EM: In your essay Art and politics: contradictions, disjunctives, possibilities published in Spain, at Brumaria, in 2007 you wrote:
we should think of centrifugal instead of centripetal museums, transformed from a space where “the world is shown” to an action in the world. Thus, instead of pulling art toward an auratic space, the museum could act where the artistic practice takes place. It would be a museum-as-hub, descentralized, in motion, disseminated everywhere; a dynamic entity that would simultaneously participate in a diversity of projects in different places.
Is this an institution we may see somewhere in a near future? Which curatorial practices could you comment on as examples that would be related to this descentralized institution?
GM: My idea of museum-as-hub, suggested in 2006, is a utopic proposition, which indicates a new viewpoint for museums and other art centers. It contrasts with the increasing corporatization of museums, and furthermore with the fever of construction and expansion of their buildings, as new cathedrals for tourism and city branding. The concept of hub proposes an ideal rhizomatic perspective, which in practice would have distinct possibilities and manifestations, and would be opposed to the hegemonic centralism of the museum. These institutions have historically evolved, following the dynamics of art, its methodological and morphological changes, its production, circulation and consumption. Museums have gone through two main states in their structure. They started as collections that would be shown publicly and permanently. Then the space and location gained greater importance. The space became not only a place, which housed and showed a collection, but the locus in which exhibitions and other events not necessarily related with the collection took place. Very soon they became the main character, and kunsthalles are now just a space in which art could be shown, or happen.
The role and content of the museum are open to debate. It seems as if the museum as an institution was having troubles responding to new problems generated by the wide cultural dynamics of these changing times. Perhaps the new situation is underpinning a third big turn in the practices of the museuma turn that would take it from the prevailing space-centric routine to other more dynamic effort, in which the museum would be a moving, descentralized activity, spread all over the world.
I have lived the utopia in Cuba, and I am very aware of how it could turn in its opposite. I wish the utopic character of the museum would work as a “concrete utopia”, in the way Ernst Bloch described it, unlike what he called “abstract utopia”, which is the result of illusion, willfulness, and imposition, and which is unable to interact with the actual worldBloch argued that by being the result of hope and desire as forces of change, concrete utopia can anticipate and build the future. He proclaimed that our images of the future are part of the construction of our actual future. But this only works if the concrete utopia acts as an agent that is able to activate potential presents in the reality, and not to impose a unidirectional Messianism. Furthermore: concrete utopia should be a partial utopia. It has to get away from the obsession of changer la vie, which drives utopia to totalitarian unrealism. Concrete utopia should also be a utopia in movement, which changes in response to the new times and situations and contributes to these permutations.
The only –even though limited– concrete project inspired by this idea that I know of is the transformation of the department of education at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York into a Museum-as-Hub. The fifth floor of the Museum’s building, called The Hub, is an international network of relationships and at the same time a physical place, conceived as a social flexible space It is designed in order to engage the public through multimedia, exhibition areas, projections, symposiums, events and a website. It also conducts work together with other institutions in Latin America, Asia and Europe. A centrifugal dynamic from the museum towards the world has at least been achieved. It is also a model which breaks the dependency of the departments of education from the curatorial ones, and creates an autonomous entity with a multiple program.
There is a problem with the idea of the museumashub, and it is that it could be seen as an interference of hegemonic institutions in peripheral artistic practices that are involved in their contexts. This would expand in a qualitatively superior way the “autonomatization” of art from its social medium, and it is what Douglas Crimp has criticized to the museum. Indeed, there is an implicit ambivalence in the idea of the Museum-as-Hub, but the proposed decentralized system could also operate the other way around. It could enhance and expand the initiative and action of the new artistic subjects both in their contexts –in which they frequently work in precarious conditions and sometimes even suffer repression– and in today’s internationalized world, by making good use of the advantages that online work could offer. The museum as hub could also work in all directions, in tandem with the diversification of international art circulation nowadays, and not only in a vertical direction, coming out of the hegemonic centers.
EM: I frequently quote Adorno, when he wrote: “What is social in art is its intrinsic movement against society.” I would say the excessive specialization of contemporary art has to do with this movement against society referred by Adorno. Wouldn’t there be a group of languages, procedures and discourses, which are resistant to any big-scale tentative of socialization? On the other hand, certain artistic media, appear to be less appropriate to carry on these types of projects. Not to mention that, in order to survive, contemporary art seems to be continuously condemned to affirm its differences in front of the media images that overtake ordinary life. These have demonstrated to have a remarkable ability to assimilate emerging artistic forms and methodologies. In your opinion, which practices or artistic media would be more suitable for the creation of artworks that could participate more actively in society?
GM: As you well say, difficulties reign when it comes to of expanding the social scope of art. Besides the ones you just mentioned, there is also art’s willingness to conserve its aura, its intrinsic character, its functions, and above all, its aspiration to legitimize itself in art-specific circuits. All these seem valid to me, but as Peter Bürger noted, the problem is not that the autonomous status precludes the political attitude of artists, but that it restricts “the possibility of its effect.” I have already referred to these issues in my answer to your first question.
Nevertheless, I believe contemporary art has the potential to do more than what it is doing now when it comes to its participation in society, although there are efforts, which seem to be on the increase. As curator, I am particularly interested in ephemeral urban art, which takes advantage of the aesthetic, communicative, cognitive and emotional capacities of art in an attempt for a wider and more active social communication. The formal and conceptual freedom of art, as well as its freedom of action –the “everything could be art”– could propitiate its inclination toward the so necessary wider social communication. More than the production of objects, artistic interventions that take place in areas outside the art circuit can be effective. These can actively incorporate the site, with its forms and contents, in the construction of artistic messages and experiences that discuss issues of interest to people who are related to those places. Such interventions can be of very diverse nature: performances, images, moving images, and architectural reconfigurations… There is also the vast universe opened by internet and digital communications that, of course, art is still far from leverage in all their scope.
EM: From 2011 till 2013 you were working as curator for PHotoEspaña. How have you used these annual events in order to implement notions such as “museum- as –hub” or “secant areas of communication” from media such as photography?
GM: I did the artistic direction of PHotoEspaña 2011, 2012 and 2013, since the rule is that the chosen curatorperforms this work for a fixed period of three years. PHE is probably the largest photography festival in the world. This event is a constellation of exhibitions, publications, conferences, workshops, portfolio viewing, educational programs and much more. Up to the moment it has had 16 editions and is well installed in Madrid to the point that people expect photography events in June. Attendance is extraordinary for the small city the capital of Spain is. PHE 2011, the first edition I organized, reached a record of 778,000 visitors.This means that it is not a festival for specialists, but in virtue of its own scale, it targets a wider audience.
This was very clear to me from the beginning. It conditioned my strategy, guided by the idea of the secant spaces. I tried to offer shows and other activities which were user friendlythat could be attractive to a wide audience and communicate with it without losing the artistic rigor or its interest for amateurs and specialists. Another direction was to include “non artistic” video and photography in artistic contexts, and to open PHE to the scope of the web for the first time For instance, there was an open contest of portraits made with webcam. Obviously, PHE is not a museum, but I tried to apply some of the spirit of the museum-as-hub by expanding the international character of the festival, especially toward regions with great artistic energy, which had previously been underserved. I also put in practice what I call “curators’ curatorship” meaning asking colleagues to propose their own projects inside the thematic frame of PHE, instead of giving them specific assignments. I introduced a more decentralized concept of the curatorial work that paved the way for getting to know straight out, from the very local voices, the visions and contents of specialists from places which were not that familiar. In truth, the shows and other activities were well received by people. One of the favorable indicators was the increase in public –the previous record, achieved in 2007 with a much larger budget, were 600,000 visitors.