New York

New York

“The Museum as Muse: Artists Reflect”

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
March 11–June 1, 1999

Curated by Kynaston McShine

The birth of the museum in the late eighteenth century dramatically restructured the relation among artists, the public, and the exhibition of work; in this ambitious show, Kynaston McShine, senior curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, attempts an overview of the ramifications as reflected in the various, often ambivalent responses of twentieth-century artists to the institutions that house their efforts. “The Museum as Muse” is also something of a swan song for McShine, who is nearing retirement. A major curatorial force since the mid-’60s, his credits include several epochal exhibitions: “Primary Structures,” the groundbreaking 1966 survey of Minimalism; “Information,” the first comprehensive American exhibition of Conceptual art; and the 1987 Andy Warhol retrospective at MoMA. With “The Museum as Muse,” McShine once again stakes out decisive territory. Implicit in his conceit is the claim that the conversation between art and its institutions cuts a wide swath through the art of this century, gathering force in the work of recent decades.

The exhibition is divided into five sections: “The Museum in Use,” “The Personal Museum,” “Natural History and Ethnography,” “The Museum Transformed,” and “Museum Politics.” “The Museum in Use” opens the show with a range of photographers—from Gary Winogrand and Larry Fink to Thomas Struth and Candida Höfer—documenting the various purposes museums serve for their publics. “The Personal Museum” addresses itself to those artists who have assembled their own, quasi-museological collections. McShine will include all seven editions of Marcel Duchamp’s Boîtes-en-valise, as well as the greater part of Joseph Cornell’s 1946 exhibition, “The Romantic Museum: Portraits of Women.” Departing from the art museum per se, “Natural History and Ethnography” turns its attention to other taxonomically inclined institutions, and includes works by Christopher Williams, Susan Hiller, and Lothar Baumgarten. Mark Dion is creating a special installation for the show, a contemporary “cabinet of curiosities” modeled on Aristotle’s theories of the natural world. In “The Museum Transformed,” one senses a nascent hostility or at least disrespect for the institution. The section includes the eighteenth-century painter Hubert Robert’s depictions of the Louvre as it appeared in his day and a proleptic vision of the edifice in ruin. Robert’s ruminations are updated by contemporaries Edward Ruscha (the Pasadena in flames) and Komar and Melamid (the Guggenheim demolished).

The most provocative section of the show may prove to be “Museum Politics,” as it takes up the thorny issues that come under the rubric of institutional critique. As the mandarin, if by now embattled, purveyor of official modernism, MoMA provides a nicely overdetermined backdrop for the interventions assembled in this section. Indeed, it could be argued that the very premise of the exhibition subsumes this typically antagonistic approach. McShine demurs: “This is a broad overview. There’s no underlying polemic.”