Magazine article Art Monthly

Radical Museology

Magazine article Art Monthly

Radical Museology

Article excerpt

When a book comes along with such an incongruous title as Radical Museology, it is hard not to be sceptical about its content. However, in acknowledgement of its contradictory appearance, author Claire Bishop has invited artist Dan Perjovski to punctuate her reading of institutional displays with his signature cartoons (the cover, for example, contains a linear museum facade complete with Mickey Mouse ears), and this acts as a critically humorous foil for her argument towards the politicisation of curatorial practice in a direct and reflective way.

Bishop initially puts forward the urgency of her new book by arguing that there has been little discussion on the radical potential of museums of contemporary art since Rosalind Krauss's polemical text 'The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalist Museum' appeared in October in 1990. Forming a relentless pessimism towards late capitalism after Frederic J ameson, Krauss argued that art had become secondary to the euphoria of the gallery and its architecture. Bishop claims that this 'Starchitecture' has thoroughly taken hold in the intervening years since Krauss's text, and she provides the franchised Louvre and Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi as recent examples of the makeover of museums into popular temples of entertainment where image, the photogenic and global branding are prioritised.

Before putting forward alternative models, Bishop teases the reader with an introduction on the history of ideas around 'the contemporary'. Running with theories elucidated in Peter Osborne's Anywhere Or Not At All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art ('Art/Write' AM375)--as well as other writing by Giorgio Agamben and Boris Groys--she seeks to pit two related ideas against each other, 'presentism' and 'dialectical contemporaneity'. Within this framework, Bishop transforms Osborne's view of 'the contemporary' as an 'operative fiction'--a contradiction between fragmented, incompatible 'disjunctive global temporalities' and the 'present', which he argues is impossible to grasp in its multi-temporal entirety, thus producing a time of stasis--by arguing that 'dialectical contemporaneity' can navigate multiple temporalities within a political horizon, allowing sightlines to focus back on the future and a politicised rethinking of the museum and the spectatorship that it produces. To this recipe, she adds Georges Didi-Huberman's perception of artworks as 'temporal knots'--a mixture of the past and what survives through it in the current era through 'stratified temporalities'--as well as theories of 'involuntary memory' via Marcel Proust and Walter Benjamin.

If there is a problem with Bishop's argument, it is that she over simplifies Osborne's ideas in her attempt to navigate a politicisation of contemporary art. Her use of Benjamin's non-linear idea of the constellation, which she uses to underpin patterns of display against the current hegemony of the museum, is also hackneyed, yet despite this, her practical articulation of how collections represent possibilities against the privileged site of the globalised culture of the biennale and the kunsthalle's affirmation of the Zeitgeist is forceful, as is her criticism of the unwitting complicity with 'presentism' of the apolitical displays favoured by institutions such as MoMA, the Guggenheim, the Whitney, The Met and the New Museum in New York, as well as Tate Modern in London.

Under the heading 'Time Machines', Bishop starts her argument for 'compelling alternatives' with the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, which she claims produces a collective chorus of historical displays by, among other things, contrasting previous directors' approaches to producing knowledge. …

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