Questions to the Museum of the 21th Century - Play Van Abbe Symposium

FREE SOL LEWITT by SUPERFLEX, 2010. Photo Peter Cox
installation view repetition Summer Display 1983 room1 photo Peter Cox
Chto Delat, Activist Club, 2007. Zaaloverzicht Van Abbemuseum 2009. Foto Peter Cox
Installation view Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo, 2010. Photo: Peter Cox
Hannah Hurtzig, Flight Case Archive, installation view Van Abbemuseum, 2010. Photo Peter Cox DSC3023
Michal Heiman, Attacks on linking, installaton view Van Abbemuseum, 2010. Photo Peter Cox
Surasi Kusolwong, Naked Machine (Volkswagen Modern), 2000-2011, installation view Van Abbemuseum. Photo Peter Cox DSC9821
Oliver Ressler, What Is Democracy?, 2009. Installatie / Installation: Peacock Visual Arts, Aberdeen, 2010

Questions to the Museum of the 21th Century Play Van Abbe Symposium

01/07/2011 - 02/07/2011

Art museums originate from the 19th century, Modern Art museums from the 20th century, now, at the break of the 21th century, the Van Abbemuseum asks itself what museum type will be born in this century. This question was central to the two year programme Play Van Abbe and will get its critical ending in a two day symposium on July 1 and 2 (11:00 - 18:00 h). The symposium will be in English.

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Zdenka Badovinac
Bart de Baere
Christiane Berndes
Claire Bishop
Manuel Borja-Villel
Charles Esche
Reesa Greenberg
Ysbrand Hummelen
Sven Lütticken


Hannah Hurtzig
Museum of American Art
Public Movement
Raum der Gegenwart – Kai-Uwe Hemken/Jakob Gebert

<media 3848 - download>Click here for the programme</media>


Collecting – Preservation

One of the central tasks of museums is to collect and preserve. In a time where the unique and singular work of art is dispersed in hybrid installations and the division between archive and collection seems to shrink, one wonders how this will affect the central notion of (re)collecting. 

Within Play Van Abbe this questions has run through the entire programme and has resulted in several different projects. From the re-installation of entire collection display from Rudi Fuchs in 1983, to presentation and acquisition of the Raum der Gegenwart (Room of the Contemporary) a historical museum display from 1930, to the presentation and acquisition of Hannah Hurtzig’s Flight Case Archive and the layerd and complex installations of the Museum of American Art. All these projects and others have asked questions concerning the logic and possibilities of the museum, which we will take up again in the symposium.

Public Ownership - Public Responsibility 

The museum in its modern form originates from the early 19th century, a period marked by a radical reconfiguration of the organization of public life in society. Throughout two centuries the museum has reflected and contributed to societies marked by various degree of social-democratic and capitalist politics. Today the role of the museum to serve a public by monitoring its ‘owned’ collection of art has been put under new pressure by the many art works that inspire a different sense of ownership and that is marked by new, intense digital forms collective communication.

In Play Van Abbe this transformation has been investigated through various lenses, most notoriously by SUPERFLEX’s project FREE SOL LEWITT in which it distributed industrially produced copies of a Sol LeWitt wall structure. Next to this the entire mediation strategy has been an experiment that tried to actively engage with contemporary experience of publicness, seeking forms of exchange and dialogue that resonate with today’s digital forms of self-positioning and communication. In the symposium we will use these examples to reflect on the more general questions as to how the place and agency of the museum within the public sphere.

On the Ends of Art

In an age marked by digital copies and hybrid identities, what role can the singular and unique work of art have? Is there still a space and perhaps even a demand for its always ambivalent autonomy? Can one still reflect on art using the model of history, or has the history of art finally ended? All these questions appear relevant today as the delicate tissue of ideas that carried art in its modern inception seems to reorganize through processes of globalization and its related technological innovations. Can we still speak of ‘art’, or do we need to accept, as museum director Alexander Dorner already did in 1947 that we have to realize ‘a way beyond ‘art’’?

When envisioning a programme that would think through the possible place of the art museum in the 21th century Play Van Abbe didn’t want to avoid the asking the uncomfortable. The question towards the possible ‘end’ of the museum being the most uncomfortable thing to ask. However, ‘end’ reads in two ways and this duality has been with us throughout the entire programme. Ending here doesn’t mean a full stop, but means re-evalutaion of the elements that together form the practice of art and the museum, wondering how they are significant from today’s perspective.

Questions to the Museum of the 21th Century is part of :

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