The Museum and Institutional Critique

May 2, 2012

The history of the Museum mirrors Western history of social, ethnical and economical oppression.

From the exoticizing and sometimes ridiculing curiosity of cabinets to the collection of stolen historical artifacts and architectural elements, one thing prevails – we have been collecting objects that please us but not necessarily belong to us. Museums evolved from mere entertaining centers to become also educational spaces. A place the population would visit to learn about the world and to learn how to perceive the world. A sort of organizational lens to see knowledge and history through. Voilá! Here is how the world is, should be and this is how we represent it. These are the things that matter and this is the way they are visually exhibited in order for you to understand them…

Bennetts text may or may have not been part of the literature that inspired the work “National Museum och jag”, referring to Stockholm National Museum. A video work done by designer, writer and Konstfack Design Professor Zandra Ahl for a exhibition at the same museum. “NationalMuseum och jag” is an investigating documentary that searches for answers around the question of preservationism and aesthetic judgment. Ahl interviews several of the curators at the museum about how they judge contemporary design. Why should a specific piece be bought by the Museum and exhibited as a representative for a period of time and not other pieces. Who determines what is aesthetically relevant? How do they see them selves in this process of selection? The interviewed show little or no understanding of their positions of power as the co-creators of “Swedish good taste”. The National Museum does like all other Museums represent expertise. They are the highest and strongest voices in the cultural field. To be represented in the collections of a large established Design/Art Museum means to be recognized as an designer/artist of interest. The design objects that are continually being bought by the National Museum are going to be perceived by future generations as those that best represent our present. But they do so much more. They teach visitors how “good” design look like and have done.

Mierle Ukeles performance “Hartford wash” is another work that comes to mind when talking about Institutional critique. Her performance took place at the Wadsworth Atheneum in 1973 and was a physical manifestation of her Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969. Ukeles performance consisted literally of her washing the room. She became in this spatial performance physically very visible but socially and culturally hidden. She became “ a mere cleaner” working in a beautiful space filled with huge impressive greek sculptures. The piece is purposely a work that becomes invisible and ignored like service workers usually are.

It’s a piece that discusses maintenance and consists of the artist cleaning the museum during opening hours. By using her daily work at home as a mother and wife (or at least a non wealthy woman) she transforms the low paid maintenance into an activity that symbolically deserves an audience and above all recognition.

Sara BC

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