Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: Institutions of Art
This course will focus on writing by artists, critics, art historians, and theorists about the meaning and function of the museum from its first public manifestations in the 18th century to recent debates about the form and function of the museum in contemporary society. Central to our course will be a close examination of the history and development of institutional critique, which began in the 1960s with artists severely questioning the ways and means of art’s institutions (from the market to the museum) as well as the art object’s own conventions (authenticity, originality, authorship, and uniqueness). Institutional critique soon exposed and interrogated the underlying power structures and biases of gender, class, and race that had been normalized in many of art’s institutions.
We will also consider the institutions of art in contemporary life, including the modern art museum and its permanent collection; the rise of the curator and the curatorial; and the indisputable success of contemporary art and its institutions, which include the institutes and museums of contemporary art, the hundreds of international biennials of contemporary art, the international art fairs of new art for sale, and the growth of participatory art or social sculpture. Some of our questions will be: What is the role of the museum today? What do we want our museums to be? Why is it necessary to protect and nurture public space? Is the museum still a public good? What are the most successful models of museums today, and why? According to what criteria? How has institutional critique transformed over the past few decades, and what shape does it take today? Artists and writers to be our guides as we explore these topics may include Hans Haacke, Michael Asher, Robert Smithson, Martha Rosler, Andrea Fraser, Group Material, Paul Chan, Hito Steyerl, Anton Vidokle, Charles Esche, and Manuel Borja-Villel. We will read a selection of texts, ranging from scholarly essays to art criticism, and will learn to practice more effective visual analysis through class discussion and writing assignments.