Critics’ Picks

Group Material, Democracy, 1988, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Group Material, Democracy, 1988, mixed media, dimensions variable.


“To Expose, to Show, to Demonstrate, to Inform, to Offer”

mumok – Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien
Museumsplatz 1
October 10, 2015–February 14, 2016

Prompted by ongoing social upheavals—including the fall of the Iron Curtain, the advance of globalization, and the AIDS crisis—the artistic paradigm around the 1990s didn’t so much shift as it broke into many overlapping positions that required a nuanced understanding of context. Diverse practices such as activism, politics, and exhibition design were adopted as artistic endeavors. Instead of being a neutral shell to be filled with artworks, an exhibition became a complex medium itself—produced by specific social, political, and economic conditions.

Naturally, a historical exhibition on socially responsive practices poses a problem of misrepresentation. Curator Matthias Michalka addresses this challenge by giving equal prominence to documentation, artworks, reconstructions, and publications, weaving them together conceptually and spatially to provide a comprehensive picture of the period and its various scenes. Key exhibitions from the time—including 1988’s “Democracy” by Group Material or 1989’s “If You Lived Here . . .” by Martha Rosler, both of which were held at Dia Art Foundation in New York and altered the perception of what an exhibition could be by foregrounding audience participation—are represented alongside an archive documenting influential institutions that rethought the format of shows, such as Cologne’s Friesenwall 120, run by Stephan Dillemuth, Josef Strau, and others between 1990 and 1994. Moreover, Artfan from Vienna—created by Linda Bilda and Ariane Müller from 1991 to 1995—and other artists’ publications are presented in order to demonstrate the blurring of theory and production that was crucial to the practices in this show.

Emphasizing the loosely interconnected scenes of New York, Cologne, and Vienna, this display examines, with profound scholarship, what is perhaps the most important artistic legacy from the last three decades: the turn from art production to exhibition making.