Critics’ Picks

View of “Bitter Medicine #01,” 2020.

View of “Bitter Medicine #01,” 2020.

Belgrade

:mentalKLINIK

Museum of Contemporary Art Belgrade
Ušće 10
May 6th till the reopening of the museum

In January, Viktor Kiš, a sculptor and festival organizer with little museum experience, was installed by the Serbian prime minister as acting director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Belgrade (MoCAB). Although it might not allay local professionals’ concerns about favoritism and expertise, the first project under the new directorship—the ephemeral takeover of one of the museum’s spaces by the Turkish collective :mentalKLINIK—nonetheless serves as a choice metaphor for the hollowing out of public institutions laid bare by the Covid-19 crisis.

The site of this installation is likewise fraught. The former home of Yugoslav Partisan Rodoljub Čolaković, it bears the imprint of bourgeois rule, Communist  expropriation, and even the murder of a political assassin. A portion of the renovated 1930s villa, located in Belgrade’s most affluent neighborhood, is now occupied by “Bitter Medicine #01,” an immersive, single-work exhibition featuring six vacuum cleaner robots hoovering up the remains of violet glitter on the museum’s floor. The cleanup is being livestreamed 24/7 on MoCAB’s website, reminding us that all that glitters is not gold. The traces the Roombas leave behind accumulate in intersecting lines, indexing festivities long gone. If museum publics BC (before Covid-19) were the life of the party, these robots seem to augur a fourth industrial revolution in the aftermath, one where a nonhuman counterpublic feeds on the debris of a predatory art market. This robotic colonization, this extraction of shine from the shell of the institution, is a reminder that the bitter medicine itself, although presented as the therapeutic offering, should be read as a Derridean pharmakon: more poison than cure.