Recent Articles
Alberto González Vivo talks about his art
Meet the Artist
Alberto González Vivo – 'I think if the work has the desired effect on me, it will have that effect on others'
5 things to look out for in the Celeste Dupuy-Spencer edition
Close Look
5 things to look out for in the Celeste Dupuy-Spencer edition
Lindsay August-Salazar on her inspirations, influences and ideals
Meet the Artist
Lindsay August-Salazar – “Art has the capacity to expand my deeper drive and interest in human expression'
Colleen Blackard - 'I want to build worlds to share'
Artist to Watch
Colleen Blackard - 'From an early age I found it easier to communicate with gestures and pictures than with words'
Bepi Ghiotti on his photographs of rivers and mountains
Meet the Artist
Bepi Ghiotti - 'An artwork is never still although what it represents might seem like it is'
Catherine Opie tells us how she got this amazing shot
Q&A
Catherine Opie tells us how she shot this powerful photograph at the first ever women's march
Meet the Artist
Rey Zorro - 'When we went on holiday we’d put chairs on the beach to look for UFOs in the night sky. This was normal at home; we never spoke about it as being ‘out of this world’
Meet the people behind Assembly
Meet the Dealer
Meet the people behind Assembly - a new kind of gallery
The Artspace Art for Life Interview with Adam Clayton
How I Collect
The Artspace Art for Life Interview with Adam Clayton
Celeste Dupuy-Spencer on her new Artspace edition
Artist to Watch
'I was really trying to paint what it feels like to be living in the fall of human civilization' - Celeste Dupuy-Spencer on her powerful new Artspace edition
William Eric Brown on the latest Artspace auction
Meet the Artist
‘I’m most comfortable in that state of unknowing - is it real or imagined?’ - William Eric Brown
TM Davy on his benefit auction contribution
Meet the Artist
'Unhappy and happy flow back and forth like a tide making art. I’m working to be OK with that' – TM Davy
Anthony Goicolea on his new Artspace Edition
Meet the Artist
'I am most inspired by those weird transitional moments or in-between states where things undergo metamorphosis' - Anthony Goicolea
Jerry The Marble Faun on the latest Artspace Auction
Meet the Artist
‘It takes a lot of energy to tap into whatever is trapped inside the material - the process is like a releasing a spirit’ – Jerry The Marble Faun
Garrett Chingery on the latest Artspace auction
Meet the Artist
‘My interests include the relationship of one’s self to the world, surrealism and mystery’ - Garrett Chingery

The Phaidon Folio

Artists Don’t Get Mad at Museums, They Get Even: How to Understand Institutional Critique

By

Artists Don’t Get Mad at Museums, They Get Even: How to Understand Institutional Critique
Andrea Fraser's Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk (1989), one of the seminal works of Institutional Critique © Andrea Fraser

If we've learned anything in the last month, it's that our once resolute institutions—from Congress and the electoral process to our favorite museums—are under fire from the marginalized groups who feel left out. These concerns and protests are nothing new, of course; art world outsiders and enfant terribles like the Guerrilla Girls and their irreverent posters, the anti-art of Dada, or Warhol’s “Oxidation” paintings have long waged war with performance, protest, and art to challenge and change the otherwise impenetrable establishment. Now, newer efforts like Occupy Museums In this short excerpt from Phaidon's Art in Time, we look back at the historical roots of the best-known movement, Institutional Critique.

 

By 1969 opposition in the United States to the American-led war in Vietnam was escalating, and artists were becoming increasingly involved in antiwar protests. One afternoon, four members of the recently formed art collective the Guerrilla Art Action Group staged an action in the entrance lobby of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Their ambition was to undermine the widely held belief that the institutions of art were aloof from politics, and they realized this by performing in the museum itself. Blood, concealed in bags beneath their clothes, made the performance more dramatic. There is nothing new about artists adopting overt political agendas, but this protest was distinctive for its ambition to make art politically useful by criticizing the institutions of art—and this is the meaning of Institutional Critique. A leaflet accompanying their protest called for the resignation of the Rockefeller family from the museum’s Board of Trustees because of their alleged business involvement in the manufacture of weapons destined for Vietnam.

 

Image 0Guerilla Art Action Group, a stylized enactment of military-induced violence, 1969

 

Institutional Critique draws attention to the social and cultural conditions that frame the presentation of art. These circumstances became increasingly apparent in 1971, when the New York Guggenheim Museum controversially censored two artists on separate occasions. The first concerned Hans Haacke (b. 1936), whose retrospective was about to open when the director insisted that two artworks be removed, on the grounds that they were overtly journalistic and political. These works used publicly available data to chart the business dealings of local slum landlords. When Haacke refused to comply, the exhibition was cancelled. The ensuing controversy highlighted the issue of who is entitled to determine what counts as art or politics. 

 

haackeHans Haacke, Censored Works, 1971

 

Later that year, Daniel Buren (b. 1938) was obliged to withdraw from the Sixth Guggenheim International Exhibition when other contributing artists complained that his large striped banner interfered with the display of their work. Buren’s intention was to undermine the assumption that museums offered neutral viewing conditions: his goal was to expose museums as ideological constructs. 

 

burenDaniel Buren, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

 

Over the years, Institutional Critique has interrogated the many ways in which “site” can determine art’s meaning. Michael Asher (1943–2012) explored this in 1979 by moving a bronze replica of Jean-Antoine Houdon’s George Washington from its prominent position outside the Art Institute of Chicago to an eighteenth-century display room inside the museum. The simple relocation transformed the statue of America’s Founding Father into merely a period sculpture. 

 

AsherMichael Asher, Jean Antoine Houden's George Washinton, 1979

 

Artists have exposed how the site where artwork is displayed is more than a matter of position, and that it is underpinned by profound ideological assumptions. In 1973, the American feminist artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles (b. 1939) made a performance piece that involved cleaning the public spaces of the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut, a gesture that highlighted the hidden labour that maintains the institutional display of art. In 1992, the African-American artist Fred Wilson (b. 1954) curated an exhibition at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore that revealed the racial and class prejudices reflected by the museum’s holdings. In one display, ambiguously labelled Metalwork 1793–1880, he presented slave manacles alongside luxury silverware, thus radically questioning the histories that museums choose to narrate. 

 

wilsonFred Wilson, Metalwork 1793-1880, 1992 

DISCOVER

a treasure trove of fine art from the world's most renowned artists, galleries, museums and cultural institutions. We offer exclusive works you can't find anywhere else.

LEARN

through exclusive content featuring art news, collecting guides, and interviews with artists, dealers, collectors, curators and influencers.

BUY

authentic artworks from across the globe. Collecting with us means you're helping to sustain creative culture and supporting organizations that are making the world a better place.

CONNECT

with our art advisors for buying advice or to help you find the art that's perfect for you. We have the resources to find works that suit your needs.

INSIDER ACCESS TO THE WORLD'S BEST ART

Artspace offers you authentic, exclusive works from world-renowned artists, galleries, museums and cultural institutions. Collecting with us helps support creative culture while bringing you art news, interviews and access to global art resources.

  • COLLECT FROM 300+ GALLERIES & MUSEUMS