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Progressive Art Institutions in the Age of Dissolving Welfare States | 14 comments
[new] More on Museums (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#11)
by BrianHolmes on Sat Feb 14th, 2004 at 08:21:30 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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Gerald Raunig asks how critical and socially engaged museums can survive the dissolution of state institutions subjected to neoliberal governance? That's a timely question in France, faced with the rise to power of a neo-Thatcherist right - or it would be a timely question, if we could find any museums that were critical and socially engaged...
One thing lacking is a multidimensional evaluation of art activities, able to shift the discussion towards topics that could lend some legitimacy to the institutions. There has maybe been some progress on this recently, but I find the usual critical discourse to be too closely targeted on art professionals - i.e., the artists and all those who earn their living or their prestige from manipulating insider codes, such as "institutional critique." Recognizing the problem, the neoliberal museum becomes populist, looking to widen its audience (and its corporate patronage base) by references to "what people like," i.e. traditional figurative art and pop-media images. That plus a seductive consumer environment is almost a ticket to survival. We have a great example of this institutional populism with the Palais de Tokyo in France, half funded by the private sector. One can wonder whether the destiny of these fornerly public museums, such as the Pompidou Center, is not that of becoming a kind of cultural multiplex. With or without the popcorn?
The optimistic, politics-as-usual half of me (the one that doesn't want to just blow off the conversation altogether) would be interested in hearing different questions. Maybe Gerald's on the right track. My intuition is that state managers in Europe are now really concerned about the survival question, potentially willing to take risks. Is it true? I think most everyone knows that the mere inclusion of radical, vangardist-type initiatives is not enough. These too appeal to a relatively small public, partially overlapping with the art professionals. Thus the phenomenon of "political art," to which it's sometimes hard to respond positively. I think museums have to really make something of all the row that such initiatives generate, and actively look for forums where they can carry out the difficult job of facing it-- transforming themselves according to the critique of which they are almost inevitably one of the first objects. Let's not leave governmentality to the governing classes -- it can be exercised reflexively, as collective self-government. Can museums expand the transgressive, vanguardist activities into wider exhibitions and workshops on the role of aesthetic and conceptual practices in social communication generally?
Another question concerns production resources, offered to a small coterie of artists who have been validated by the magazine-gallery-museum system. This validation process structures what sociologists call the "institutional market." My suggestions would theoretically act to weaken it, by taking the museum out. But the reality is, that just weakens any museum tht takes the risk -- because you won't see the competitors, Guggenheim and Co. for instance, withdrawing from the gallery-magazine nexus any too soon. Would it be possible to offer less sophisticated, less publicity-hungry cultural producers some access to tools, spaces and materials, and thereby gain the support of politically active sectors of the population, which have their own ways of bringing pressure to bear, particularly on municipalities?
Finally, I'm not sure micro-institutions are really that bad. Something like Public NetBase in Vienna suggests the contrary. Remember, neoliberalism itself learned some of its tricks from a very popular libertarianism (in Europe that means "anarchism," for all you confused American readers). It's important to continue taking apart the bureaucracy. But you have to put something in its place: substantial participation. As far as I can tell, Public NetBase became successful by offering tools (expertise and server space), by using the participatory strengths of the Internet, specifically for political and activist issues, and also by offering a more workable, less constricted environment for "underground" culture -- without exactly refusing public funding. Some even call it art. It would be nice to hear of other examples.
I've been working for six or seven years along the lines suggested by my questions. But I don't know the answers. I have a hard time to judge the real effectiveness of what I support, and I'd be curious to hear more opinions. Right now I'm in a country whose institutions were entirely dismantled by an ultra-corrupt neoliberalism: Argentina. Here you find groups of people like Colectivo Situaciones (the radical, independent sociologists) or HIJOS (children of the disappeared) who have been able to generate extraordinary cultural powers from positions of resistance and autonomy. In the case of HIJOS, what emerged is a highly legitimate force of street protest based largely on cultural and aesthetic practices, which has actually been able to reknit certain elements of a contemporary social tie -- taking strength from contradiction and difference, outside any bureaucratic framework. It's impressive. But despite the recent uprising, this is also a formerly developed country whose "modern" (Fordist) institutions and guarantees have been destroyed by the transnational elites -- leaving working people to immiserate and even starve, while a shrinking middle class tries desperately to think about an unlikely return to prosperity. And that, too, is impressive.

best, Brian

Progressive Art Institutions in the Age of Dissolving Welfare States | 14 comments


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