Museum and Concept Art

The fundamentally new definition of the concept of the work of art put forward by Concept Art twenty years ago is still a long way from having found the urgently necessary acceptance with regard to the ways in which art is handled and presented. On the contrary, the "renaissance of the (classical) museum" which followed the short debate about museums in the early 1970s contributed in large measure to making even Concept Art an academic subject in the same way as contemporary art as a whole was institutionalised.

Exactly at this point, that of the profoundly new definition of the concept of the work of art provided by Concept Art, is where museum in progress has begun with the corresponding innovation in the handling of art. Seen in terms of the museum debate of the early 1970s it must be described as a conscious "anti-museum". Everything which usually constitutes a classical museum does not exist at museum in progress; no walls, no attendants, no entrance tickets and no permanent collection. So a certain polemical tendency also adheres to this type of museum. In recent years there has been an unprecedented boom in museums which has had ambivalent consequences. (In the western world museums for modern and contemporary art are being opened every month, especially outside the big cities and even in remote regions, leading to a breathtaking acceleration in the cycle from the production of an art work and the appearance of artistic movements to their exhibition in museums and therefore also to an acceleration in the cycle of fashions.) In contrast, museum in progress rejects all criteria which these new museums restored, in sum, the traditional coordinates of the museum as conceived by the European Enlightenment. The basic philosophy behind museum in progress remains that it should be a museum without fixed walls which serves the presentation of art.

At the same time, however, it could hardly form a starker contrast to the museum debate of the early 1970's with its "anti-museum" discourse. At that time, in the wake of 1968, both artists and conservators of art undertook the storming of the established museums which they saw as the bastions of the bourgeois art business. They wanted to completely revolutionize the museums in order to clear the way for non-alienating forms of art production and reception. However, museum in progress is no longer manning the polemical barricades but has simply moved the goalposts. Instead of seeking to reform the complex and, from the architectonic and administrative points of view, ponderous apparatus of the classical museum it has redefined the concept of the museum, taking inspiration from the newly-defined concept of the art work as postulated by Concept Art. 

This new definition could to some extent be seen as a reaction to the boom in the building of classical museums in the 1980's which drove art into a deep crisis. The answer to this provided by museum in progress is very similar to that arrived at by Marcel Broodthears at the end of the 1960's with his various works constructed around the concept of the museum. Here, however, steps have been taken to put these ideas into practice and establish a museum which works with living artists. Broodthaers could not do this without forfeiting the conceptuality and philosophical gesture of his work.

If museum in progress can in many respects be interpreted as the equivalent to the innovation of Concept Art in the field of handling art this is based on yet another foundation. The innovation of Concept Art in the field of art production was founded essentially on two factors; firstly, the acquisition of new media for the art work, especially language, non-material media, the mass media and advertising, and secondly, to the tearing apart of the unity of time and place, which was still guarded by the Classical Modern, in favour of processuality as the dimension in time of the work and its appearance. Both also relate to the function of museum in progress in the field of museology. It has defined its aims as the conquest of the media as a vehicle for art (that is the mass media in their most common forms which are by far the most dominant factor in social life today) and the development of an adequate concept of the museum appropriate to the age of mass communication. It therefore follows that the museum no longer finds its reason for being within fixed walls but rather in the process of regular appearances in the media of posters, newspapers, magazines and television which today constitute public space. A third characteristic shared with Concept Art is that the precision of placement and intervention, a moment that is comparatively neglected in classical art as in the classical museum, becomes the make or break point of each individual project or work. In this respect museum in progress has already long proved itself with the accuracy of the placement of its projects.

(Vienna 1992)