Institutional Critique to Institutional Insertion
From Burn it Down to Build it Up: A Brief History of Institutional Critique
What is Institutional Critique?
Artistic practices that reveled the conditions of production, distribution and consumption of art, and the political and economic affiliations behind the operations of the art world, are labeled as Institutional Critique. There has been two recognized periods of institutional critique canonization in art history.(Raunig)
During the late 1960‘s and early 1970‘s, the first group of artist (including Michael Asher, Robert Smithson, Daniel Buren, Hans Haacke, Marcel Broodthaers) sought to oppose, subvert or break free from the rigid institutional conventions. They aimed to expose the less then ethical connection between museum, the art world and commerce. Be it the Guggenheim Museum or Philip Morris, revealing the entangled relationships between cultural production and the corporate institution was the crux and crucible for artists such as Haacke and Buren during this time. Despite their intention for revolution, institutional critique, through it’s affiliation with museums and galleries and their obvious association with all they meant to criticize, quickly subsumed under their own “institutionalization.” (Black)
The fact that conceptual art was marketed as commodity from the moment of inception has, until recently, been largely overlooked in the conversation. Seth Siegelaub, a famous art dealer known as one of the first to brand and promote the neo-avant garde in New York, drafted a brochure to prospective corporate collectors in 1967. In it, he touted the “marketability” of the corporate world’s partnership with culture. But we would hardly call Siegelaub’s “advertising prospectus” shocking today. Corporate sponsorship has become ubiquitous in the new millennium. Today images of revolution and tactics of subversion are utilized by global brands and marketed back to us as impotent gestures. (Art21)
The second wave (included artist like Renee Green, Christian Philipp Müller, Fred Wilson, Andrea Fraser and Mark Dion) developed during the late 1980s and 90s. This ‘second generation’ of protagonists added a growing awareness of the forms of subjectivity, and the methods of its formation, to the conversation of their predecessors. No longer was the dialogue of institutional critique corralled into a discussion of economics and politics, but was opened up to a broader discussions about authority in aesthetics and culture and the subjectivity of narrative. They also began to take this examination of the institute and its narrative outside of the museum and the world of art. (Raunig)
All told, the greatest flaw in institutional critique as shaped by this first wave was its failure to move beyond just exposing questionable and unethical practices in favor of effecting real change. Artist-activists certainly took up this mantle a decade later, as did a generation of artists who began to move beyond the museum frame to explore other sites of information. (Art21)
Mark Dion sums up these differences between the two movements and begins to points us towards the possible future of Institutional Critique, a new genre becoming recognized as Institutional Insertion.
“As I see it, artists doing institutional critiques of museums tend to fall into two different camps. There are those who see the museum as an irredeemable reservoir of class ideology – the very notion of the museum is corrupt to them. Then there are those who are critical of the museum not because they want to blow it up but because they want to make it a more interesting and effective
cultural institution.” Mark Dion 1997 (Endt)
What is this desire our society has for factual authority?
How real is the authority we rely on?
Why must everything be provable in order to be valued?
Museumism- The Cul-De-Sac of Institutional Critique- by André Black