The Captured Museum

Article excerpt

Published to document a series of exhibitions under the umbrella title 'Carte Blanche', the publication The Captured Museum claims to create an ongoing platform for reflection and debate around the current debased sovereignty of the museum. The book consists of a range of texts by Barbara Steiner--the Museum of Contemporary Art Leipzig's director and the book's editor--and covers the project's working processes by positioning it within historical context through descriptive analysis, photographic documentation, and interviews with participants and the museum's curators.

Firstly, it is important to describe the nature of 'Carte Blanche'. In 2008 and 2009, the museum invited private individuals and organisations from Germany to take over the institution and curate exhibitions for a public audience. Consisting of one patron and friends organisation, two commercial galleries (Galerie Eigen+Art and Dogenhaus), an IT systems company, a Leipzig publishing company, a gas stock corporation and collectors from Berlin, Dresden and Hamburg, each display aimed to ask questions around what and who the museum is currently for, as well as whose interests it is meant to represent. In return for funding, the curators at the institution put themselves at the invited participants' disposal to realise each project.

Perhaps rather predictably, 'Carte Blanche' was criticised by a number of outraged museum professionals. Chris Dercon for one described it as 'insane'. (It seems unusual that Dercon was outraged at a public institution given over to private interests so transparently; he is now director of Tate Modern, which relies on funding by companies such as BP, among others.) Either way, despite accusations of naivety, the fact that many participants in 'Carte Blanche' had ties to Leipzig raised pertinent questions around local complicity and support, and took ideas of ambiguity between corruption and collaboration to their logical extreme. As major sponsors of the museum, Arend and Brigitte Oetker, for example, were asked to work with their own collection in 'Carte Blanche III'. Similarly, for 'Carte Blanche IX', the regional bank LBBW showed their collection in reconstructed parts of the organisation's headquarters; somewhat humorously, this included a replica boardroom, which the bank's staff used for meetings during the exhibition.

Of the two commercial galleries involved, Galerie Eigen+Art's Gerd Harry Lybke revealed the tactics behind his presentations for five major art fairs. For the final element of its display, the gallery left a room empty to represent a vacant stall at Miami Basel in 2008; the gallery decided not to take part because of the financial crisis, and the related vacant space in the museum became a discussion room for economic issues.

A successful element of the book is Steiner's potted history of institutional critique 'Corruption, Corruptibility and Complicity'. Steiner starts with Daniel Buren's view of the museum as a mythical and deforming frame that takes isolation for granted, continues through Hans Haacke's examination of unintentional complicity between artists and their supporters--what he called 'unwitting partners in the art syndrome'--and moves on to analyse Andrea Fraser's practice almost 30 years later, where art is a heterogeneous ensemble of 'discourses, institutions, architectural fittings, regulatory decisions, laws and administrative measures'. Along the way we encounter strategies of dissent from Barbara Kruger and Sherrie Levine--who, for Benjamin Buchloh, failed through their inadvertent involvement in the market and 'its gluttonous logic of innovation' Haim Steinbach, Jeff Koons and Ashley Bickerton's reflection of consumerist desire and the desire of discourse, through seductive yet monstrous objects positioned in a complicit corruptible system and left open for discussion, and the New York dealer Colin de Land's 'anti-art gallery or work of conceptual art' that worked both for and against the market. …