Focusing on the future

The cause of the projects of museum in progress lies in the future (freely adapted from Joseph Beuys)! With an eye to the future, our actions in the present change. The future in our imaginations thus has an effect on the present. When museum in progress was founded in 1990, Kathrin Messner and Josef Ortner († 2009) had the future firmly in view. With their joint vision of an art initiative focusing on extraordinary projects in public and media spaces, they convinced not only the artists, who were delighted to be able to work with museum in progress outside the museum “white cube”, but also business partners as sponsors. The large network built up by Kathrin Messner and Josef Ortner, which went beyond the Vienna art scene, helped to establish museum in progress, whose projects from the outset had a global orientation and involved many international artists and curators. Since more than thirty years, museum in progress has always been pursuing the aim of developing new exhibition forms for contemporary art and of reaching out with high-quality art to as many people as possible in their everyday lives.

Without its own exhibition building, museum in progress operates at the interface of art and life, beyond traditional presentation formats. For its exhibitions, it uses free spaces, which are temporarily converted into action spaces for artistic interventions – in newspapers and magazines, for example, on billboards and building façades, in concert halls, on television and even on board aeroplanes. museum in progress sees itself as a creative laboratory and “power station” (Alexander Dorner). With an eye to the future, Kathrin Messner and Josef Ortner conceived museum in progress and later also the one world foundation in Sri Lanka as social sculptures in the sense of Joseph Beuys. His idea that our actions can be an artistic act which shapes society like a sculpture and, as a catalyst, positively influences its development, is an important driving force for the projects of museum in progress. As a “system for deciphering the world” (Cathrin Pichler) art is capable of stimulating thought, illuminating social injustices as well as providing new perspectives on reality. The conviction that art, regardless of its form or content, is always political, since it changes people’s thinking and viewpoint, characterizes the self-image of museum in progress’s projects as sociopolitical acts. After all, the human head is known to be round “so that thinking can change direction” (Francis Picabia). In that context, museum in progress attaches great importance to acting independently of political influences in order to protect the space for courageous projects.

Change is an inherent feature of the museum concept of museum in progress and is already explicitly emphasised in its name with the addition of “in progress”. Without change, contemporary art as we know it would be unthinkable, given that innovation and originality are among its central quality characteristics. It therefore seems appropriate for museums as the institutional platforms for art to develop changeable exhibition forms so as to be able to present the respective contemporary works of art in the best possible way. museum in progress is an immaterial museum with a flexible structure, a “never-ending construction site” (Chiara Parisi). Following Beuys’s “expanded concept of art”, it claims and expands the concept of the museum and through its activities transforms the public and media space into a fluid “museum”. The question of the future of museums is being discussed globally at present due to the COVID-19 pandemic. museum in progress has been addressing this question since its foundation and presents its visions for the museum of the future through its art projects, which may thus be seen as field experiments and at best model contributions to the museum discourse.

In the field of newspaper and magazine art, museum in progress has realised over a thousand works in various media. The spectrum of artistic interventions in print media ranges from small-format inserts to multi-page works, from single contributions to group exhibitions and serial insertions. Some of the previous projects were realised over periods of several years, they consist of up to ninety-nine individual works and often include several, up to eighteen media partners. With its exhibitions in newspapers and magazines, museum in progress follows on from mass media projects dating back to the 1960s. Among the most important pioneers were for example Dan Graham with “Figurative” in the fashion magazine “Harper’s Bazaar” (1965) and Allen Kaprow with “False Photos” in the weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” (1981). Although there have been many other art projects in the print media, museum in progress occupies a singular position worldwide in this field due to the large number, diversity and high quality of the works created. No other institution has realised comparable groups of works on a similar scale. The works of museum in progress are each conceived specifically for the media space and are not to be understood as reproductions of artworks, but function as multiples, as stand-alone works in the print run of the medium concerned. Consequently, the individual newspaper or magazine issue becomes an original. Not least, this democratizes the collection of contemporary art and makes it affordable for everyone. Institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Frac Bretagne and the mumok in Vienna have long recognized the significance of museum in progress multiples and have included large holdings in their collections.

Through projects in media and public spaces, access to art is also democratized. In doing so, museum in progress deliberately eschews popular culture, but pursues high quality standards as a basic prerequisite for all its projects. museum in progress endeavours to create lasting works and values, but – paradoxically – within the framework of temporary art projects. Ephemeral art projects have their own magic that causes the audience to pay more attention and generates intense art experiences. Even people without prior knowledge of art are swept up in this magic, whereby the immediacy of the encounter in public and media spaces decisively favours the success of establishing contact.

The museum in progress archive contains a considerable body of artworks of enormous breadth in terms of content and form. Fascinating works can be found on numerous thematic areas, such as identity and gender roles, work and religion, media and discourse, individualism and human groups, relationships and physicality, racism and migration, war and violence, memory culture and politics, networks and cartography, urbanism and transport, environment and the animal world, robotics and popular culture, or art and staging. The topicality of many works on contemporary social issues testifies to the timelessness of the artworks and their openness to multiple interpretations. To this day, the concept of museum in progress has lost none of its relevance. Due to its programmatic versatility, it is able to realise its project at the pulse of time. The unusual presentation forms enable interaction with contemporary art that leaves a lasting impression. Building on the strong foundation of the past, museum in progress’s present-day projects look resolutely to the future.

Kaspar Mühlemann Hartl, 2021

(Excerpt from: Editorial, in: museum in progress, Art in public spaces and in media – IN ONE END & OUT THE OTHER [ & THEN AGAIN ], 2021: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König, Köln)