Decontextualisation, autonomy and the neo-avant-garde: Institutional critique and museum criticism

Stead, Naomi (2006). Decontextualisation, autonomy and the neo-avant-garde: Institutional critique and museum criticism. In: Davidts Wouter, Kruk Vinca and Teresa Stoppani, Museum in ¿Motion? Conference Proceedings. Museum in ¿Motion?, Maastricht and Sittard, Limburg, Netherlands, (1-14). 12-13 November 2004.

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Author Stead, Naomi
Title of paper Decontextualisation, autonomy and the neo-avant-garde: Institutional critique and museum criticism
Conference name Museum in ¿Motion?
Conference location Maastricht and Sittard, Limburg, Netherlands
Conference dates 12-13 November 2004
Proceedings title Museum in ¿Motion? Conference Proceedings
Place of Publication Sittard, Limburg, Netherlands
Publisher A&S Books; Museum Het Domein
Publication Year 2006
Sub-type Fully published paper
ISBN 9789072076328
Editor Davidts Wouter
Kruk Vinca
Teresa Stoppani
Start page 1
End page 14
Total pages 14
Language eng
Formatted Abstract/Summary
Throughout the museum's history, declarations that the institution is itself 'dead' have frequently been balanced by condemnations of its process of 'killing' objects, subjects, art and history in order to represent them. The argument hinges around two different conceptions of the museum – one as a benign institution which passively collects objects that have already died, as it were, of natural causes, and the other as a murderous institution that stalks and 'kills' objects, dragging them into its lair never to see the light of day again. This latter idea is most fiercely articulated in the criticism of art museums, which provide 'the most elaborately articulated instance of decontextualisation as a strategy of power.' And if there were to be a theme that most characterised the work of critics of the art museum in the modern period, it would surely be the attempt to break through the boundaries that isolate the museum from life praxis, to dismantle the museum’s walls.

This project has long been characteristic of avant-garde art practice - as Peter Bürger has pointed out, the historical avant-garde can be defined by its desire to reconcile art with life, to bridge the characteristically modern schism between the realm of art and that of the everyday. This can equally be framed as a struggle against notions of art as autonomous, and against the museum as it reinforces and institutionalises such notions. Bürger’s thesis also extends to the proposition of a neo-avant-garde, which can also be defined and distinguished by its comportment in relation to art’s autonomy, especially as it is reflected or inflected in museums.

The paper thus discusses the ways in which critical art practice, and particularly the neo-avant-garde movement known as institutional critique, can be understood in light of Bürger’s theory. More than this, it points out the complexity and ambivalence of the avant-garde project, an ambivalence that stems from the double-edged concept of autonomy itself, and which is both compounded and revealed in the evident contradictions of the neo-avant-garde. The paper questions whether, in light of Bürger’s findings, attempts to break down institutional barriers between art and life, and between the museum and the world, should be uncritically accepted. It asks whether there might be some value, even if negatory, in the alienation of the museum from everyday life in the present. This is especially apposite given that, as the paper will argue, there is a significant parallel between the avant-garde project of breaching the museum’s walls, and a significant trend in the ‘new museology’ – towards liveliness, openness, and the contiguity of the museum with the everyday world. Throughout all this, context and autonomy are revealed as key, contentious, and continuous threads that can be traced throughout the history of museum criticism.
Subjects 1201 Architecture
Keyword Original Creative Works - Textual work
Q-Index Code EX
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status Non-UQ
Additional Notes Description: 1 computer optical disc : ill. (some col.) ; 4 3/4 in.

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Created: Tue, 09 Mar 2010, 08:29:01 EST by Thelma Whitbourne on behalf of Faculty Of Engineering, Architecture & Info Tech