NONDETTI

The Inconsequence of radical critical practice: What the museum does not say. by Ivan Jurica

i non-detti del museo
The Inconsequence of radical critical practice:
What the museum does not say
by Ivan Jurica

Posing the question of what the (contemporary) museum does not say may lead to many answers in different contexts, but all these answers might be departing from a thought which makes up the basis of this text: The official institution of a museum offers to the art and the artists (and to the audience) a space of a partial autonomy, but as an institution it is fully included in the economic structures and mentality of the neoliberal market and of the state. What is meant by this statement will be elaborated here using the case of the Museum of Modern Arts Foundation Ludwig in Vienna (mumok), more precisely using the case of its art education department (or the work of art educators in the museum), as well as the exhibition and historization of the Pattern and Decoration movement, of which selected works are currently exhibited at the museum (23.02 – 08.09.2019).
Why exactly art education? On the one hand because the author of this text is an art educator at the museum, executing his occupation at the conjunction of the museum, the art market and the state’s education system, on the other, because art education departments are at the contemporary museums the links to its visitors and to the non-art world – they are so to say the “speaking” unit representing museum’s activities. Of course, the art education is not the only department affected by the permanent transformation of the museum´s economic conditions (museum as a company), but it is probably the department that is affected by the schizophrenia of radical anti-capitalist thoughts of the modern and contemporary arts and their popularisation within the creative neoliberal societies the most. And as art education (at least at the Viennese mumok) attempts to educate by the means of art, such history of the transformation of the museum represents a parallel to the young history of art education.
But the education department in a museum can educate only on a basis of the museum’s program and exhibitions, and within the context predetermined by the museum and curators. It is not necessary just to repeat here the official statements and positions of the museum, and one should adopt a reflective critical position (including the practice of the art education itself). The historization of the Pattern and Decoration movement represents here the other part of the agenda of what the museum does not say, or, to put it more precisely, of the discrepancy between the tradition of the western cultural imperialism and the feminist and post-colonial practice. In terms of further displaying the effects of the transformation here, it is necessary to begin with a short introduction about the institution and its education department.

What is mumok
mumok is an abbreviation for the Museum of Modern Arts, Foundation Ludwig, Vienna, a state owned institution for modern and contemporary arts, that describes itself as the largest museum of modern and contemporary arts in Central Europe. As such it exists since 1962, and became placed at different sites in the city, due to its growing importance and expansion. Currently it is located in the Viennese Museums Quarter, where it moved in 2001 into its own, newly constructed building (and the house goes under the name “mumok” since then). It is home to a collection featuring major works of classical modernism, pop art, Fluxus, minimal art, and concept art, as well as Viennese Actionism and contemporary art. Beside its collection and exhibitions the museum became publicly known through efforts of its previous directors Werner Hoffmann and Dieter Ronte, both practicing policies to attract a wider population (additionally to the audience interested in modern arts), as well as later from the 1990s by starting and experimenting with educational forms and practices, which represent a basis for what later became acknowledged and established as art education. Currently mumok attracts over 210 000 visitors every year.

Art education in its beginning
The basis for the practice of art education at mumok as it is understood today was set at the end of the 1980s and in the 1990s through a group of women active within the fields of art, museums and pedagogy, keen of – as it was formulated at that time – a museum service that would offer more than guided tours on Sundays for the public. They negotiated with the minister at that time the establishment of an external group of museum services, active within and between different museums, as well within museums and schools, approaching people with diverse backgrounds and of different ages. The group for museum education was established, even though the What and How of those practices were still within the process of becoming. The collective active at the Museum of Modern Arts in Vienna at that time gave itself the name Kolibri flieg (hummingbird fly), which another member of the group Eva Kolm reflects as «to let the phantasy fly». And she continues: «Although from the beginning everything ran in a very cultivated and reflexive way, maybe it was a bit uncontrolled and anarchistic. So it’s a nice historical picture, with some disobedience of speaking and of doing» (Sturm E., 2012). When a new director arrived the situation changed, as there was not much sympathy for the methods and approaches set up through the activities and interests of the Kolibri flieg. Their work was based on tackling the rules and laws of the museum system, as diverse objects were distributed in the exhibition spaces, people were sitting on the floor individually or in a circle, they were drawing and even worse – painting! – in the exhibitions, they ate apples while checking the collection and many other things. A conflict with the new administration didn’t stop the Kolibri-people from changing their methods and they did not return the house back in order. Soon after the new direction let spread notes through the house in which it invited the honoured visitors of the museum not to feel disturbed by the work of the art education group. As Kolm states in her further reflection, through this action they felt mistaken, disapproved and simply angry. In that moment the nice story of Kolibry flieg became history and was turned into StörDienst (Disturbing Service). If to disturb, then with a concept – so far the new motto of the collective. A principle, which is close to the arts.

Guided tour at mumok exhibition Photo by Lena Deinhardstein

Art education today: from disturbance to representation
In the meantime the idea and practice of art education experienced a fast growth, along with intense discussions, experiments, publishing and thousands of visitors using its services. In the meantime a house on art without an education department is hard to find, as well as i.e. in Vienna art education became a subject of its own at the Academy of Fine Arts. And last but not least, the art education underwent a transformation from an educational experiment executed by volunteers to a position of a proper department within a museum with its employees or freelancers. But of course, we are not naive and do not state, that we currently continue our work as StörDienst, and that our job is to disturb and spread anger by confronting the institution’s management. It is actually quite the opposite – as soon art education became established within the different museums as an important activity with exact roles and expectations, the educators became an integrative part of the museum’s machine. To put it bluntly: within mumok the role of an art-educator is to educate on art and museum (and politics), to represent the institution and its collection to the outside of the museum and in no way to harm, to damage or to disturb the work and the function of the museum. These positions are secured by contracts and precisely defined. Any of the negative activities bear in themselves the consequences of being excluded from the museum, of losing a job, and perhaps of compensating for the caused damages. That is one of the consequences of having art education established as an internal and a necessary/unavoidable part of an art institution. A principle which is close to the arts, or to put it differently, a principle similar to an artwork entering an official art institution. On the other hand it is necessary to mention that historically – looking back into the 1980s and 1990s – as well as currently, the processes of disturbing might have represented the fundament of an education about and through art, but the element of disturbing constituted a strategy to achieve a visibility and recognition within harsh conservative norms imposed on museums. And thus, if a form of education (i.e. as we know it today) became permitted and consequently established within the institution, its role shifted from disturbance to representation.
So why in the end, mention and preserve the history of StörDienst at all? Do we need this history as history writing? At least for the current team at mumok the answer would be yes, we do. When our work is not about disturbing anymore, at least it is about intervening – into general knowledge, into education, into history writing, into hierarchies, into sexisms and racisms, into power structures. Through art works, methods, concepts, through a speech, with a brush or a pen. The museum and art education department still represent a space of conflicts and confrontations with regard to art, culture, normative education, behaviour and superiority.

Commodification of knowledge and art education: from representation to intervention
Considering the fact that elementary and high school groups of pupils and students are among the most frequent museum visitors applying for art education demand that one discusses the situation of a permanent commodification of the education and knowledge. The expectation from art education coming from the students, pupils and partly teachers in most cases equals an expectation of a “logical” explanation and understanding of the exhibited artworks and principles of modern and contemporary arts. The notion of “logical” means here the principle of mathematics (1+1=2), or the principle of the capitalist market (market demand and supply). There are often many questions about the practical use of the artworks and objects, as well on their value. And the expectation of the value of the art is, in these terms, based on their practical use (i.e. decoration) or on the used material or the amount of work behind it. Such meanings and expectations from art and its meanings are of no surprise. And thus, next to the attempted approach toward modern and contemporary art and art works another important challenge is to tackle the logic of the commodification of thinking and education in terms of simple market mechanisms (that find its continuance in the expectations on art), and to conceive so to say a rubbing surface of meanings and capabilities, where the artworks “solely” offer the point of departure for further thinking. This is also what was meant by the notion of current intervening (instead of disturbing) in the second part of the text. A good example in these terms might serve works of Nouveau Réalisme, Viennese Actionism, Pattern and Decoration, FLUXUS, diverse conceptual tendencies and others (of course, this statement doesn’t mean, that the objects of those movements and collectives didn’t later achieve a high value within the art market). If the introductory text on the topic (by the roots&routes editing board) offered several questions/positions concerning the viewpoint from which to approach the agenda of what the museum does not say, one of the proposed fundaments was conceived by the notion of time, more precisely of not having enough time. This proposal might also be adopted by the art educational activities, as such intense intervention and negotiation of art and its critical potential simply needs time that, in most cases, is also in state of transformation and reduction. To put it more simply – education with the means of art and with its consequent reflective potential of life and society, loses within the education system its power and importance, as the understanding of art shifts within the processes of commodification of knowledge into the role of a simple creativity and decoration. But it’s not the creativity and decoration itself that is here the object of criticism, as within the art it is about the context and connotations in which activities, objects and thoughts are being adopted. The Pattern and Decoration movement as an example of how “what the museum does not say” was adopted here in manifold ways – as an example of radical feminist thought of the 1970s, at the same time of the radical ignorance of the Western thought and, in these terms, its continuing within the later/current historization of the movement.

Pattern and Decoration: on radical resistance and post-colonial ignorance
From February 23rd until September 8th the mumok shows selected works of the Pattern and Decoration movement (Pattern and Decoration. Ornament as Promise). Here, it is necessary to note that all that is said in this text doesn’t refer to the movement as such, but rather to the concept as it was realized at the mumok exhibition (but, with the attempt of its complex historical overview). For introduction here is a short extract of the description as published in the mumok magazine: «Ornament as Promise was the premise of the Pattern and Decoration movement in the United States (1975-1985). […] With oriental-style mosaics, monumental textile collages, paintings, installations, and performances, in the 1970s committed feminist artists like Miriam Schapiro, Joyce Kozloff, Valerie Jaudon, and Robert Kushner aimed to bring color, formal diversity, and emotion back into art. Decoration played a key role, with its connotations of the techniques of artisanship. Various ornamental traditions, from the Islamic world to North American natives to Art Deco, were incorporated in their works, opening up a view beyond geographical and historical boundaries. A proximity to folk art was sought as a deliberate counter to the “purism” of the art of the 1960s. […]» [1]
The concept of the exhibition emphasyzes Pattern and Decoration as feminism and radical feminist practice within art and education, consequently then as re-adopting of (the female connoted) textile, sewing, textile collaging and craftwork into (post-)modern arts, as well as of organic aesthetics and aesthetics reaching up to the forms of a kitsch. All in terms of distance to, and resistance toward the male dictate of purism within modernism and post-modernism in the art. Another important and within the historization of Pattern and Decoration emphasyzed implication regards the possibility of traveling which, since the 1960s, became accessible for wider parts of Western population. Such possibility included journeys to the far-out and “exotic” countries, such as Marocco, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, or countries closer to the USA, i.e. Mexico. These places were favoured destinations for the need and adaptation of pattern, decorations and ornaments as fundamental part of the US-produced art. Next to the mentioned countries also the ornamental traditions of North American natives aroused interest for its aesthetic adoption. From the current point of view, such procedures of artistic production could, and should be understood as de-rooting of those by the US artists randomly selected aesthetics, as appropriation in terms of their de-politization, consequently then as a post-colonial imperial gesture of the Western art. And thus, two parallel processes within the Pattern and Decoration movement are taking place simultaneously: one of the political feminist intervention on the one hand, and one of de-politicization of its form on the other. Feminism is celebrated, while its imperial power gesture remains invisible, untackled, and cemented. Such historization and displaying of a radical critical movement contain a paradox, bearing the inconsequence of the Western radical critical thought, as it is currently performed by mumok. The Pattern and Decoration movement could have been problematized already in the 1970s, but its positioning beyond the post-colonial agenda and thought in 2019 is a faux pas. Especially after many exhibitions, symposiums, contributions and texts were on the focus at the museum’s program, acknowledging the colonial history and post-colonial presence as the important instrument of critical perception of the Western history, art and culture. Additionally while within critical studies a bright understanding of the cohesion of the diverse fields of anti-capitalist activism and struggle, be it feminism, queer activism, anti-fascism, anti-racism etc., have been practised since long ago. But in order to be objective, it is also necessary to mention that the missing link at the Pattern and Decoration exhibition didn’t remain completely invisible, as several regardful visitors addressed the curator and artists asking questions on the imperial and post-colonial agenda. All reservations were accepted, and despite the mistakes at the conceptualisation of the show currently a wide acknowledgement about the necessary rewriting of the history of the Pattern and Decoration movement prevail.

Last but not least
The position of a museum and its role within the capitalist machinery must be questioned again and again. For the case of Pattern and Decoration a sentence from the current issue call for proposals appears suitable: «Perhaps it is a matter of time and what it needs and wants to say will emerge». [2]
Returning to the art education activities and the speaking at the museum – the missing link is still missing at the official display of the Pattern and Decoration exhibition, so currently it is made visible by its verbalisation through the art educators (or visitors at the museum). Be it at the education activities with pupils, students, or adults. Art education at the museum is a site of privileged speaking, but not solely because of the authority granted through the museum’s structure. The other side of that coin is art education as political emancipatory practice with the privilege of intervening the official positions, making the hidden visible and the unthinkable present. But the emancipatory speaking and educating at the museum bears in itself another important moment of educational experience: Its visitors, and persons applying the services of art education should not be comprehend as a site for realization of own political agendas and as persons on which the own political positions are being automatically assigned (Seefranz K., 2013).

Notes
[1] mumok Programm 05-10, 2019
[2] See the introductory text I non-detti del museo (what the museum does not say), curated by Anna Chiara Cimoli and Maria Chiara Ciaccheri.

 

References
Seefranz K.
, Causing Trouble. Zum Vorschungsvorhaben Another Roadmap, in «Bildpunkt Zeitschrift der IG Bildende Kunst» Nr.29 Un/vermittelt, 2013.
Sturm E., Auftrag Kunstvermittlung, Was Geht Berlin, 2012

Ivan Jurica was born in Bratislava, Slovakia, and lives and works in Vienna and Bratislava. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, AFAD in Bratislava, and currently works at mumok (Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien) in the art education department. His work focuses on video, theory, politics and on relationships within processes of production.

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