Avant Museology Symposium
Friday, November 11, 2016
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium, 3rd Floor
Taking its cue from e-flux's recently published Avant-Garde Museology (distributed by the University of Minnesota Press), this two-day symposium, being held November 11 and 12, addresses the memory machine of the contemporary museum and its relationship to the current artistic practices, sociopolitical contexts, and theoretical legacies that shape and animate it. It asks the question: Can contemporary museology be invested with the energy of the visionary political projects contained in the works it circulates and remembers?
The museum of contemporary art might well be the most advanced recording device ever invented: a place for the storage of historical grievances and the memory of forgotten artistic experiments, social projects, or errant futures. But in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Russia, this recording device was used 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 Aleksandr 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 twentieth-century Russia have been firmly registered in today’s art history as a time of radical social and artistic change, the period's 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 have guided curatorial and museum culture since the dismantling of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. This symposium will investigate the social and artistic decisions of a critical period of left politics as well as contemporary museological culture. In shedding this light, 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?
Avant Museology at the Brooklyn Museum is the first part of a two-city symposium exploring the practices and sociopolitical implications of contemporary museology. Developed by e-flux in collaboration with the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, the symposium culminates in a two-day program at the Walker Art Center on November 20 and 21.