If 2017 was a year of important changes for MAMCO in all its departments, the year marked above all the emergence of a new programming system. In fact, we re-defined one of the museum’s specificities: its capacity to present itself as a “total exhibition.” We examined the feed- back between expressivity and figuration between the 1970s and today (with the exhibition Zeitgeist); the circulation of images and their “corporeality,” or else the artistic strategies that lead images to become the liquid, informational surface that they have been since the early 2000s (through the Kelley Walker retrospective); and the role of narrative in the visual arts (around the William Leavitt retrospective). What we tried to devise here is a form of historical syntax applied to all forms of presentations in museums; thus, also postulating the museum as a laboratory for the collective re-writing of the short period that separates us from the 1960s.
In 2018, we not only extended this methodological practice, but we broadened its temporal and geographical reach. With Die Welt als Labyrinth, a project exploring the crossroads between Letterism and the Situationist International, alongside such figures as Ralph Rumney, Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio, and Jacqueline de Jong, we wanted to provide a different mapping of European art after the Second World War. For, within this constellation of artistic groups, a real invention of forms and gestures happened (the creation of situations, the notions of dérive and détournement) which resonate in today’s art world with utter relevance.
In the same way, by tracing back the “Pattern & Decoration” movement of the 1970-1980s, we are exploring the historiography of contemporary practices, such as the one of Mai-Thu Perret, to whom we also dedicate an exhibition. For the movement in question invites to re-evaluate the decorative dimension obscured by modernism, to revalorize craft techniques, and to examine its relationship with feminism. Finally, with Rasheed Araeen retrospective, we have inaugurated a first phase of our examination of the internationalization of the exhibited corpus in the museum as well as the emergence of a world art history. Araeen, a precursor of the politics of cultural diversity that presides nowadays in the museum world, wrote in 1989: “This history is exceptional. It has never been told before. This is not because no one was capable of doing so; it is just that it existed only in fragments, with each fragment affirming its own existence, separate from the context of collective history. It is the story of men and women who have braved their ‘otherness’ to burst into the modern space which was forbidden to them, so as to stand up not only for their historical claims over this space, but also to raise questions about the framework that defined its borders and protected it.” By programming, in this way, a sequence that examines this emergence, we are attempting, by exposing ourselves to its forms, to construct other conceptual tools, other aesthetic categories, other narratives of the short period under examination.
Contemporary art is currently benefitting from a great visibility, as its presence in the media and its touristic impact, the development of mega-galleries, and the increasing number of private foundations can all testify. But this attractiveness also forces public institutions that are committed to presenting it to face up a crisis. Some of the greatest of them are now organized along the lines of how the cultural industry is run, with a succession of crowd-pullers and turnstile evaluations; others seek out their salvation from architectural developments created by “starchitects”; finally, the smallest of them often become overly provincial by attempting to pick up the crumbs from the programs and publics of their larger counterparts. Abandoning history for an event rationale, making heroes of individual figures (with a portrait of them generally adorning the entrance of each exhibition), replacing artistic terminology by general categories, and clearly favouring what has already been mediatized, museums are increasingly organized according to principles which marketing departments in the leisure industry would not disown...
Since its foundation, MAMCO has looked for an alternative to this evolution, which turns visitors into consumers rush- ing from one attraction to another. In the desire to preserve the role of an “history maker” which museums used to claim, it attempts to provide a narrative, extended over a fairly short period (from the 1960s to now), so as to give back an historical syntax to the works it presents. For each sequence, there is a corresponding issue or theoretical question which the museum,
as a laboratory for the collective writing of history, aims to explore and then reveal to the public the current state of its research. It thus conjoins the presentation of its collection with the organization of temporary exhibitions which are renewed three times a year, in a way that makes all the floors react, in order to project the museum as a “global exhibition”—a unity which is greater than the sum of its parts. Finally, the bringing together of “artists’ spaces” on the fourth floor not only provides a view of the singularity of its collections, turning protocol, score, and collaboration with an artist into nodal points in its policy, but it also opens the way for ephemeral, performative, and live forms to find a place amid what can seem the most stable.
It was therefore necessary to find an appropriate format to communicate the museum’s activities: this publication, which replaces our invitation cards and other forms of communication lacking in any real content, aims at presenting the topics we have selected through the year, the concepts that were elaborated during the preparation of the exhibitions, and the results that have (or have not) been presented to the public. This initial issue of a twice-yearly publication is intended to evolve in the future, adjusting its relation with the public it addresses, seen just as much as readers as visitors, or, in other words, as individuals who will interpret an offer that we hope will be as complex as it is enriching.