporary Art, diversity in museums, and the role of the digital institution in 2016.

Fionn Meade: Objects of Prohibition
Whether it’s Trostky’s bullet-riddled villa in Coyoacán, Mexico, Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s retreat house in Sussex, or the Nietzsche House in Sils-Maria, Switzerland, a trip to the preserved and thereby altered sites of truly significant creative production falls somewhere between the tourist cliché of encountering a time capsule and courting the uncanny. Both embarrassing and comforting to the visitor, equal parts homage and opportunism, the space of the house museum provides an uneasy model for considering the critical stagecraft of museology. By considering such examples as the Avant Garde Institute in Warsaw (home and studio to the artists Henryk Stażewski and Edward Krasiński), the late Decors of poet and artist Marcel Broodthaers, alongside additional contemporary artistic examples, Fionn Meade will look to the paradoxical testament of “avant house museology” for its capacity to question and disrupt the retrospective gaze.  

Irene V. Small: Notes on the Lives of Art
Avant-garde practices have frequently asked how art might become life. What if instead we questioned the life of art itself? This presentation considers the work of Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica, whose wearable Parangolés have long embodied a paradigm of art’s exit from the museum. Yet principles of another museum—a natural history museum where Oiticica worked while he conceived of the Parangolés—complexly condition both his own participatory proposition and the afterlives of his works. Excavating these principles suggests an alternate model of a museum: one that does not stand polemically between art and anti-art (or more crudely art and life), but functions as a space for the investigation of living things.

Bruce Altshuler
The e-flux publication of Soviet writings on museums reveals a largely unknown history, one in which such familiar themes as the museum-as-mausoleum and the socio-political use of institutions are presented within the framework of Marxism-Leninism. Focusing on a variety of exhibition strategies—from early twentieth century displays in Germany, the US, and Russia, through changing postwar conceptions of museum mission, to innovative exhibition-making in the 1990s—this talk investigates how particular museological ideas have been deployed for instrumental use in very different ideological contexts.

Juliana Huxtable
Closing presentation

Avant Museology at the Brooklyn Museum is the first part of a two-city symposium exploring the practices and sociopolitical implications of contemporary museology. Developed by e-flux in collaboration with the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, the symposium culminates in a two-day program at the Walker Art Center on November 20 and 21.

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