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June 30th, 2009 by Charles Esche

L’Internationale is a new, long-term collaboration between four European museums and archives. The intention of this transinstitutional organisation is to use the collections and archives of the various organisations collectively to challenge the usual (centralising) master narratives of art and investigate local to local comparisons and differences. In place of the global, hegemonic ambitions of the largest contemporary art institutions, L’internationale proposes collaboration between museums, each with its specific collection focus and history, as a way to instigate transnational, cultural narratives in plural.

The founding partners of L’Internationale are: Moderna galerija, Ljubljana;  MACBA, Barcelona; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven and  Július Koller Archive, Bratislava. Each institution has shown through previous projects that they are repeatedly concerned to negotiate different forms of local knowledge and experience with the central art historical narrative written in one or two western political/economic capitals. This initiative will enable us more effectively to connect our own stories together in new rhizomatic ways and to reconsider internationalism and translocalism as more sensitive measures of art and its relation to society.


Paris, Madrid and Istanbul, from “elles” to Former West to Sweet Sixties

June 29th, 2009 by Charles Esche

Just returned from a small marathon of meetings and museum visits to see some permanent collections. First up was Daniel Buren to discuss his wonderful project where the museum guards wear striped waistcoats as uniforms. We are talking to Daniel about trying to reconstruct the piece that was first shown in VAM in Rudi Fuchs’ time and also to bring it finally into the collection, more about which soon. The second visit was to Centre Pompidou in Paris where they have turned part of their collection floors into a presentation of work by women artists. Drawn from the collection, the exhibition “elles” brings together exclusively female artists from the 1930s until today. While the premise of the exhibition is pretty lame, the first half of the display is thoughtful and interesting. The collection is divided according to thematic resonances between the works and more of less each room has its own thematic subject, surprisingly like our Plug Ins. Themes include “genital panic” with Schneemann and Valie Export a.o. and “artists and activism” with Guerilla Girls, Orhan and Sanja Ivekovic a.o.. There are also short archival interludes, which could have been stronger but made the point that the work needs a broader context. In fact, if you forgot about the exclusive gender of the show, this first part of “Elles” presents a plausible account of art’s relationship to social and political change over the last 40-50 years.


A few thoughts after venice

June 8th, 2009 by Charles Esche

Returning today to Eindhoven, I chanced upon Yuko Hasagawa from Tokyo and Victoria Lu from Shanghai MoCA in the airport. We got talking and Victoria spoke about a plan to work in public spaces across west China. She spoke about her “dream” of constructing contemporary cultural systems in the west of the country, about how the prime minister had approved the project and now came the tricky task of working out what that approval really meant and whether she could stay in charge.


More ljubljana

May 10th, 2009 by Charles Esche

So, a little more on the conference. It was 1,5 days of discussion about modern and contemporary art museums and their future policies. It included participants from three major state museums in western Europe, akmist the full range of post-YU states institutions (Montenegro and Kosova were missing) and contributions from European and Brazilian institutions that have a less universalist agenda than the Tate or Beaubourg.

It was also organized partly as a forum for thinking about the opening of the new Moderna Galerija and it’s planned sister institution, the new museum of contemporary art at Metelkova, a former barracks area in central Ljubljana where important shows have already been held.


After ljubljana

May 10th, 2009 by Charles Esche

Four of us – Christiane, Dianne, Steven and I have been at the Next Step conference organized by Moderna Galerija in Ljubljana throughout the weekend. It was an excellent, revealing and fascinating conference. I hope there will be much said about the content of the sessions by us all in the future, but sitting in the airport on the way home wanted to record one statement by Sheena Wagstaff from the Tate Modern London. She said, in answer to a question that “the Tate’s turbine hall is a non-ideological space’ maybe she misspoke, but the thinking to allow such a speech act is quite remarkable.

Obama and civic Detroit

January 25th, 2009 by Charles Esche

As a north-western European, there seems an obvious failure of political leadership at the civic level, with little thought in city hall as to how Detroit might be reimagined if it is not a car producing factory town. It makes one more content with economic initiatives like Brainport in Eindhoven or civic cultural ambitions in other European cities that are steered by democratic local government. Here landlords and private investors seem ridculously short termist, if art as a regeneration tool is mnetioned it is in terms of artists themselves providing the payback directly , not investing in a longer term process of tramsformation through gentrification etc. The artist initiative 555 for instance is being thrown out of their building before any glimmer of improvement to the economic conditions. Instead, their literal investment in the building in terms of cleaning and structural improvements will perhaps squeeze out a tiny profit for the shortsighted landlord. While I am very dubious of the critical value of the longer-term, planned economic instrumentalisation of art, at least it offers space and resources for artists to produce their own critical frames in the meantime – which is often enough to produce some excellent new work. It is also odd that this imaginative civic vacuum is happening at a time when there is certainly a new sense of political agency coming from the Obama government, combined with its apparant desire to remake the democratic context by speaking directly to constituencies and demanding an emotional change in social relations and senses of mutual responsibility. It is beginning to be inspiring to be in the USA again. Early days…but oh so much better than the last 20 years of end of history, triangulation, war on terror and all the rest of the crap excuses for exploitation.

Detroit and Support

January 25th, 2009 by Charles Esche

In Detroit, or more precisely Hamtramck a city state within the larger conurbation. The last two days were spent thinking around and about the idea of buying a property or investing in some appropriate way in the art systems of this city. What strikes almost everyone who comes here immediately is the unmitigated potential of the infrastructure in this place. Driving or walking round its unoccupied houses and factories, almost forces the words “but you could do so much here!” our of your month before you can stop yourself….yet stop yourself you should because, though true, it is a reaction that leaves so much unsaid and ununderstood. For while the civic authorities have been in some kind of crisis for years, people here have got used to living “off-the-grid” in ways that are smart and sustainable over time. As they say, money fled long ago so the new recession of 2008-11 is unlikely to have much effect. While residents of the Detroit suburbs might be panicking and foreclosures and empty properties rises to unheard of levels, they are still some way behind the city core itself. Hamtramck’s small-scale retail and production capitalism is already much closer to what I have experienced in Alexandria or Istanbul than to the chain store monoliths in most of the rest of the USA. It doesn’t work that well in terms of shareholder value and rising profitability – but it works enough to allow people to live without always being confronted with their own inadequate purchasing power, as is the case in poor communities in much of the USA.


On the road to Alexandria

December 12th, 2008 by Charles Esche

Two photos from the journey by car to Alexandrian Contemporary Art Forum (ACAF) where the meetings will take place. See

Cairo vliegveld

December 11th, 2008 by Charles Esche

Why we have to ask questions and keep annoying people

December 11th, 2008 by Charles Esche

Nice (edited) quote from Brian Holmes:

“What we really need is to spend a lot more time asking each other whether our cultural fictions – our architecture and images, our hierarchies and ambitions and ideas and narratives – are any good for us, whether they can be used in an interesting way, and what kind of subjectivity they produce what kind of society they elicit. To do that effectively, we also need to invent new fictions. Only by imagining different possible realities can we engage in the deconstruction and reconstruction of the complex machines that configure ourselves and our society and make them work in the specific ways they do.

Art can offer a chance to society to reflect together on the imaginary figures it depends upon for it’s very consistency, it’s self-understanding. But this is exactly where our societies are failing, and failing miserably, as a result of the way artistic invention and display has been instituted as a central economic function over the last twenty years”

There is lots more from the book “unleashing the collective phantoms” that is a lot about museums and there possible role. He is also very interesting on the need for a new understanding of autonomy but I think this quote says most about why we have to push our audience to bear what they don’t want. We have another kind of responsibility because we are concerned with the imagination.

I have the book and will be happy to share more of it….

Van Abbemuseum