Authenticity of new media art and a vision of the museum of the future.
April 2, 2015
The very recent death of Michael Rush, the Founding Director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, prompts reflection on his paper regarding the “authenticity” of new media art and vision of the museum of the future.
(AAMD) Some say that museums are ever more essential in this as-if world due to their exhibition of “authentic” artworks; artworks not reproducible by mechanical means. Enlisting Walter Benjamin’s notion of the unique “aura” of the artwork, this argument goes, nothing can replace the original, hand worked painting. (It is usually paintings that are referred to in this regard although it’s been more than a century since art expanded beyond the canvas.) The problem with this approach is that the very notion of “authentic” is evolving in ways that are eluding many of us. The multi-platform, most often digitally based, activities mentioned above are very much experienced as “authentic” in today’s world. Providing “authentic” experiences to our visitors can no longer be confined to traditional objects, for these objects, as necessary as they are to our common cultural heritage, are merely a part of the actual and potential artistic experience (think of multi-screen video environments, sensuround art projects such as the artists collective rAndom International’s “Rain,” (at MoMA) or the recent crowd pleasing supernatural installation by Yayoi Kusama at New York’s Zwirner Gallery. Another issue raised by art events in the last decade is the ever expanding place of the commercial gallery, as opposed to the slower paced museum, in redefining the art experience).
To me the most burdensome block to imagining a museum of the future is our attachment to “place,” our buildings. What if our museum could be experienced at bus stops, airports, every day in schools, factories, on phones, video games, projected from satellites, in body implants, in operating rooms, and so on. I’m not talking about hanging pictures in these places. We need artists to create what has not been seen before. Tall order, certainly. The question here is one of an infinitely expanded notion of art: what it is and what it can be; how it is experienced and how it can be experienced. If Duchamp cracked open the history of art by exhibiting a urinal, a shovel, a peep show installation, we need, for our time, artists who can do the same for this new world of ours. This is not at all to suggest that we abandon our buildings, but we need to think beyond them.