In the mid-1960s, reflections on the shape and role of museum institutions developed in both Eastern and Western Europe. Plug In #30 entitled Notes From the Future of Art focuses on two concepts of the museum of modern art that were created around the same time in 1966–Museum of Current Art (MCA) in Wrocław and Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven.
The MCA was created in 1966 by Jerzy Ludwinski (1930–2000), a Polish art historian, critic and curator. The programme of the museum casts doubt on the concreteness of a museum institution and revealed the tensions between the ‘proposal‘s‘ potential and its possible ‘fulfillment’. Ludwinski challenges the surrounding reality and questions how to reflect the present time and its values – to which the concept is dedicated. The Museum’s programme refers to the world of its time and presents a critique of the official cultural politics of the Polish People’s Republic, exposing the inadequacy of the vocabulary developed by historians and art theorists at the time. It also introduces new terms into the domain of art historical categories as they concerned emerging and transformed areas of artistic practice. Called by Ludwinski ‘a sensitive seismograph’, ‘a catalyst’, ‘a testing ground’, and ‘a melting pot’ of new tendencies and attitudes, the Museum was supposed to grasp an artistic process and the consequent proposals at the exact moment of them coming into being. It was responsible for introducing such terms as ‘risk’, ‘reflex’ and ‘individual responsibility’into the area of institutional functioning and reflection.
The Museum proved to be a flexible project that could adjust to the artistic reality of the 1960s in two senses. Firstly, it was able to accommodate the rapidly shifting borders that defined art and its categories. Secondly, it played with the symbolic values attached to such an institution in the name of current art. Thus, the model was no longer a traditional museum, with a core collection building, a history of values, judgements and particular works. Instead, such terms were radically transformed and the ‘playing field’ marked out by Ludwinski became a platform for ideas and reflections heading into the future, dedicated to art that was created at the very moment and to the quest for the most interesting artistic phenomena around. The MCA created a possibility to express and trace accurately the logic of the new art’s development introducing new categories – such as attitude, creative process, artistic fact, concept, reality – that became the components of the new ‘open system’. As such, the fact that it was never realised because of various poltical and financial restrictions is beside the point.
While the MCA was a ‘space of discourse’, geographically overeign,independent in time,and existing as a certain ‘gift of possibility’ put into action within a purely conceptual space, the project by Jean Leering (1934–2005) seems to be a ‘fulfilment’ of some of the demands made by Ludwinski. Among the exhibitions organised in Van Abbemuseum during the same year of 1966 were the first European presentations of individual American artists (Christo, Robert Indiana). It revealed, along with the purchases for the collection (Frank Stella), Leering’s fascination with American art. Those exhibitions evoked a lively response in the local press, with articles questioning the artistic quality and, even more symptomatically, the definition of the artwork and the function of a museum in the public space. As director, Leering, throughout his curatorial practice, confronted the newest art with the achievements of avantgarde artists such as El Lissitzky, whose exhibition opened in 1966. As Leering was later to remark: „[…] In addition to these current trends I also wanted to show historical developments, not as a historical phenomenon but because of the relevance of the works by Moholy-Nagy, El Lissitsky, Duchamp and Theo van Doesburg to current art.These artists wanted to unite art and life, and this bond has also been my ideal. What role can art fulfill in society, the usability of art in life, these were for me the crucial questions“.1
In the following years Leering made a number of important reconstructions and interpretations of, for example, the Prounraum by El Lissitzky and Café Aubette by Theo van Doesburg in order to make this confrontation a reality in Eindhoven. The 1966 programme as a whole was broadly based. Important international exhibitions such as Kunst-Licht-Kunst were shown alongside presentations that paid attention to the immediate context of the museum, such as the first Triennale of the Southern Netherlands and works by local graphic artists (5 jonge grafici) as well as exhibitions about the environment in Eindhoven such as Parkaanleg.
Plug In #30 includes much of the material and art works related to this one year in the Van Abbemuseum, opposite the full text of Ludwinski’s proposal for the MCA. In the side room, the first Van Abbemuseum Public Research publication is presented, collecting Ludwinski’s texts for the first time in English.
Magdalena Ziółkowska (curator)
Special thanks to Adriaan Mellegers and Alfons Hooikaas, who made the design for this Plug In.
1. - Jean Leering in „Een collectie is ook maar een mens“, Amsterdam 1999, p. 61.