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Live Coverage: Avant Museology at the Brooklyn Museum, Day One


Join Tyler Coburn [@tylercoburn] on this thread for live responses to Friday evening’s presentations during the Avant Museology symposium at the Brooklyn Museum.

Image: Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit Buenos Aires, 1994. Photo courtesy Coco Fusco.

Schedule: Friday, November 11, 2016—6pm to 9pm, EST

Live Stream here

6 pm—Symposium opening notes

6:05 pm—Boris Groys

There is a long history of discontent regarding art museums, which could be related to the main promise of the museum: to protect artworks. In response to this promise, people often think that there is either too much, or 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.

7 pm—Liam Gillick, Anne Pasternak, and Nancy Spector

Liam Gillick moderates 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 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?

7:40 pm—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.

8:20 pm—Anton Vidokle, Immortality and Resurrection for All

Anton Vidokle presents 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.

The event is currently at capacity; for those unable to join in person, the evening will be streaming live here

For more information on the Avant Museology symposia at the Brooklyn Museum and Walker Art Center: visit this page

Live Coverage: Avant Museology at the Walker Art Center, day one

Hi e-conversants,

Welcome to the first night of Avant Museology, a conference that will unfold over the next two weekends: first, at the Brooklyn Museum, then from November 20th - 21st at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The entire conference draws its title from Avant-Garde Museology (2016), edited by artist Arseny Zhilyaev, which comprises writings from before and around the time of the October Revolution: radical visions, by museologists, state officials, amateur scientists and others, of how the museum could “be placed in the service of the collective production of life” (15).

While the conference looks to this history, it also reframes the discourse for our time, when the contemporary art museum functions as “the most advanced recording device ever invented” (15). How might we conceive of the temporality of this museum? What do we make of museums invested in supporting political and relational artworks? Relatedly, as per the Brooklyn Museum release, “[c]an contemporary museology be invested with the energy of the visionary political projects contained in the works it circulates and remembers?”

Opening the conference, Anton Vidokle notes that these questions are made even more urgent by the U.S. presidential election. The time is now to question what art and the art museum can do against the rising forces of nationalism, racism, and fascism.



Boris Groys has taken the stage, presenting a talk entitled “The Art Museum and Its Discontents.” Groys proposes that the nature of the art commodity is not like other types of commodities. When we consume commodities like fabric or water, consumption is in effect a destructive force: we wear out the fabric, we drink the water. Artworks, on the other hand, do not get destroyed, but collected and preserved. This is a very different modality of consumption: consumption as contemplation, not destruction.

In serving to protect art commodities, the museum is futuristic. It preserves for the future, not for one’s own time. Groys seems to suggest that artists might take advantage of this temporal quality of museums, making artworks for future times that provide critical perspectives on the present. Can you think of artworks that incorporate this temporal logic into their forms?


“The museum is a lie,” Groys states, in the sense that it conceals the destructive nature of time—it deceives by preserving its holdings.

While this may be a constant for art museums since the 19th Century, their operations have also changed in dramatic ways. The 19th Century art museum functioned as “a secular substitute for churches” where contemplation was of paramount importance. In the contemporary art museum, by contrast, visitors don’t come to contemplate so much as to get informed about “what is going on” in the art world. This shift may partly reflect trends in museological programming that, according to Groys, increasingly privilege the art event: the lecture, the performance, and so on. I suppose there’s no better occasion than a conference at the Brooklyn Museum to make—and demonstrate—this point.



Philippe Parreno
Marquee, Guggenheim, NY, 2008
Acrylic, steel, LEDs (light-emitting diodes), and incandescent, fluorescent,
and neon lights
Installation view, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2008


Artist Liam Gillick has taken the stage for a conversation with Anne Pasternak and Nancy Spector: respectively, the Director and Deputy Director/Chief Curator of the Brooklyn Museum.

“One thing we all have in common,” Gillick proposes, “is a feeling of disappointment,” as there’s something that can never be reached through the exhibition format. Spector assumes that he’s speaking about their work on theanyspacewhatever, a 2008 exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, New York.

For this show, Spector invited ten artists who, individually and collaboratively, interrogate the format of the exhibition. “The elephant in the room,” she acknowledges, was “relational aesthetics,” a term coined by Nicholas Bourriaud in 1998 to characterize the work of these artists. Spector sought to reframe their practices be inviting them to engage in a four-year dialogue in the run up to the show. Several ideas were thrown around, from a collectively realized exhibition to a quasi-survey of their seminal works from the 1990s. What ultimately emerged were, Spector states, “ten, one-person exhibitions.” As Brian Sholis writes in Afterall, “it seems the ten artists met the prospect of erecting a monument to their past selves using current artworks with a profound ambivalence.”

In retrospect, Spector concedes that the show “a beautiful, melancholic failure.”

From his perspective, Gillick believes that what made Spector’s invitation so unusual was that there was no preexisting “curatorial thesis to play off of." Given that the participating artists were used to reacting to prompts, this made for a real challenge. That said, both Gillick and Pasternak applauded the show for being a “radical” curatorial endeavor, in which Spector, who usually curates monographic exhibitions, effectively dispersed her responsibilities between the participating artists.


Left-to-right: Nancy Spector, Liam Gillick, and Anne Pasternak


Rirkrit Tiravanija
A documentary film portrait
Installation view, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2008


Carsten Höller
Revolving Hotel Room, 2008
Wood, leather, silk, feathers, cotton, horse hair, latex, lightbulbs, fluorescent
lamps, mirrored glass, acrylic glass, metal, and motor
Installation view, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2008


Anne Pasternak is now reflecting on her previous work at Creative Time, where she served as President and Artistic Director for over twenty years. As the center of her curatorial work, Pasternak says, are the conversations she develops with artists. This is a fulfilling if not always easy process. For Creative Time’s 2014 project with Kara Walker, at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, there were aspects of Walker’s proposal that Pasternak wasn’t certain about; nonetheless, she put her trust in the artist—ultimately, to the realization of a remarkable project.

Spector interjects that it’s also important for a curator to say no, and Gillick—getting the first big laugh of the night—asks, “Can you explain when ‘no’ happens, just so I know?”


Kara Walker, A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, 2014
Commissioned by Creative Time


Inevitably, the conversation moves to recent events—and to the challenges facing non-profit cultural institutions. Pasternak stresses that institutions must consider the following: What freedoms do they have in a given political climate, and particularly in a post-election climate? The question of when to react seems as important as that of how to react.

Pasternak concludes the conversation with an impassioned argument that the museum is more than a building: it’s the people that visit, as well as the (fraught) community, nation, and world that surround it. We need to end the rhetoric of autonomy and the tendency to think of the museum as a mausoleum.


An audience member asks the speakers to respond to the opinion that “the curator is the prophylactic between the artist and the institution.”

Pasternak notes that she’s learned over the years to not protect artists from anything that happens in an institution, as it’s vital for them to be a part of the exhibitionary process—warts and all. “Will I defend an artist? Yes. But will I protect them? Not really.”



Hans Ulrich Obrist is at the lectern. “There’s a stunning degree of amnesia” concerning curatorial history, he claims. Not everything begins with Harald Szeemann. Efforts like Zhilyaev’s Avant-Garde Museology are thus crucial in bringing lesser known radical museology to light. For his part, Obrist adds another figure to the conversation, whom has influenced his own curation since the 1980s: German curator Alexander Dorner (1893-1957).

Dorner was acutely aware both of the stasis of the art museum and of the emergent avant-garde of his era. In his curatorial efforts, he sought to realize what he called the “museum of the move”: what Obrist paraphrases, in this memorable 1998 e-mail, as an institution “in permanent transformation within dynamic parameters.”

An exemplary case is El Lissitzky’s Abstract Cabinet (1927-28), a modular and changeable room for abstract art commissioned by Dorner for the Landesmuseum in Hannover. On another occasion, Dorner invited Moholy-Nagy to design the final room in his chronological rehanging of the Hannover collection, which would have interactive elements culled from different media. Though this Raum der Gegenwart (The Room of the Present Day) was never realized at the time, it has been constructed in various exhibitions since—most recently, in Moholy-Nagy’s 2016 retrospective at the Guggenheim.


Alexander Dorner


El Lissitzky, Abstract Cabinet, 1927–28


László Moholy-Nagy, Raum der Gegenwart, as reconstructed by Kai-Uwe Hemken and Jakob Gebert and installed in the KunstLichtSpiele exhibition, Kunsthalle Erfurt, 2009


“Dorner was a toolbox” for so many artistic and curatorial projects, Obrist notes. He moves through several examples, including Lawrence Alloway and Victor Pasmore’s exhibition An Exhibit (ICA London, 1957); Cedric Price and Joan Littlewood’s plans for Fun Palace (1960); Obrist’s Swiss Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale, inspired by these plans; and museum in progress, which participated in Obrist’s extensive project, do it (1993-2013).

In a timely gesture, Obrist screens museum in progress’s contribution: a brilliant 1995 video of the poet Eileen Myles, explaining how anyone can run for president—including her. Myles shuffles through a number of self-portraits, dismissing many for their un-presidential qualities ("too Mapplethorpe, too Patti Smith”). Finally, she comes to the perfect one: Myles smiling with a dog. This is the optimal image, she explains, because a woman can’t be alone in an image (certainly not a lesbian), so it’s good that there’s also a female dog in the photo. Two women. That’s the right stuff.

Myles’s presidential campaign extended beyond this clip. See here.