So, a little more on the conference. It was 1,5 days of discussion about modern and contemporary art museums and their future policies. It included participants from three major state museums in western Europe, akmist the full range of post-YU states institutions (Montenegro and Kosova were missing) and contributions from European and Brazilian institutions that have a less universalist agenda than the Tate or Beaubourg.
It was also organized partly as a forum for thinking about the opening of the new Moderna Galerija and it’s planned sister institution, the new museum of contemporary art at Metelkova, a former barracks area in central Ljubljana where important shows have already been held.
The opening session bringing together the power players from the old colonial capitals was in many ways the most fascinating or revealing of all. Only in the case of Reina Sofia did their seem to be a deeper awareness of the issues involved in post-colonialist thinking, perhaps because the ambitions of this institution seem rather more precise than its two competitors. The Tate showed us what an inclusive vision of the universal museum in the 21st century would be complete with its “non-ideological’ context and it’s ambition to collect wirk from the old outposts of its empire. This latter attempt was particularly ironic given the rather beautiful confluence when, after the Tate lecture, we emerged into the lobby of the Ljubljana city art museum where the conference was held to be greeted by the enormous head of the emperor Napoleon. His collecting policy in Egypt immediately sprang to mind after all the images of middle East art from Sheena Wagstaff’s computer. A little sadly, the talk from the director of the museum in the centre Pompidou was rather less ambitious in his laying of geographic claims and concentrated on a forthcoming exhibition called ‘elles’ where only women artists from the collection – both those of a feminist persuasion and the others – will be shown to the exclusion of all men. In contrast to both however, Reina Sofia was modest and cautious, worried about what its attempt to include or help existing Latin American discourses and networks might do to the people concerned. In the discussion, the revelation about non-ideology of the Tate’s spaces seemed to emerge out of a rather innocent lack of self-consciousness. Here is maybe a perverse way in which institutions and people with experience of real existing socialism gives an advantage it that the ideologies of power, capital and politics at play in all presentations of art appear much more visibly and explicitly than to those with an Anglo-American or perhaps also pure western European experience.
It is here perhaps that something of the more recent discourses around farewell to post-colonialism and our own ‘former west’ might be able to create some space for ourselves – though the money+power+lack of subject consciousness equation is a powerful hegemonic tool that can destroy the possibility of criticalist museums through relentless incorporation. Indeed, given the brazilian presence, Osvaldo Andrade’s Cannibalist manifesto seemed a suitable reference. It was also remarkable to me that despite the Tate’s or Beaubourg’s globalizing, inclusive ambitions, both speakers pointed beyond their own responsibility when asked specific questions. According to the Tate Modern, issues of post-imperialism and immigration were dealt with by curators at Tate Britain while the contextual and discursive programme of the beaubourg was generated by another department and not the museum’s competence. These are severe limitations, I would have thought, to museum universalism unless such issues are the very ones that might disturb such an ambition in the first place.
The chreography of the conference was remarkably effective and Zdenka Badovinac and Adela Zeleznik deserve to be heartily congratulated. Next up was an extended panel of ex-YU institutions that was equally fascinating it its diversity and similarity. Non- existing, closed, leaking or just about to open institutions were enumerated, the most problematic being the arsaevi project in Sarajevo which seemed still largely driven by the immediate responses to post-war trauma than a more sober cultural provision for Bosnian society today – but I have never been to Bosnia so I find it difficult to comment. The new museum of contemporary art in Zagreb was dissappointly presented as contentless architecture. Given the great strength of the Croatian art scene (Iveković, Malkjović, Stilinović shown in VAM, WHW as probably the most effective curatorial group in europe etc.), it was dissappointing not to here how art history could be rewritten from Zagreb, answering back to the new incorporating centralist narratives of the former West.
There is much more to say about the subsequent sessions – including a fascinating account of ‘modern’ and ‘contemporary’ meanings in Sao Paulo museums and the extraordinary proposal for a Guggenheim-Hermitage fluxus spaceship in Vilnius. So, more later but I also leave it to my colleagues to report further.