museum in progress

A daily newspaper such as "Der Standard" is designed down to the smallest detail. Each section and each column has its regular place and layout. And then there are days when suddenly, in the middle of the usual sequence, there is a drawing filling a whole page, or a photo without a caption, a text in a foreign language or a propaganda slogan. Without explanation these insertions force their way into the preconceived picture. Sometimes they appear in a column at the edge of the page and sometimes they take up a double-page spread, even in colour. The only indication of what these interventions are all about is given by the small writing: museum in progress.

A museum in the newspaper then. If that is not nonsensical. The epitome of all that is transitory asserting itself as a receptacle for art. What about the ideals of the museum, "Collect, study and preserve"? Is a museum not a holy place with thick walls, a bulwark against the speed of change of our time? This is obviously not the ideal of museum in progress. This museum is not looking for the homage of a dusty posterity. It ignores the march-past of history and concentrates on having an effect now.

Journalism is a great example of this. With immense energy and under enormous pressure to meet deadlines, journalists and photographers produce today's news in the full knowledge that nobody will be interested in it tomorrow. On the other hand, we readers can only come to terms with all the unread and unseen newspapers and magazines by replacing yesterday's newspaper with today's. This is the state of current culture and it seems as if we have to adjust ourselves in this consciousness machine. The story of art in all this goes back to the turn of the century. At that time Cubists had already begun pulling their raw materials out of the newspapers, as a model for a picture or to cut up for collages. The next step was appearing in the media itself. In 1909 the Italian poet, Marinetti, proclaimed Futurism in a manifesto in the Paris Figaro. To see a relevant picture however, it was still necessary to make the trip to a gallery.

The thought which suggests itself, that not only manifestos and interpretations, but the works themselves should be brought into the media finally developed in the sixties. Numerous representatives of Concept Art tried to launch their ideas as equally valid contributions and reports in newspapers, magazines and on television. As the established media had some trouble with this notion, their own outlets sprang up overnight – today highly sought-after art magazines such as "Interfunktionen", "Art Language" and "Der Salon".

As Kathrin Messner and Josef Ortner founded the art association "museum in progress" in 1990 to help the move out of traditional exhibition locations and into media space, they did not need to re-invent art. Only the organisational culture was new. With "museum in progress", art which wanted to intervene in various media gained an impressario who created a new balance of power. Artists need no longer individually conquer media space. Instead of this it is agreed in advance as an art location between museum in progress and media partners such as newspapers, magazines, television stations and billboard companies. Whereas the concepts for the content are mostly provided by internationally active artists and curators (Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Stella Rollig, Robert Fleck and others), museum in progress takes care of the organisation and financing. Initially various projects were mostly supported by funds from the Austrian Federal Curator for Art. Since then, through the cooperation of private companies in projects such as "artpool", a new financing structure has developed. 

Much has already been achieved. Highly acclaimed for instance was the series of inserts in "Der Standard" newspaper and the business magazine "Cash Flow", "The Message as Medium", curated by Helmut Draxler in 1991 with contributions from Fareed Armaly, Werner Büttner, Andrea Fraser, Michael Krebber, Thomas Locher, Christian P. Müller, Heimo Zobernig and others. 

Under the title "Do It" (curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist), film spots in which artists give the viewers sets of instructions were brought onto the Austrian national television channel ORF 1. In 1993 huge slide projections were projected onto a wall of the Academy of Applied Art in Vienna as "Wandzeitung" (Wall Newspaper). Since the winter of 1991-92 over 3,000 billboards throughout Vienna are made available for art once or twice a year. Gerwald Rockenschaub, Bernard Bazile, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Rosemarie Trockel, Beat Streuli, Rudi Molacek, Navin Rawanchaikul / Rirkrit Tiravanija, Jeremy Deller and Martine Aballéa have so far been able to take advantage of this opportunity. In the meantime these poster interventions have spread to about 20 European cities through cooperation with other organisations. Between 1993 and 1996 four different large-scale pictures (by Ed Ruscha, Walter Obholzer, Gerhard Richter and Douglas Gordon) established themselves on the façade of the Vienna Kunsthalle. Nothing could have made more clear how far art had set its sights than the 540 square metre tableaux which re-defined Vienna's Karlsplatz. 

The fact is that the appearance of art in the media and public space has, to a certain extent, already become self-evident. And it is not only good that this is so, but also absolutely necessary. Not only are there numerous art works which can only develop their real power in this space; journalism is also a great place to protect art from itself. For instance from its tendency to make everything and anything aesthetic, from the ennobling kitsch and the sanctifying trap which do not spare the most banal or the most radical, from the museum as the hall of blessings. Not least the triumphal march of the global media should have made us aware that aesthetic power now increasingly requires action and directness. Art which seeks to have an influence on the parameters of our perception must therefore also sometimes be able to work like first-class journalism. The aim is then of course not the special interest articles but rather the sports columns and the front-page editorial.

(Vienna 1998)