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


#1

Join Erica Love and João Enxuto [@EnxutoLove] on this thread for live responses to today’s presentations at the Avant Museology symposium at the Walker Art Center.

Image: Arseny Zhilyaev, Cradle of Humankind, 2015. Installation view, Future Histories, Venice Biennale, 2015. Photo: Alex Maguire. Courtesy of the V-a-C Foundation and the artist.

Symposium Schedule—SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 20

1:00 pm—Opening remarks
1:05-1:45 pm—Arseny Zhilyaev
1:45-2:30 pm—Fionn Meade and Walid Raad in conversation
2:30-3:30 pm—Boris Groys

4:00-4:45 pm—Jonathas de Andrade and Adrienne Edwards in conversation
4:45-5:30 pm—Hito Steyerl

1:05 pm | 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.

1:45 pm | Fionn Meade and Walid Raad

Fionn Meade and Walid Raad discuss the artist’s work, which includes The Atlas Group, a 15-year project (1989–2004) about the contemporary history of Lebanon, and the ongoing projects Scratching on Things I Could Disavow and Sweet Talk: Commissions (Beirut). Raad is an artist and a professor of art at Cooper Union, New York.

2:30 pm | Boris Groys

The Art Museum and Its Discontents

There is a long history of discontent regarding art museums. And 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.

4:00 pm | Jonathas de Andrade and Adrienne Edwards

Jonathas de Andrade and Adrienne Edwards discuss the ways his bodies of work interrogate social, economic, and political systems, often through fugitive acts that rely on and articulate the fleeting dimensions of memory, history, mythology, and desire. The conversation focuses on Andrade’s multifaceted project Museu do Homem do Nordeste (Museum of the Northeastern Man; 2013 –), realized as private and chance encounters to create photographic portraits that culminate in a dynamic poster installation to a conceptual and material framework for his recent solo museum exhibition at the Museu de Arte do Rio, in which he redeploys notable marketing tactics such as brand development into art objects. Their dialogue delves into the complicated notion of the Brazilian imaginary as espoused by sociologist Gilbreto Freire, who founded the museum in 1979 for which these artworks are named, as well as authored the seminal text Grande e Senzala (The Master and the Slaves), first published in 1933.

4:45 pm | Hito Steyerl

A Tank on a Pedestal: Museums in an Age of Planetary Civil War

A tank on a pedestal. Fumes are rising from the engine. A Soviet battle tank— called IS–3 for Joseph Stalin—is being repurposed by a group of pro–Russian separatists in Konstantinovka, Eastern Ukraine. It is driven off a WWII memorial pedestal and promptly goes to war. According to a local militia, it “attacked a checkpoint in Ulyanovka, Krasnoarmeysk district, resulting in three dead and three wounded on the Ukrainian side, and no losses on our side.”

One might think that the active historical role of a tank would be over once it became part of a historical display. But this pedestal seems to have acted as temporary storage from which the tank could be redeployed directly into battle. Apparently, the way into the museum—or even into history itself—is not a one–way street. Is the museum a garage? An arsenal? Is a monument pedestal actually a military base?


Avant Museology is a two-day symposium copresented by the Walker Art Center, e-flux, and the University of Minnesota Press.

Taking its cue from the recently published book Avant-Garde Museology, the symposium will address the memory machine of the contemporary museum vis-à-vis its relationship to the contemporary 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, paradoxical politics, and socioeconomic functions and ideas. It begs 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?

The museum of contemporary art might very well be the most advanced recording device ever invented in the history of humankind. It is a place for the storage of historical grievances and the memory of forgotten artistic experiments, social projects, or errant futures. But in late 19th- and early 20th-century Russia, this recording device was undertaken by a number of artists and thinkers as a site for experimentation. Edited by Arseny Zhilyaev, Avant-Garde Museology documents the progressivism of the period, with texts by Alexander Bogdanov, Nikolai Fedorov, Kazimir Malevich, Andrey Platonov, Aleksandr Rodchenko, and many others—several of which are translated into English for the first time. At the center of much of this thought and production is a shared belief in the capacity of art, museums, and public exhibitions to produce an entirely new subject: a better, more evolved human being. And yet, though the early decades of 20th-century Russia have been firmly registered in today’s art history as a time of radical social and artistic change, the uncompromising and often absurd ideas in Avant-Garde Museology appear alien to a contemporary art history that explains suprematism and constructivism in terms of formal abstraction. In fact, these works were part of a far larger project to absolutely instrumentalize art and its rational capacities and apply its forms and spaces to a project of uncompromising progressivism—a total transformation of life by all possible means, whether by designing architecture for life in outer space, developing artistic technology for the resurrection of the dead, or evolving new sensory organs for our bodies.

Today, it is hard to deny the similarity between the bourgeois museum and the contemporary liberal dogmas of open-ended contemplation and abstract self-realization that guide curatorial and museum culture since the dismantling of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. As such, this symposium will launch a further investigation into the militant inclusiveness and delirious pragmatism of the early avant-gardes, shedding light on the social and artistic decisions of a critical period of left-wing politics as well as the ideology of contemporary museological culture more broadly. An explicit question suddenly emerges: under a regime in which social experiments and upheavals become abstract formal gestures, what has the political application of historical memory become?

Perhaps the museum of contemporary art already serves this purpose. Consider what Nikolai Fedorov wrote in 1880s: that the ultimate function of the museum is to unify progressives and conservatives, vitality and death: "And our age in no way dares to imagine that progress itself would ever become the achievement of history, and this grave, this museum, becomes the reconstruction of all of progress’s victims at the time when struggle will be supplanted by accord, and unity in the purpose of reconstruction, only in which parties of progressives and conservatives can be reconciled—parties that have been warring since the beginning of history.”

Avant Museology coincides with the opening of Question the Wall Itself (November 20, 2016–May 21, 2017), an exhibition curated by Walker Art Center Artistic Director Fionn Meade with Jordan Carter, featuring the work of Jonathas de Andrade, Uri Aran, Nina Beier, Marcel Broodthaers, Tom Burr, Alejandro Cesarco, Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Theaster Gates, Ull Hohn, Janette Laverrière/Nairy Baghramian, Louise Lawler, Nick Mauss, Park McArthur, Lucy McKenzie, Shahryar Nashat, Walid Raad, Seth Siegelaub, Paul Sietsema, Florine Stettheimer, Rosemarie Trockel, Danh Vo, Cerith Wyn Evans, and Akram Zaatari. Question the Wall Itself runs November 20, 2016–May 21, 2017.


Live Coverage: Erica Love and João Enxuto at the final day of Avant Museology at the Walker Art Center
#2

Hello Again,

Welcome to the second weekend of the Avant Museology conference at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Last weekend we were at the Brooklyn Museum – to recap events check out coverage by Tyler Coburn from Friday, November 11 and our reports from November 12. Like last Saturday, today’s schedule begins with Arseny Zhilyaev, artist and editor of Avant-Garde Museology (2016).


#3

Introductions by Nisa Mackie, Director and Curator of Education and Public Programs at the Walker, Anton Vidokle, and Brian Kuan Wood. Vidokle asks "what can people in the arts do in light of rising nationalism, what role might the museum serve today?

Kuan Wood reads a quote from Nikolai Fedorov from the 1880s: that the ultimate function of the museum is to unify progressives and conservatives, vitality and death: “And our age in no way dares to imagine that progress itself would ever become the achievement of history, and this grave, this museum, becomes the reconstruction of all of progress’s victims at the time when struggle will be supplanted by accord, and unity in the purpose of reconstruction, only in which parties of progressives and conservatives can be reconciled—parties that have been warring since the beginning of history.”

From here Kuan Wood brings the question of contemporary history to bear, pointing in particular to the recent museum building boom in Asia. What will become of this history under the regime of contemporary art?


#4

Artist and editor of Avant-Garde Museology, Arseny Zhilyaev, takes the stage at the Walker auditorium. We heard from him last weekend at the Brooklyn Museum for the first part of this symposium. Our recap of that talk can be found here.

Emerging with the Russian Revolution of 1917, Proletkult, from the Russian words “proletarskaya kultura” was an experimental Soviet artistic institution that aspired to create a new, radical revolutionary working class aesthetic that drew its influence by agrarian Russia.

The “Experimental Complex Marxist” exposition proposed by Alexey Fedorov-Davydov and mounted at the State Tretyakov Gallery in 1931, was to contextualize art production according to different class positions. Curator Fedorov-Davydov constructed the exposition with a series of rooms that included supplementary materials about the economic and political specifics of each class with works by peasants and proletarians, political slogans, and street advertisements.

Zhilyaev proposes that the proletariat could better understand the connection between art and its social background. “Experimental Complex Marxist” deconstructed the illusion of the museum as a temple of art, but left intact the possibility of learning from the masterpieces of previous epochs.


#5

Arseny Zhilyaev, Cradle of Humankind, 2015. Installation view in the context of the exhibition “Future Histories,” Venice Biennale


#6

N. Kovalenskaya and collective of authors, Peasant Art of the Beginning of Nineteenth Century from the exhibition “Russian Art of period of the Decay of Feudalism,” Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow, 1930.

Read more about all of this in Zhilyaev’s essay Conceptual Realism: The Vulgar Freedom of Avant Garde Museum Work for e-flux.


#7

Walker Curatorial Fellow Jordan Carter speaks with artist Walid Raad.


#8

Before the Q & A, Raad begins by recounting events that led to his 2008 exhibition at the Sfeir-Semier Gallery in Beirut, a 10,000 sq ft commercial gallery that he describes as having the “milkiest, the smoothest, and whitest walls I had ever seen."

Raad had previously refused requests in 2005, 2006, and 2007 to show the work of the Atlas Group work at Sfeir-Semier. After finally consenting to the show in 2008, he set about designing all aspects of the exhibition. To his surprise the entire exhibition was mysteriously miniaturized to 1/100th of its original size when it arrived in Beirut. This scale shift could not be classified as a psychotic episode since it was shared by others, including the gallery’s production crew. In fact, Raad speculated that the crew had produced the miniature as a practical joke. For those familiar with Raad’s work, the miniaturized gallery was not a practical joke, instead it became a conceptual and formal template for much of his work until now.

In the Q & A Raad clarifies that white cubes are generative as much as they were debilitating. “I would not have noted the shrunken artworks without the white cube.”


#9

Computer rendering of the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum

Raad shifts to the building boom in museum and cultural institutions on Saadiyat Island (translates to The Island of Happiness) in Abu Dhabi. These include the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim museum and a satellite Louvre by Jean Nouvel. As an aside, Raad mentions that Abu Dhabi is paying $1billion to France over the next 30-years to lease rights to the Louvre. In another reference to matters of scale, this time economic, Raad claims that Abu Dhabi accrues $1billion/month from interest on its cash reserves alone, noting with some sarcasm that “France could probably have asked for a bit more.”

Many have speculated on the reasoning for the Sheikh and Sheikhas’s sudden interest in culture and the arts. Raad furnishes two options: the first is economic expediency, to transition from an oil economy to culture and tourism, and the second option is to kick-start an Arab renaissance to educate and ultimately democratize every part of cultural life. If one follows the later option, then the ruling elite is off to an ignoble start. But democratization is rarely a smooth operation.

“In twenty years they have done what it took the West at least a hundred years. The robber barons built the Met which eventually helped to shift the center of the art world more than seventy years ago,” Raad says. “Are they doing the same?”

The labor conditions for the workers building the new palaces of culture in Abu Dhabi are hardly better than those in 19th century America, and in many cases worse. Labor issues have become a central matter of concern for Raad and other members of the Gulf Labor Artist Coalition. This activist coalition has helped to produce reports on conditions on the ground that directly impact migrant workers housed in camps. It was discovered that in some cases workers had passports confiscated by authorities who forced the buy back of these documents through continued contracted labor. In 2015 Raad was targeted for his involvement in Gulf Labor and barred entry to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at Dubai Airport. An open letter detailing these events was published on this platform in May 2015.


#10

Installation view, Walid Raad, Letters to the Reader, 2014. The Walker Art Center for the exhibition “Question the Wall Itself.

Curator Jordan Carter asks Raad to elaborate on his work included in “Question the Wall Itself,” Letters to the Reader. Raad responds by pointing out that the museums designs by Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel indicate that they are not anticipating the shrinking of artworks, or those that might turn invisible. “Maybe they need new walls or new conceptions of walls …”


#11

“With regard to the surpassing disaster, art acts like a mirror in vampire films: revealing the withdrawal of what we think is still there.” says Raad.

Raad continues: “You can’t access it [surpassing disaster] directly, maybe you need a detour, sometimes a torturous detour, because Arab tradition cannot be accessed directly, you need the trauma of the counterfeit. And we need to make a distinction between appropriation and resurrection.” Western modernism and formalist traditions become a means to an end for Raad. His objects become stage sets and material testimony to his perceptual experience of the surpassing disaster.

I need to build walls that act like shadow magnets to catch a shadow,” he says. Raad then reminds us that his artworks are in a state flux – perhaps appearing first as a shadow, then becoming entirely visible in some other space-time.


#14

Groys asserts that when we speak of the art museum we should not forget that the museum itself is not an artwork. It is a technology that secures the artwork. The art museum is just another technology that takes art out of the flow of time. Artworks taken out of the flow of time are guaranteed the illusion of eternity, “but this is only an illusion.”


#15

Referencing Jean-François Lyotard from “the inhuman,” Groys dips into a bit eschatology and reminds us that the sun will expolode in 4 billion years: “Everything is dead already.” Eternity can only come by substitutions: “the replacement of a human being by another entity,” he says. “Man needs to be surpassed, but not by a perfect animal, but a new unity between the human and the inhuman. This is a question of trans-humanism, do you prefer to be an animal or a machine?”

But our self-designed bodies, like designed artificial bodies, are already headed for total destruction.

Groys concludes that virtual unity is only there for computational entities like Google.

Michelangelo Antonioni, Zabriskie Point, 1970 (film still)


#16

Nisa Mackie introduces Walker visual arts Curator-at-Large Adrienne Edwards in conversation with artist Jonathas de Andrade. Edwards considers de Andrade, from the Northeast of Brazil, an "auto-ethnographer, to make new systems of meaning with ethical implications.” They discuss de Andrade’s project Museu do Homem do Nordeste (Museum of the Northeastern Man; 2013 –) where he asked men in Northeastern Brazil to pose for photographic portraits that he made into posters to advertise the Museu do Homem do Nordeste. “I want to co-op this brand.” explains de Andrade. The project was done without the consent of the museum and served as a rebranding often appearing “at the top of Google searches.”

They consider the complicated notion of the Brazilian imaginary as espoused by sociologist Gilbreto Freire, who founded the museum in 1979 for which these artworks are named and the author of the seminal text Casa-Grande e Senzala (The Master and the Slaves), first published in 1933. Casa-Grande e Senzala traces the formation of Brazilian society where the Casa-Grande was the “big house” or the slave owner’s residence on sugarcane plantations. This history, as told by Freire, was not without controversy and racial omissions.


#17

“Provoking tensions and contradictions that the museum already had” de Andrade placed classified ads that read “WANTED A BROWNSKINNED [sic] MAN WITH STRONG HANDS AND OF GOOD CHARACTER TO POSE FOR THE POSTER OF THE MUSEUM OF THE MAN OF THE NORTHEAST. CALL 8425-9646” De Andrade explains that the sensuality was not the subject but an approach in the language used to described the desired traits for models for Museu do Homem do Nordeste. Finding the classified ad respondents to be too focused on the monetary exchange, de Andrade decided to find the men at work and personally invite them to pose for the photographs.

Installation view at the Kunsthalle Lissabon: Posters for the Museum of the Man of the Northeast, 2013, 77 chromogenic prints mounted on acrylic panels, ten inkjet prints, and six photocopies on acetate with overhead projector, overall dimensions variable

Jonathas de Andrade, Museu do Homem do Nordeste, 2013, Co-published with Kunsthalle Lissabon and Tijuana. Available from Mousse Publishing.


#18

Jonathas de Andrade, The Uprising, 2012, HD Video, 8 minutes
Interview about The Uprising on Vdrome with Emiliano Valdés.

The city of Recife, located in the Northeast of Brazil, prohibits the use of horses and carts “with the excuse of animal rights, the government created a law that authorized animals to be removed and taken to the countryside. Actually, it was neither about the animals nor the conditions of those workers, it was about cleaning any sign of backwardness from the town.” explains de Andrade.

De Andrade asked the mayor of Recife for permission to shoot a film about a horse race which became, The Uprising, 2012. His proposal was authorized because from the city administration’s point of view a movie was being shot. That is, the race would exist as a movie, in fictional terms, and therefore could be permitted. The idea of the project was to celebrate the carts and horsemen by having them take the city of Recife by storm. Adrienne Edwards initially visited Recife to consider The Uprising, as a work of performance art.


#19

Hito Steyerl presents “A Tank on a Pedestal: Museums in an Age of Planetary Civil War.”

One might think that the active historical role of a tank would be over once it became part of a historical display. But this pedestal seems to have acted as temporary storage from which the tank could be redeployed directly into battle. Apparently, the way into the museum—or even into history itself—is not a one-way street. Is the museum a garage? An arsenal? Is a monument pedestal a military base?

An essay version of this talk can be found in e-flux Journal #70 for February 2016.


#20

In the 2014 film Edge of Tomorrow staring Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise, the Earth has been invaded by a savage alien species known as Mimics. In the process of battling these aliens, Blunt and Cruise get stuck in a time-loop. For Steyerl, the circularity of the movie plot is applied to the historical time of museums, of stasis and its perpetual one-way redistribution of assets between the private and public spheres.

As it stands, the museum is now caught in a loop at the edge of tomorrow, awaiting a future. “There is only history. Objects have become quarantined if they are too beautiful or too dangerous,” says Steyerl. This is the case of museum storage but more recently in extraterritorial zones such as freeport art storage. For a more in-depth look a freeports read Steyerl’s Duty-Free Art.

As all Hollywood blockbusters like Edge of Tomorrow must come to an end, it would follow that a solution to the time-loop problem would be found in the movie (and by association the museum) through the ingenuity of its star Tom Cruise. By hitting the reset button to the looped video game structure of the film, Cruise is finally capable of achieving the desired conclusion and defeats the aliens. “You just keep on dying in the same level until you get the secret weapon to move up,” explains Steyerl. This is how Cruise escapes the loop. And like Cruise, the museum must attempt a new strategy of play and re-actualize the rules of the game as it goes along, to provide the “future of public space, the future of art, and the future as such.”


#21

In reference to Walid Raad’s earlier conversation, Steyerl suggests that in 5,000 years Peter Thiel will be the image that appears in the vampire’s mirror.


#22

Wayne Koestenbaum caps off the evening by entertaining a lounge crowd at the Skyline Room with a bit of piano improv and some notes from Schuman.