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Live coverage: In. Practice Symposium at Renaissance Society, Chicago


Alberta Mayo under an image of Michael Asher

I love Alberta Mayo! For the last presentation of the conference, Mayo describes founding the extremely special Manitoba Museum of Finds Art in the mid-1970s. She was working as an administration assistant at the San Francisco Museum of Art for erstwhile director Henry T. Hopkins and created an institution in her office. She was inspired by Dudley Finds, who was head of the Fat City School of Finds Art (the pun on “fine” and “finds” apparently intentional.) Though the entire Manitoba Museum of Finds Art started in her office in San Francisco (and decidedly NOT in Manitoba, where I think she has never been), Mayo commissioned work from and presented work by an incredible array of artists: Sol Lewitt, Of the projects she mentioned, I love the description of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s—she brought in a box of doughnuts and put it in Mayo’s desk drawer, so that if a visitor to the “museum” came in, they could sit with Mayo and eat a doughnut. She even gave a grant. The collection of the MMoFA seems to be very playful (i.e. a glass jar of cotton balls used to clean a Jean Arp sculpture), and many items which are overtly moose-themed. Here’s a list of items featured in the Manitoba Museum of Finds Art “retrospective” show a few years ago at Will Brown Gallery:

Highlights include: mirror submitted by Bruce Conner for the first ever Bruce Conner Look Alike Contest and Bake Sale; atomic bomb hotpad; glass jar of cotton balls used to clean Jean Arp sculpture; glow in the dark MMOFA key chain; pencil used by Sol Lewitt to make MMOFA wall drawing; tree bark with carved initials; Henry Hopkins’ rolodexes; fake butter; fake teeth; small flocked moose; burnt package for Henry Hopkins (never opened); mature discretion sign; Clyfford Still drawing; diploma; Lynn Hershman’s “game”; 4th Annual Chloe Footstar Potluck Memorial Picnic Announcement; special members gift; fashion advertisement photographed in Rauschenberg retrospective with Tyrone Brue, security guard, signed by Tyrone.

During the Q+A, Mayo was pressed to qualify whether she thought the MMoFA was a political act of insurgency. She said “Well, yeah, in retrospect you could say it was a political act, but at the time it was just something I did. Jordan (Stein) mentioned that I had public programming, but really I considered them picnics.” :joy:


Haha, I love this! It is hilarious that we have all been so taken by the periodic table. Your take is much more poetic than mine, I think it just looks so intimidatingly mathematical.


Thanks for your clarifying thoughts, Nina. You have been missed here, too.

I’m curious to hear more about your thoughts on “critical management” and what it may look like.


Amazing talk by Ranjit Hoskote, “On the reconfiguration of evidence” examining the shifting role of museums in history and relationship between collection and narrative. I’m not going to be able to do justice to this, but in general I’m very interested in the question of whether or not the museum can support/contain a kind of instability. Hoskote, I think, presents one way it might happen through a non-collecting institution. Hoskote begins with The Alexandrian Museum or Temple of the Muses — what is etymologically the origin point of museums and becomes a kind of institutional muse or paradigm. Although The Alexandrian Museum was a site dedicated to learning with a library, it did not collect objects or artifacts.

O. Von Corven - Tolzmann, Don Heinrich, Alfred Hessel and Reuben Peiss. The Memory of Mankind. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2001 (Artistic Rendering of the Library of Alexandria, based on some archaeological evidence.)

Hoskote then calls out three figures from the Enlightenment period, describing how their appetite for totality — to capture, edit, and convey a comprehensive (singular) worldview — shaped the agenda and identity of the museums collections. First Johann Joachim Winckelmann — who, Hoskote points out, gathered most of what he knew about Greek antiquity second hand. Hoskote notes that Winckelmann “removed everything that was polychrome and hybrid to produce the Neo-Classical,” an interpretation that was largely imaginary Second, Denis Didero who founded the Encyclopedia, and thirdly Alexander von Humboldt’s five-volume text, Kosmos, which as the title suggests, tries to capture and convey a Total view of the universe, the planet earth within it, and the microecologies it contains. Embedded in their desire to to create such exhaustive projects, Hoskote notes, “is the desire to subjugate one’s material” — what is also evident in Humboldt’s action to collect specimens over the course of his travels abroad and bring them back to Europe to index and classify. Like Humboldt the museum collection is inherently tied to a colonial approach, whereby a nation goes out into the world to collect the objects and artifacts of other nations to establish its national (or global) superiority and stability. In those museum collections, it is as if time stands still at the behest of a given nation state.

(I think of the Market Gate of Miletus in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, though of course there are many examples)

Hoskote quotes Akeel Bilgrami:
“How and when did we transform the concept of human beings into citizens? How and when did we transform people into populations? How and when did we transform a knowledge to live by and concept of expertise? How and when did we transform the concept of nature into the concept of resources?.." (I found a link to this quote here, though I don’t know if it is the one to which Hoskote refers)

Ultimately Hoskote suggests the non-collecting museum as a possible relief or antidote from the colonial authority and history of the Museum Collection. The non-collecting institution can bypass the baggage of collecting and potentially revisit the original Alexandrian Museum as a collective library, or site of performative and collective engagement. Because it doesn’t espouse the desire to posses the objects it exhibits, art works can stop functioning as fetishes and instead remain as reserves to-be-activated (presumably by a visiting public). Similarly, it is not invested in presenting a stable, cohesive past that would otherwise justify its collection. Within that new paradigm, the non-collecting institution can assume a new ethical position, encouraging a (possibly participatory?) trusteeship.


I echo Karen’s interest in “critical management” — Nina, could you point to any texts by you or others that would expand on this?

In that vein, we’ve started compiling a reading list related to In. Practice that we will post on the publishing section of the Renaissance Society website tomorrow (11/23). We’ll continue to add to this, and I’d love for anyone to send me suggestions to relevant texts, essays, books, audio, and/or video:


OK, here are some ideas on “critical management” that I had in mind: First I think a more thorough understanding of managerial discourse is needed to develop strategic changes within the management of art institutions. Then the “code of silence”, that I mentioned in my paper, is only worsening the situation and manifesting competition among institutions. Competition is the social poison neo-liberalism brought to us; as Foucault already said: neo-liberalism changed the subject of exchange to a subject of competition. Therefore I think collaboration and networks among institutions are very important not only on the basis of exhibitions and projects, but also as regards management; there are a few attempts, but of course it is not without problems for institutions to position themselves in
this way. Nevertheless, it is very important that institutions make it clear in
an open debate which compromises they are ready to make and at what point they
would decide to rather not collaborate for example on the basis of “unethical”
sources of budget. Then it is the task of art critics and journalists to
critically analyze in what way specific foundations are working, where private
and public funding is coming from and which obligations are attached, when
budgets are granted. I understand that institutional curators and directors
decide to not be 100% open about the background of their budgets and the
contracts they are entering, but with the support of the media this situation
should be changed, the “code of silence” be cracked. In the meantime slight
strategic changes could be explored, in favor of the working conditions at
institutions and the relations they are entering with their publics,
collaborators etc.