Art, Capital, Confrontations in progress

"It just happens to be the case that painting is not in a position to offer an object for simultaneous collective reception. In medieval churches and monasteries and in aristocratic courts until around the end of the eighteenth century the collective reception of paintings did not take place simultaneously but on many levels and mediated by the clergy. If that has changed it is an expression of the particular conflict in which painting has become ensnared through the technical possibilities for the reproduction of pictures. However, even when paintings were exhibited for the masses in galleries or salons there was no way in which the masses could have organised themselves and controlled such a reception." (Walter Benjamin)

With the emergence of museum tourism the vision of an "autonomous mass" able to confront art faded away. With the worldwide success of museum tourism the inability of collective reception to cope with the aesthetic requirements set by art through its presentation in museums became still more evident. The conflict between traditional media and the modes of perception of a mass audience diagnosed by Benjamin is further escalated – and also applies to modern media which are already considered fit for museums – by the fact that the method of presenting art assumes a contemplative beholder and not tourist groups rushing past. André Malraux's musée imaginaire represents, among other things, the attempt to use technical reproductions to reach a genuinely modern view of "world art" appropriate to a mass and media society. The fictional element of reproductions does not appear here as faking but as a revelation of artistic content. Volumes of photographs and slide collections are intended to resolve the contradiction which separates the individual art event at which personal presence is important from the wide demand for it.

Some years previously, with "La Boite-en-Valise" Marcel Duchamp had ironically anticipated Malraux's expressive concept. Duchamp's "so to say, portable museum" initiated an artistic confrontation with the institution of the museum which, through its shrewd radicalism, outlived the Classical Modern's storming of the museum (Pissarro, Marinetti etc.) and which has survived until the present via artists such as Marcel Broodthaers, Daniel Buren and General Idea. However, the museum boom of the eighties remained just as untouched by criticism from "artist museums" of the criteria for and purposes of collecting and preservation as it did by Bazon Brock's still relevant suggestion that investment should not be channelled into museum architecture but rather to cheap sheds to enable the money to be spent on making them work.

museum in progress is not an artist museum but has learnt from them: for one thing, that in this society the concept of the museum can be put to strategic use, even when the declared aim is to break its boundaries; and for another, that new concepts for the handling of art can be developed out of a confrontation with traditional ideas of the museum and current doubts about them, but not from their wholesale rejection. The cultural contradictions which were intensified or created by the epidemic expansion of museums in the eighties are the background against which museum in progress stands out as an experimental model for new ways of financing, organising, presenting and handling art.

"museum in progress", that means, in Alexander Dorner's words, "The museum only makes sense as a pioneer". In contrast to musée imaginaire, which technically transformed art and thereby made it part of the present and integrated it into everyday life, museum in progress mainly curates contemporary art which it smuggles directly into the everyday world of the media past the prevailing intermediary channels by transforming gaps in the media into free artistic space (see the projects "Lückenfuller" (Gap-Filler), "Breaks" or "Medienfenster" (Media Window)).

Both the production as well as the presentation operate through modern information media such as newspapers, posters or television, wherever possible with the stipulation that new vehicles should not be used to transport old contents but rather that artistic content should be extracted from the confrontation with the medium. Through its logo, museum in progress creates museum space from newspaper pages or posters. It resembles traditional museum space in that it brings art to the public as well as protecting it from it. However, in place of the promise of leisure-time enjoyment in which the museum formulates its almost religious transcendence of everyday life, a spectrum of possible relations to everyday culture arises which can be defined by the artist as demarcation, approach, assimilation or disappearance.

There is no doubt that many newspaper readers and television viewers ignore the offer of having art delivered directly to their living rooms via newspaper or television screen. The aim of museum in progress is not then to popularise contemporary art – and certainly not to force the "artification" of everyday life. It is far more a question of a head-on collision between economically determined interests which mould media space and determine its social influence, and the indeterminate interests of aesthetic production. The most successful works have been those which suited their medium so much that they were not seen as an artistic intervention and disappeared within that medium. Precisely this denial of "artification" has been the point which has irritated contractors, financers, media people and the public.

In museum in progress one could see an up-to-date interpretation of the type of museum propagated by Alexander Dorner but without his utopian or universal pretensions. "This new type of art institute would not only be no "art" museum in the prevailing static sense of the term but it would not be a "museum" either. A museum is the preserver of supposedly eternal values and truths. The new type would more resemble a power station, a producer of new energy. It is more vital and more stimulating, and at the same time much easier to set up anywhere since it is much less dependent upon buying in quantity and therefore upon wealth than the present type. It does not require a sumptuous palace of absolute and ideal provenance but far more a utilitarian, elastic construction of light, modern materials." (Beyond Art, 1947).

The architecture of museum in progress is even cheaper than Bazon Brock's shed; it is a metaphor. Projects are planned, organised and administered from the Vienna office; collectively these form the building materials of museum in progress as well as their arrangement into a building without walls which undergoes a continual metamorphosis through the decisions of curators and artists – depending also upon the contracts which result from the contacts of museum in progress to business financers and the media. They release a flow of capital which museum in progress diverts into the channels of art. This, however, flows back to the financers through the integration of the company logo into the artistic work which then appears in media with expensive advertising space. This participation in artistic projects extends beyond financing and publicity in so far that the risk also exists that artistic works whose character and effects are unknown to the company also play a role in the formation of its image.

Certainly, museum in progress is exploiting the trends of the eighties that companies sponsor art and that museums work more professionally in accordance with economic criteria, as far as becoming an "industrialized museum" (Rosalind Krauss). However, its flexible structure gives it an advantage over the traditional institutions for the promotion and handling of art and enables it to support an artistic confrontation with this development which results in inevitable confrontations between artistic and economic thinking and between progressive artistic practice and the taste of the so-called man in the street. The success of the work of museum in progress must be measured by its intensity, its clarity and its aesthetic catalytic effect.