Kongressbeitrag: The Museal Turn
Der Kongressbericht zu der Tagung „The Museal Turn“ der Universität Salzburg (4.-7.11. 2010) vereinigt die Kurzfassungen der Tagungsbeiträge zum Themenbereich der „Museum Narratives“, u.a. zu Besucherforschung, Drama- und Literaturmuseen und Zukunftsperspektiven.
The Crisis of Collecting
A statement regarding a precarious museum’s task
Contribution to the International Conference „The Museal Turn“ –nov. 4th - 7th, 2010
In today’s museum’s practice a very important part of the museum-related activities is mostly overlooked and marginalized: building up and maintaining a museum’s collection. Museums tend to be regarded as “exhibition centers” following the phenomenology of the German “Kunsthalle”, which originally has been a bourgeoise idea of giving space to local artists. In the years after the end of World War II history gained another dimension as the concept of a direct line of traditions had failed. So many communities, cities, nations felt the urge to “create” a specifc vision of history. That was the time of museums fundings, establishing new institutions or revitalizing old ones. Today’s museums still live on these rich times, when politicians and private sponsors where disposed to invest in cultural heritage and started to build up new collections or supported established ones.
Times changed and not only in mueums’s policy; it was on the one hand the predominant role of “marketing” in all fields of cultural institutions and simultaneously the harder financial situation concerning public budgets and private funding, that characterize the situation from the 1980s on. Politicians urged theater-directors and museum-curators to become managers, they expected permanently rising numbers of visitors and a permanent presence of cultural events in the public media. The consequence in this dilemma, that comes as a parallel development with the economic crisis, is to through the task of collecting over board – this strategy saves money avoids problematic discussions and guarantees constant interest of the public.
Some of the crucial topics in the present situation shall be examined closer:
1. Museum’s Collection versus Temporary Exhibition
A new rivalty developed: museums’ collections where and still are today doomed to exist in the dark, while glamourous temporary exhibitions attract a great number of visitors needed for the statistics. It is only a handful of major museums in the world, that can rely on their sumptuous collections as tourist attractions and cultural “must” for everyone. But the saying, that everyone goes to a museum only twice in his life, the first time on the hand of the father and the second time on the hand of the son, is still valid for the major part of cultural history and local museums. These institutions must “invent” temporary attractions with an active machinery of marketing tools to gain interest and visitors. Museum directors, politicians, boards tend to undervalue the benefits of an ongoing collecting activity and succumb to individualized momentary eventualisation.
Also the internal structure of museums have been infected by this virus: the department of marketing has gained a loader voice in programming, the curator of the collection has mutated to a storage-manager; the most brilliant careers are those of the exhibition curators. Many museums often do not have those promising star curators and therefor often engage free lancers and internationally renowned personalities of the art world. In many cases museums – by following this strategy - loose a great deal of their own identity, in the field of presentation as well as concerning the staff.
Working for and with a museum’s collection is (personally and fincancially) marginalized by a hyper-energetic „temporary exhibition circus“, by a loan circuit in which art works become hostages, by private collectors‘ often clearly commercial and/or social ambitions.
2. Change of Paradigmas
The funds for museum’s collections and/or acquisitions are continously declining or being cut down.
In times of smaller budgets and lacking private funding it gets harder to work on the collection. New acquisitions have to be well considered and many wishes of curators, to fill the most significant gaps cannot be realized. A change of paradigmas has taken place: Not the best or the most expensive artwork – like in former times - goes into the museum’s collection but the most affordable one. Museums demonstrate not any longer the role of the „treasure house” for the future but the role of the TRENDSCOUT: the younger the artist is, the lower is the price of his art. Is this considered to be a chance for re-newening the strategies and parameters of collecting? Or is such a compromising attitude only the expression of a needy situation concerning budgets and support? Is this attitude a need or a chance? Many museum directors focus young and contemporary art as a topic to involve a well educated and inclined public. Collectors would consider the museum presentation of a young and unknown artist as a label of esteem and use it as a tool of orientation for their own acquisition strategies. This can be a well functioning medium for connecting a wealthy and influential community close to the institution, but it can also be a dangerous step into arbitrarity and risky purchases.
3. Musealisation of artistic strategies
The „old“ conservation theory has recently seen a normative debate on the ethics of preservation. This discussion is nourished by the uncertainties in connection with new and/or digital media art as part of our cultural heritage, as well as ephemeral art-forms like fluxus, actionism, happenings and site specific art in urban spaces. If art is not materialized any more in conventional „artworks“, what will be our cultural memory, our consciousness of time and history.
Visitors and art critics remember their authentic witness of performances of Joseph Beuys (f.e. Eduard Beaucamp at the Aktion „Hauptstrom“ at Darmstadt); the „rests“ oft he performances are today part of museums‘ collections (like the „Beuys-Block“ at Landesmuseum Darmstadt). Beaucamp classifies the parts of the Beuys-Block as works of the typus „Stillife“, which can be perceived in the correct way only be adding the authentic memory – only then the objects gain their meaning in the togetherness of item and performance. For other/later visitors the objects are something „different“, not necessarily „lower“ or „less“: without the fact being instrumentalised in an action that is related to time, they demonstrate a specific „postaktionistische Kunst- und Museumsverfassung“ (a post-actionistic art- and museums-status). The action had a length of 10 hours and repetative character, the artist himself was the protagonist of the performance. And it was again the artist to install the legendary „Beuys-Block“ at the museum in Darmstadt. Today the museum’s spaces have to be restaured. The discussion of the authentic restauration of the Beuys-works is now being extended from the the reliquiary-like objects to the wall-furnish of the exhibition spaces, to the floor-material and colour – and: to the copyright and intellectual property-discussion of the notorious Beuys-exegets. In a legendary law-sentence the Museum Schloss Moyland is deprived of the rights to show a suite of photographs of one of Beuys‘ performances, if not authorised (exclusivly) by the artist’s heir. So: the question of „restauration“ shifted from the materia-impact to immaterial issues and gets under an unpredictable influence which stood also at the beginning of performances: time.
Not only Fluxus- and Concept art movements demand a meta-strategy for collectors and conservators that guarantees their authentic presentation even without the aid and presence of the artist. Contemporary artists like Austrian born installation artist Martin Walde (*1957 Innsbruck) create their art works mostly right at the exhibiton space and dismantle them at the end of the show. The extremely ephemeral character of these works makes I nearly impossible, to keep works of such kind in a museum’s collection. Are artists like Walde and their works “musealised” by the sheer presentation in museum’s spaces?
The precarious task of collecting is confronting the museum’s staff and the “idea” of museum today with new challenges, that can partly be seen in a positive way, partly cause a number of big problems. A museum that does not want to be considered as an obsolete depot of old-fashioned objects and ideas must cope directly and simultaneously with new strategies in art production and art presentation, but never should give up the most important task: collecting.
© The Museal Turn
Sabine Coelsch-Foisner, Douglas Brown (Eds.)
Universitätsverlag Winter, Heidelberg, 2012.
The Crisis of Collecting: A Statement Regarding a Museum’s Precarious Task
S: 357 ff