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


Join Erica Love and João Enxuto [@EnxutoLove] on this thread for live responses to Saturday’s presentations during the Avant Museology symposium at the Brooklyn Museum.

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

Saturday, November 12: 11 am to 8 pm, EST

Live Stream here

11 am – Session introduction

11:05 am—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 for 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.

11:45 pm—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 wider scope 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.

12:25 pm—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, Aleksei Fedorov-Davydov 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 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 using a different narrative, which looks for its origins perhaps not so much in Cubism and Futurism, but rather in Fedorov and Cosmism.

1:05 pm – Lunch break (1.5 hours)

2:35 pm—Session introduction

2:40 pm—Fred Wilson

Fred Wilson speaks 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 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, Seattle Art Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, Old Salem Museum, Allen Memorial Museum of Art at Oberlin College, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and The Ian Potter Museum of Art (Melbourne), among others.

3:20 pm—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.

4 pm—Kimberly Drew, “CTRL + F ‘Black’ ”

Kimberly 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.

4:40 pm – Short break (30 minutes)

5:10 pm – Session introduction

5:15 pm—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.

5:55 pm—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) and the late Decors of poet and artist Marcel Broodthaers, alongside additional contemporary artistic examples, Fionn Meade looks to the paradoxical testament of “avant house museology” for its capacity to question and disrupt the retrospective gaze.

6:35 pm—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 the 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.

7:05 pm—Juliana Huxtable
Closing presentation

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

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


Hello World,

Welcome to day two-of-two of Avant Museology at the Brooklyn Museum. Thanks to Tyler for an excellent recap of last night’s opening session. The conference will continue next weekend at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, but before turning our sights to the Midwest we have a full slate of speakers ahead of us today, beginning with Arseny Zhilyaev, artist and editor of Avant-Garde Museology (2016). In his introduction to the compendium, Zhilyaev begins by outlining the work of Nikolai Fedorov, originator of the 19th-century philosophy of the “common task” which was premised on the need to “assume direct control over the mechanisms of evolution and to conquer death.” For Fedorov, the museum is a site where humanity can transcend both physical and social limitations – a place of reconciliation to “register every new life and every new death.” It was these principles, outlined by Fedorov, that served as a discursive engine for Anton Vidokle’s forthcoming essayistic film Immortality and Resurrection for All! (which included an appearance by Zhilyaev) that capped off last night’s session.

Zhilyaev will take the stage shortly and take up this pre-Octoberist foundation for Avant Museology.

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

The editor of Avant-Garde Museology, Arseny Zhilyaev, picks up from yesterday evening’s discussion by Hans Ulrich Obrist’s on El Lissitzky and his collaboration with Alexander Dorner at the Landesmuseum Museum in Hannover in 1927. Zhilyaev suggests that interpretations of El Lissitzky’s Abstract Cabinet focused too strongly on formal innovations that were distinctive to Western Modernism. While, “the very concept of the museum that appeared as a result of new social relationships and a newly developed political agenda remains untouched,” he says. Subsequently, Zhilyaev goes on to describe the transformation of the concept of the museum and of art in general from the late 19th to the beginning of the 20th century in Russia and in the Soviet Union, using the proletarian revolution in Russia as a point of departure – an event “which determined the majority of interpretations of art and the role of institutions that should preserve art.” At the same time – at the heart of the revolution – lay the destructive impulse of the historical avant-garde towards any attempt to preserve the past.


As a watershed moment, the revolution emphasized that artistic activity should gradually shift from the museum toward life and production. Zhilyaev says that reasoning dictated that “without social equality art is mainly a ghetto for imaginary solutions of traumas that emerged as a result of exploitation and the ruling class’ violence against the oppressed.” In this situation, the museum fixes an order of things (at the institutional level) under the name of art history. Consequently, the museum is considered an enemy, and should be destroyed.

From these ashes, Zhilyaev recounts a history of so-called Avalanche Exhibitions, worker-organized and continually augmented exhibitions at factories that exemplified a possible new museum after the destruction of the old enemy institution. These are precisely the sort of exhibition-making experiments which Hans-Ulrich Obrist called for at the conclusion of his own talk yesterday night. Considering the conditions in our contemporary post-Fordist economy, how might such a project be actualized? Or would Avalanche Exhibitions be better suited for parts of the globe still in the process of industrialization?

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

Red Star, Alexander Bogdanov (1908)

Before the 1908 revolution, Alexander Bogdanov depicted a less radical interpretation of the museum in his science fiction novel Red Star (a chapter of which is included in the book Avant-Garde Museology). Bogdanov’s version of the museum was later resurrectd by avant-garde artists and activists who could not support Malevich’s full destruction, but who tried to use the museum as a tool for propagandizing their art and to serve as a center for the education of proletarian masses.


Molly Nesbit has taken the stage to present her talk entitled “Duchamp’s View,” and asks that the house lights be turned off. She elucidates that art historians "live in the dark and try for the light.”


Nesbit begins by relaying a chapter from Marcel Duchamp’s personal history. In the darkness, save for a lectern lamp light illuminating Nesbit, she untangles a set of social relations that wove together a space of resistance for the artist and his community in France in the lead up to and during the German occupation. “Resistance is not an abstraction,” she proclaims. After the results of this election, "resistance to fascism has taken on new meaning.”


Installation view of “First Papers of Surrealism” exhibition, showing Marcel Duchamp’s, His Twine, 1942

For nearly three decades, Mary Reynolds and Duchamp enjoyed a union that was “thought by their friends to be happier than most marriages” (Calvin Tomkins, The Bride and the Bachelors: Five Masters of the Avant Garde, p. 53). Nesbit recounts a history of their separation during World War II: Duchamp secured his visa earlier and landed in the United States in June of 1942, while Reynolds struggled to escape France. Soon after Duchamp’s arrival, André Breton asked him to participate in the “First Papers of Surrealism,” at the Whitelaw Reid Mansion in midtown Manhattan.

Now legendary, Duchamp festooned 16 miles of string throughout the exhibition galleries. What is less known is the connection Nesbit weaves between Duchamp’s tangled installation and Reynolds’ delayed return. In 1938, Duchamp and Reynolds lived together in a Paris which Nesbit describes as “a place of small joys, and a magical house of string.” There Duchamp would playfully weave string throughout their home and encourage Reynolds to join him. The string extended to the windows, the walls were papered over with Michelin maps.

Reynolds’ absence and deferred safe return to America during the “First Papers of Surrealism” add a significant personal and political dimension to a work often only understood as an institutional intervention.

Nesbit concludes by channeling Duchamp, "What could art do when it wasn’t called that any more? It would be as large as life, or maybe larger.”


Brian Kuan Wood introduces the next speaker, Nikolay Punin for his talk, “The Dead-end of Bourgeois Art”

Kazimir Malevich, cover for the First Course of Lectures by Nikolay Punin, 1920, lithograph.


Our presenter, Nikolay Punin, reads from the projected slide “Their theorist, exponent and ideologist was the talented art critic, N.N.Punin." He pauses and provides an aside, “I have no comment.” The audience knowingly laughs. Who is this man?


Installation view from 90 years ago at the Brooklyn Museum: “The International Exhibition of Modern Art” in 1926, organized by Société Anonyme, Inc., an art organization founded in 1920 by Katherine Dreier, Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. The society sponsored lectures, concerts, publications, and exhibitions of modern art. This exhibition featured an early Cubist work by Kasimir Malevich, The Knife Grinder, 1912-13.


“The International Exhibition of Modern Art” in 1926 was an early stage in the elevation of Malevich as a progenitor of abstract Modern Art. This ascent in America was due in large part to the advocacy of Alfred Barr at MoMA – a well known narrative which intersects with Alexander Dorner a decade later at the Landesmuseum Hannover. While back in the USSR, 1926 was a down year for Malevich. He was removed from his post at the GINKhUK, a school which was described as a “cloister run at the expense of the state.” For our narrator Punin, the year 1926 was the turning point for Soviet avant-garde art, when the cleaving of a unified program produced stylistic bifurcations and ideological splits in the story of Modern Art which remain unresolved to this day. Reason enough to induce our N. N. Punin to return from the grave to retell circumstances that led to the dead-end of Bourgeois Art.

The State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow as it appears on Google Arts & Culture

Aleksandr Gerasimov I.V.Stalin and K.E.Voroshilov in the Kremlin after the Rain, 1938 (right)


The artist Fred Wilson recalls how teaching at New York City museums allowed him to find “different ways of being within the museum.” In a day’s work he would cross Central Park to teach at both the Metropolitan and the Museum of Natural History. He witnessed how a shift in context also produced a shift in meaning as he moved from one museum to the other, even though “many of the objects were more or less the same.”


Wilson also worked as a museum guard.

Fred Wilson, Guarded View, 1991

Audio of Wilson discussing Guarded View.


In 1992 Wilson was asked to do a project in Baltimore and tour all of the city’s cultural institutions. He selected the Maryland Historical Society as his site because he “felt uncomfortable in the place and didn’t know why.” Wilson dove into the museum’s deep storage to find artifacts to recontextualize and activate within the institution’s exhibition space.

Wilson remembers the director of the Maryland Historical Society nervously suggesting that they call his exhibition, “Museum Held Hostage” but Wilson proposed a less combative connection with the museum and ultimately titled his exhibition, “Mining the Museum,” dwelling less on the process of excavation and more on “making the museum mine.”

Fred Wilson, Truth Trophy, Mining the Museum, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, 1992


Fred Wilson, Metalwork 1723–1880, Mining the Museum, 1992.

In the Historical Society ledger books Wilson found shackles and decided to install them with decorative silverware. Wilson tells of a Baltimore student who urgently wanted her mother to visit the display, learning later that this student’s mother had donated the silverware. Wilson quips, “I have no idea what their relationship was!”


Fred Wilson, Cabinet Making 1820–1910, Mining the Museum, 1992.

Wilson was informed by Historical Society staff that the large wood piece found in storage was a former public whipping post.


Fred Wilson, Grey Area (Brown version), 1993. Paint, plaster and wood, Overall: 20 x 84 in. (50.8 x 213.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum


Art historian Lynne Cooke is up next. She is currently a Senior Curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Cooke announces the title of her talk as “Commensurables and Incommensurables,” an interrogation of the entangled histories of institutionalized Modern Art and the work of artists categorized as outsiders, naive, folk, untrained, or non-accredited professionals.

Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy (1897)


MoMA’s inaugural director, Alfred H. Barr, Jr.'s “torpedo” diagrams of the ideal permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art in 1941.

This schematic is less known than the “Cubism and Abstract Art” diagram which first appeared on the dust jacket to the catalog for the landmark exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1936. In both diagrams Henri Rousseau is charted as a seminal figure in the evolution of Modern Art. Cooke says that for Barr, it was only after the apotheosis of Rousseau that a division in modern art was carved out, linking it to folk art. In 1942, MoMA staged a Rousseau exhibition and the centerpiece, according to Cooke was The Sleeping Gypsy of 1897.

Then in 1943, MoMA exhibited a one-person show by American “primitive painter” Morris Hirshfield. Cooke says that the exhibition was panned by critics, and made many professional artists angry, while the board thought the museum’s quality standards had been compromised. Barr was forced to resign as Museum Director later that year.

Morris Hirschfeld, Girl in a Mirror, 1940