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1st Day The Autonomy Project Symposium

October 8th, 2011 by Steven ten Thije

Yesterday the Van Abbemuseum was proud to host the first of the three day symposium organized by The Autonomy Project. With lectures of Peter Osborne, Ruth Sonderegger, Gerald Raunig, Maria Gough and Tania Bruguera. In the afternoon we also gathered in the studio for a large debate on the current state of the arts in the Netherlands. For this associate professor Kees Vuyk joined us and artist Jack Segbars, who is a member of ‘Platform Beeldende Kunst’ (Platform for the Visual Arts), which played a central role in the protests of last summer. Parallel a master class took place with Tania Bruguera.

The content was too rich to summarize poignantly. From Adornean dialectics, via a collective thinking, to a historical overview of the relation between art and society in the Dutch context, to a poetic account of global protest today, to early avant-garde Sovjet art collectives, to useful art; it all came by and formed a rainbow of voices that together addressed that one precarious and complicate term – autonomy.

Today Rancière himself will speak, together with Thomas Hirschhorn, Isabell Lorey and Adrian Martin. Workshops in the afteronoon. The lectures will be web-cast, if the Internet doesn’t fail us.

So please join us, any way you can.



Autonomy as beginning – some thoughts on contemporary global art

January 12th, 2011 by Steven ten Thije

Last Sunday DAI-students met with Galit Eilat to discuss the exhibition ‘The Politics of Collecting, the Collecting of Politics’, which she curated for the third chapter of the four chapter program Play Van Abbe, and the work of Arthur Zmijewski. The session was organized and structured by Jeroen Marttin and Sander Uitdehaag, who aimed at a ‘real’ dialogue. And with ‘real’ they meant not an exchange of previously defined positions, but the precarious, fragmented and tentative act of thinking together out loud.

Within this open dialogical format especially two points struck me. First was Galit’s suggestion that artists in the former East or Middle East are often using methods of archiving in their work. To Galit these strategies used by artists like Akram Zaatari, Lia Perjovschi, Zofia Kulik or Michal Heimann, resonate with a life in a region in which institutions are either absent or dubious. The political instability as result of the ruptured past challenge artists to not just add to an existing narrative, or work to an already given space (the museum, gallery, etc.), but to take responsibility for the structure itself and produce not just ‘a’ work, but a system that can organize the tense reality of today and its past.

The second point was a sense of discomfort of the students to associate with a political side when Galit asked them to do so. Almost nobody, myself included, presented themselves as straight forward leftish or rightwing. The stability of the local social-political climate in the Netherlands and neighbouring countries seemed to lead to a kind of reluctance to embrace explicitly an already available group identity, in this case of a political side. It seemed as if the organized nature of this geographic region produces its own kind of hesitance to associate fully with the present, collective structuring mechanism by for instancing coming out as left or right. One could perhaps suggest that in this the art students working here share a similar position to those archiving artist from the East as both are sensitive for any system that might swallowthem up, but this feels like a false analogy.

At the moment it cannot be more than a speculation, but in a somewhat crude division it seems that within the conflicted region of the East there is a sense that there is or should be a ‘right-side’, but it is only extremely unclear who is actually representing that side and what kind of political activity belongs to it. Whereas in the old West there is suffocating confusion about any sense of side leaving people only with a highly personal and specific idea of doing ‘good’ things that would matter for ones own direct environment. In this both sides are comprised out of a mixture of macro-political assessment and micro-political activity, but only in a quite different composition.

The climate in the old West seems to stimulate artists to neither subscribe to or instigate a new movement, but invites a careful mapping of ones own life and how it is permeated by vast variety of politics, economics and technologies. Macropolitical assessments are not a horizon to pursue but are lifelines between diverse communities. These assessments are not valued as horizon to maybe one day realize, but are only of use to the extent that they produce an actual change in specific lives. In other words, there is no belief in nor wish for utopian dreams of communists or other making, but an attention for the ways in which certain theoretical or practical habits structure daily life. The endless chain of institutes and structures that organize life are asked to be made visible in the specific lives of individuals, be they the artists him- or herself or another subject.

In the unstable and charged climate of the current East this kind of personalized working arena is difficult to subscribe to and feels far too passive, since the wish for radical change might seem utopian, but is still the only option that makes any sense. Here macro-political forces are identified as creating the mess the region is in, but nevertheless need to be mobilized if any change is to occur. Only the vehicle for this change cannot be found in the present formal institutes. The institutes, who in the West so kindly and silently marinate the community in the political ideologies with which they were once erected, in the East seem hopelessly unfit to instigate change. Here one has to build up analysis and discourse oneself in the accidental empty sites left open by the squeaking political structures. Using an almost guerrilla tactic of flexibility, small scale and speed, invites one to operate on a micropolitical level, where one can work delicately with marco-political ideas in one of the few environments that do not seem utterly corrupted.

Returning to the central topic of this course – autonomy – one can note that in both domains traces of this almost antique notion of art in modernity are manifest. Both the archivers from the East and the geographers of intimate lives in the West use the openness of autonomy as strategic vehicle to create a space where one can either insert an idea or observation, or mark how certain ideas or observations are inserted without it being obvious. Here there also does seem to be a certain commonality in the two working methods, since both sides use autonomy as a type of wedge to wiggle open some space that is necessary to come to terms with the world in which one is immersed.

But this situation does mark a departure from an older notion of autonomy that has to perish – on both sides – to make place for this strategic autonomy. In their use of autonomy, the (old, but established) idea disappears that autonomy is the hallmark of some universal strand of life, impossible to express, only manifested in art. The consequences of this can be found most explicitly in the type of reception that makes sense around these new works. These works or projects do not seek a public that comes to assess the aesthetic ‘rightness’ of the work or gesture. The old metaphysical discourse and practice around art that makes it a privileged site to experience some extremely convoluted and difficult describe resolution of the ultimate modern contradiction between subject and object, no longer is appropriate here. Perhaps one could state that the new art doesn’t inspire anymore a deep sensation of aesthetic accuracy and tension that was the last umbilical cord to the ‘sublime’ or a spiritualized sense of the ‘Other’. That type of art that understood autonomy to be the end of a conversation, wheras today’s artists, working under the conditions described above, use autonomy in diametrically opposed way as a starting point for something else.

How this changes the ways in which especially people in the old West engage with art is difficult to apprehend in the full, but one thing does seem clear and worthy of mentioning. In the current situation, even if it is called ‘globalized’, leaves no space for a ‘universal’ art or art history – and the idea of the universal does linger in the previous understanding of autonomy. Art projects all over the globe perhaps use similar strategies to wedge open a space to question or change ones reality, but they do not aim to generate a universal experience. If there is a sense of universality present it is not as spiritual, or utopic domain in which we find some form of relief. The universal, or better the global, in these projects expresses the interconnected reality in which we are living that makes almost everybody acquainted with similar ideas or technologies. The universality of these ideas of technologies, however, does not express some ‘higher’ reality, but is the arbitrary result of modern history. It is this arbitrariness that destroys the possibility of the universal to function as an answer, even if does not exhaust the possibility of universality completely. Today’s art as described here is situated in a specific place and does not aspire to be relevant to the whole of mankind forever and ever. It is just one way of dealing with life to maintain some form of agency that is not abstract but concrete. It may be very difficult for this art to find a way to have an impact that exceeds the small networks of artists and their direct friends, but I do believe that at the moment it is this type of art that is worth making.

NABA and Isola– a week Milano

February 16th, 2010 by Steven ten Thije

Steven ten Thije


Recently Charles Esche, Diana Franssen, Carina Weijma and myself had the opportunity to have a taste of Italy again in all its richness and complexity. For a week we acted as guest teachers at NABA – a private art school in Milano – and while there had the chance to hear the tragic story of Isola Art Centre, which lost its building to city planners. In many ways it was a inspiring week which allowed us to reflect and speculate on the future.

Bert Theys one of the founders of the Isola Art Centre

Bert Theys one of the founders of the Isola Art Centre

The teaching was a pleasure to do, for it not only allowed us to engage in a dialogue with the art students – always refreshing – but also gave us the possibility to hear each other speak. Even if it is clear that each of us has a different perspective, unifying us however, within our understanding of art at the moment, is a wish to try and bring forth the potential of art in a political sense, without reducing it to mere political means. In a sense we seem to be engaged in a complementary questioning of both politics and art, for both notions seem to be subject to change today. (more…)

Average visitors – a day of discussion with OSK-students

December 28th, 2009 by Steven ten Thije

By Steven ten Thije

Some weeks ago we had an interesting discussion in the museum with a group of art history students from several different universities. They came over to look and discuss the three exhibitions that comprise the first chapter of Play Van Abbe with Charles Esche, Christiane Berndes and myself. In the conversation especially one thing struck me. In the discussions we found ourselves several time returning to the average visitor. Constantly we were speculating on whether or not this figure would comprehend the show. (more…)

Istanbul Biennial – a first response

September 15th, 2009 by Steven ten Thije

Back from Istanbul, back from holiday. It’s been quite some time since my last entry in our log of thoughts, but after visiting the Istanbul Biennial I feel the urge to write again, an urge that perhaps (or hopefully) mirrors the urge that one feels expressed in this intense biennial.

Without giving an overall review, I would like to reflect here on just one work, which, in its thematic and execution is somehow exemplary of the biennial: Marko Peljhan’s ‘Territory 1995’. The work exists out of an installation in two spaces dealing with 90s conflict in former-Yugoslavia and contains a brutal exposition on the events leading up to the Srebrenica-massacre. The first room is black, the walls are covered with sound-isolation foam, in it are hanging three rows of transparent glass, long rectangular windows prox. 40cm high and several meters long. They are hanging one after the other at eye height and are ingeniously lighted through the frame, which makes white letters that are printed upon the planes light up as though in a radio-room of James Bond-movie. One cannot move between them but only look at them from a distance. The letters or schema’s are obscure documents explaining command-hierarchies and transcripts of notes or letters with no clear discernable content. In the centre of the room a small pedestal is standing on which a type of comic or children’s book is lying. The pedestal is dramatically lighted with one spot. In the room one can sit down on a long black bench, near the entrance, and listened to fragments of radio messages. They are inaudible – or at least, to me. The darkness of the room reflects the darkness of the messages and signs to be read. (more…)

Kunst en de Thorbecke-paradox

July 7th, 2009 by Steven ten Thije

Onlangs is weer nieuw hout gegooid op de immer smeulende discussie omtrent het bekende Thorbecke-principe, dat luidt: ‘De regering is geen oordelaar van wetenschap en kunst.’ In reactie op twee artikelen gepubliceerd in het NRC Handelsblad, publiceerde NRC dit artikel van de hand van Charles Esche en Steven ten Thije.

Opmerkelijk in de discussie is dat voorbij gegaan wordt aan het paradoxale karakter van het huidige gebruik van Thorbecke’s principe. Volgens ons ligt in deze paradox de sleutel om voorbij de huidige impasse van af- of bijvaller te komen en tot een werkelijk democratische kunstpolitiek te komen.
Als eerste is het belangrijk om te realiseren dat vandaag de dag het Thorbecke-principe niet meer dient als verdediging voor een liberale, op de vrije markt gebaseerde ideologie – de ideologie die Thorbecke zelf aanhing -, maar een schild is voor de ‘autonomie’ van de kunst. Een autonomie die zowel los van de markt als van de staat lijkt te staan. De staat wil kunst wel financieren, maar wil niet voor de specifieke invulling van die financiering verantwoordelijk zijn, noch wil ze dat de markt het alleen bepaalt. Hieruit bestaat de paradox van het principe: niet willen, maar wel moeten oordelen.


thoughts on a Saturday morning

July 4th, 2009 by Steven ten Thije

Reading through the blog-comments of last weeks (Charles you’ve been busy) and cleaning up my desk at home, I stumbled upon a page I copied from a recent number of October-magazine. It was an article by Hubert Damish on abstraction. I remember reading it some weeks ago, sitting in the library and feeling a bit naughty somehow for doing it. Of course there was little time – the museum may be conservative in its function as repository, but its practice is as fast as anything today – but also the type of phenomenological language in which it was written, the blatant western focus (Matisse as undisputed centre of a world that was spinning around Paris) it was all so remote from the type of dialogues we are involved in in the museum. The ‘internationale’, the symposium in Ljubljana, a recent visit I myself made to Bulgaria and Slovakia , talking in Berlin with people from ‘Public Movement’ (an artist collective from Israel), all this made my traditional, art historical head spin and were so distanced from that phenomenological engagement with vision and abstraction. Sentences which in my study were so important like they cryptic remark of Merleau-Pony in his ‘eye and spirit’, that the ‘painter puts in his body,’ now seem to speak of problems from a distance past. Why was the relation between body and mind, between ‘eye and spirit’, so important? Did I think something could be solved if only we had a sufficient theory to explain the abyss between the non-conceptual world of our experience and the conceptual domain of the mind?


ljubljana – the next step

May 11th, 2009 by Steven ten Thije

Taking up Charles’ invitation, allow me to also reflect on some of the issues raised in the inspiring if not historical conference in Ljubljana. And please realize that these are open speculation, which hopefully show my active attempt to get grip of the question raised in these inspiring days, but do not contain the firm architecture of a finished argument. Or, more plainspoken: please, give me some slack.

Continuing on the key-issue Charles already pointed towards in his comment, I wish to consider some questions surrounding the ideological position taken in by the representatives of Tate and Beaubourg. Both claimed in one way or another that they were not ideologically determined, suggesting that the walls and halls of their museums are no machinery for the reproduction of a certain organization of the social relationships within a, perhaps global, society. They wishes to consider themselves as open spaces where ‘a’ public could interact and exchange, learn and appreciate, an art no longer of only a western brand, but of global making. It is not hard to get a sense of the contradictions at work here. For the idea that acquiring art from all over the world and displaying it on one geographic location, for a global public, requires that an impressive segment of that public needs to travel a great deal to see works that once may have been in their own vicinity. Just as one can wonder how these workers behind the walls of these large museums, who select and collect these works, are able to make their judgments ideologically unbiased. Buying a work and placing it in a collection is by definition it seems an ideological act, for it affirms a certain order from which it derives. When we buy, we use our limited capital to affirm a certain work and defend this affirmation by using arguments that are as much inclusive as they are exclusive. It’s immensely naïve to think one could somehow surpass this situation, and it’s important to realize the uncomfortable position a museum find itself in, for it’s this feeling of uncomfort which is the beginning of any honest speculation on ones position and its possible potential.

This all may sound nice, but the challenges only begin here. For can we describe in more detail how the ideology of the museum functions? Let me turn to a somewhat forgotten French philosopher to explore this question: Althusser. In a text on ‘Ideology and State’, he distinguishes between two types of ‘machinery’ at work in society which maintain its status quo, on the one hand the ‘State Apparatus’ (police, army, judges, etc.) and the ‘Ideological State Apparatus’ (Church, school, certain forms of medicine, culture). Both function, according to the strict Marxism that Althusser inheres to, to reproduce the conditions and relations of production, which are the source for the profound contradiction underlying the capitalist society. Even if we believe that the communist response to this is likely to turn into similar contradictions, the analysis that a society continuously produces and reproduces imbalance is not such a crazy claim. So, even if we should not strap on our boots and start a long march, the workings of these two ‘Apparatuses’ should still interest us. In Althusser’s analysis their difference lies in that the ‘State Apparatus’ works ‘by force’, whereas the ‘Ideological State Apparatus’, works ‘by ideology’ – no surprise here. It’s understandable that the museum is part of the latter group, and that for those reasons our focus also lies there. So, we can ask ourselves now, what does this mean; how does ideology ‘work’ in this case?

Here a philosophical point is necessary. An ideology is the name we give to the principle which organizes the manner in which we arrive at representations of our reality. This may sound cryptic, but one can give a clear example of it in museum terms, in the sense that one can order artworks for instance by means of style or by means of chronology. If the principle (the ideology) at work is style one can place works of different periods next to each other and state: they are the related, for they are of the same style. A chronological order would oppose such reasoning and say: they may bear formal similarities, however, they do not belong to the same period and therefore are different. The representation of the art in the museum therefore is determined by the type of relationship which creates the organization of the category of art. One can attest that this is much more a fundamental principle of knowing something in general, and that this has little to do with the social organisation of a society. However, there are historical examples that suggest otherwise. For instance, when the Louvre was founded in the chaos of the French Revolution, the curators were confronted with the problem that they had to exhibit many works which showed signs of religious and feudal origin, which were considered counter revolutionary. If they would have organized the galleries following the principle of ‘subject’ they would create a display which would affirm a social organization that they were happily abolishing at the moment. Therefore to save the ‘grand masters’ from the past, they suggested that the merit of their work lay not in the symbiosis of subject and form, but solely in their form and that the gallery should be organized demonstrating the progression of form. This then new historical arrangement responded to the new organization based on the idea of the Republic. So the manner in which a museum decides to present relations between works is rooted deeply in the contemporary social organization of society. (For a detailed account of the formation of the Louvre, on which this argument is based, see Andrew McClellan’s exemplary study ‘The Invention of the Louvre’.)

An ideology is therefore close if not similar to an epistemology – a theory of knowledge. Which means that the way in which we know is related to way in which we behave in a society, for the result of these principles as we can see in the case of installing artworks in the museum, result in a particular type of action. And, in this case, it is hard to overestimate the banality in which this manifests itself. The form and type of language one uses, the way the architecture is structured and functions, the way in which we wear our clothes. They all are manifestations of ideologies. An ideology, therefore, does not ‘exist’ as a stone exists, but only exists in a practice: in the production, reproduction and implementation of it. There is no thing-like status which we can attribute the ideology as something that lies behind, or underneath, a certain event, but it coincides with it and only ‘is’, as long as the event exists and produces the same effect. Nor should we think that there is a type of knowing, a type of human conduct, which somehow escapes this situation and can be ‘pure’.

But what particular role does an ideology then play within the maintenance of the status quo? Again we may sense that it’s important, but it’s rewarding to take the extra step and try to think it through and formulate why. It’s clear that the easiest way to maintain the status quo in a certain situation is by force. If one wants to prevent an apple from falling to the floor, one has to oppose the force of gravity. In a similar fashion, if one wants to maintain a social situation of unbalance, one has to forcefully maintain it and threaten the other party in its survival if it does not do as told. Slavery being the clearest example here. However, these axiomatic cases, cannot be copy-pasted to a whole society. So a society in its wish to keep things the way they are, be they fair or not, needs a more elaborate structure to keep it functional. This elaborate structure is the ideology, which is not just available to the one with force, but can be ‘possessed’ by nearly everyone participating in the systems of representation and debate – all those who can ‘know’ and can apply that ‘knowledge’. For, if one is convinced of the correctness of a certain form of behaviour, one doesn’t need a gun pointed at one to act accordingly. The function of Ideological State Apparatus is to disseminate and reproduce this behaviour by making those who are participating within it liable to the current dominant organisational form and its logic. Tonny Bennett has in this line suggested that the museum in the modern society is not so much a apparatus of repression and discipline (to use the Foucaultian term), but is one of the mechanisms which transforms those who are subject to it in agents to the ideology inherent to it. By making the public connoisseurs of the type of relationships privileged by a particular type of social organisation, one makes them collaborators to the dominant form of reasoning and if that reasoning is coherent, chances are they will try to live up to and maintain that coherence. So if the repressive State Apparatus punishes and disciplines those who transgress, the Ideological State Apparatus produces consensus about what is transgression and what not. For details on the type of consensus produced in the museum one can look into Bennett’s study, even if the precise nature of the aesthetic consensus produced is in museum of art is not touched upon there in great depth. (Bennett, The Birth of the Museum, 2006 (first published 1995), Routledge)

This may all be, but it paints a rather depressive if not suicidal picture for the museum that somehow wants to act not just as an agent to the dominant ideology, but seeks to produce some form of resistance against it. The only logical action that seems to follow to this grim picture is abolition. If the nature of an institute as the museum is as described above, there is no escape. But, perhaps this is just another form of delusion, for if ideology is embedded in the way we know, then there is no outside to it which we can ‘know’ and one institute more or less will make only little difference. We will not stop knowing because of the closure of one institute. One can also ask if something which knows no outside, can be discussed in the way done above. For if there is no outside to it, how can we recognize it? For it is everywhere (where we know), which is the same as saying nowhere; and here being collapses easily into nothingness. Is not the whole debate on ideology a type of pseudo-debate, since it originates in an assumption that an ideology is something and therefore not everything, and that therefore there must be a domain of non-ideology. Or, formulated differently, does not the type of argumentation as followed above, continuously refer to a space beyond ideology, just by suggesting that it is repressive and that no one wants to accept such a state of affairs? So, is not the claim that an ideology manifests itself always when we start to know just a particular form of repression. For it suggest that we should revolt, but makes it extremely unattractive at the same time, by logically coming to the conclusion that it’s meaningless. Is this the unhappy result of an argument that started to drive down a dead end street?

No, there is a way, but not out, I’m afraid. On the conference one participant made the titillating remark, that a museum that wants to be radical forces itself to radical action, and to most radical of all actions is abolition. So, museum are confronted with a quite clear set of choices, either one prevails and seeks to remain in power, or one goes down. But, thinking this through, it seemed to me that answering one extreme by another one, is not radical but logical in an almost conventional manner. It is refers to a form of argument that knows only yes or no, a positive and a negative, and shows little sympathy for a more complex and – to use a new key-word of the VAM – entangled position. For it seems that resistance does not so much manifest itself in the radical refusal to participate, but in the complex attempt to explore the possibilities of ones position which stretches itself out towards a form of hegemony and reproduction of a certain system, but nevertheless constantly is confronted with the imperfections of its method and the ‘failures’ within the system. Considered discursively the museum might allude towards a conformative structure, but when looking at the practice of the museum, one has to realize that the harmonious clarity of its discursive imperialism al to seldom is achieved in an unambiguous manner. It seems that the possibility of the museum lies neither in its complete abolition, nor in a straightforward embrace of its ideological functions, but in the muddy, concrete practice that determines its being. In a sense we have to realize that we are a force and seek to investigate to what end we are using it unconsciously. For an action executed within the museum often, if not always, contain elements that refuse the logic of ideology. To give one example, for instance the conservation of an object or installation, constantly places one for a problem that the ideology of the museum would rather not have, namely that one needs to decide what is ‘true’ about the work and what not, what needs to be persevered and what not. One can deal with this problem in a unreflective manner and simply try to answer the question to the best of ones ability, but one can also see the fact that there somehow is an internal resistance within a work towards a clear incorporation into this ideology of preservation as a fruitful and interesting event and see it as a moment that allows one to consider how ones ideology is composed and what possibilities and challenges it contains. I think it is here that we should seek for the possibility of resistance: in the practice of the museum. It’s in the sheer resistance of a painting to hovering in mid-air demanding the continuous force that pins it to the wall, that we might find the most powerful form of criticality available to us.

the noise, the database and the museum

February 6th, 2009 by Steven ten Thije

Yesterday the third internal seminar in preparation of the 14 month project on the position of the museum in the 21st century took place at the Institute for the Cultural Heritage Collection of the Netherlands (ICN) in Amsterdam. The subject was ‘copy and original’ and the day existed out of four lectures from Nicolle Lamerichs, Ysbrand Hummelen, Florian Schneider and Jos de Mul. It was in inspiring afternoon, which was especially fruitful in presenting new metaphors in which to formulate the central questions of the project. Terms like ‘Noise Margin’, ‘ownership’ and ‘Wittgenstein 2.0’ were small portals through which we could see old concepts like ‘the work’ and ‘knowledge’ or ‘truth’ in a new way.

een kunstgeschiedenis van tentoonstellingen

January 17th, 2009 by Steven ten Thije

Kunstgeschiedenis is in zijn klassieke zin een verhaal over de opeenvolging van stijlen die zichtbaar worden in werken. De essentie van een stijl is haast ongrijpbaar, een ongrijpbaarheid die zich spiegelt in de ongrijpbaarheid van het werk. Een museum is binnen deze logica een ruimte waarin originelen het mogelijk maken om de successie van stijlen te ervaren. Het museum is daarmee, zoals besproken in O’Doherty’s ‘white cube’, onzichtbaar. De kunstgeschiedenis bestaat zodoende bij de gratie van de onzichtbare wanden van het museum en het is geen toeval dat de opkomst van het museum in de 19de eeuw parallel loopt met de opkomst van de wetenschappelijke discipline en dat eerste museumdirecteuren vaak eveneens de eerste institutionele/professionele kunsthistorici waren. De structurele overeenkomst tussen kunstwetenschap en kunstmuseum is de onzichtbaarheid van de locatie. Zoals Malreux ‘museé imaginaire’ bevindt een kunstwerk zich zowel ergens als nergens, zoals een wetenschappelijk werk overal gelezen kan worden en overal waar is. De kunstgeschiedenis en het museum hebben daarmee een vreemde haat-liefde relatie met de reproductie. Aan de ene kant is ze een mogelijkheidsvoorwaarde voor haar bestaan en beantwoordt ze aan de behoefte van kennis en kunst om universeel te zijn. Aan de andere kant kan de reproductie niet het werk zijn, omdat het werk uiteindelijk onuitspreekbaar en daarmee onherhaalbaar is. In deze zin speelt het kunstmuseum ook een complexe rol in het functioneren, verspreiden en de theorie van kennis in de moderne samenleving. Het museum is de meest letterlijke ruimtelijke vertaling van de voor de moderne kennistheorie constituerende onmogelijkheid om de afgrond die zich tussen subject en object, tussen concept en ding te overbruggen en de reproductie is als het ware het onaangename litteken dat naar deze wond verwijst. (Voor de lezers van Foucault, de onmogelijkheid van metafysica in de 19de en 20ste eeuw, zoals uiteengezet in zijn ‘The order of things’.)

Het is duidelijk dat op het moment dat we het werk zijn plaats teruggeven en de historie van een abstracte categorie als ‘kunst’ vervangen door een geschiedenis uit concrete categorieën als ‘het werk in een tentoonstelling’, we de ondergrond van zowel de kunstgeschiedenis als het museum met voeten treden. De poging om de plek waar kennis vergaard wordt zichtbaar te maken en te proberen om de invloed die deze context uitoefent op die kennis te tonen en te overdenken, is een activiteit die tegen de grenzen van ons huidige ‘kennen’ aanbotst. Omdat ons kennen, al vanaf Hegel, bepaald wordt door een onoverkomelijke dialectiek, die zegt dat kennis niet gelijk is aan het gekende, omdat als ze dat werkelijk kon zijn er geen onderscheid meer mogelijk is tussen kennis en het gekende. Waarbij het kunstwerk met zijn onkenbare kern in wezen in de moderne tijd simpelweg de andere kant van de medaille is van deze ‘kentheorie’ (epistemologie) is. Dus waar het taalteken een representatie is van het gedachte, die in zijn eigen vorm ondenkbaar is als we de gedachte willen denken – we zien of de vorm van de letters of het woord, nooit beide tegelijkertijd -, daar is het kunstwerk het tot kennis geworden ding, waarin de ervaring als het ware losgekomen uit de door driften (behoefte in de economische terminologie) beheerste wereld en als louter ding aan ons kan verschijnen. (Heideggers ‘dingachtigheid’ van het ding dat voor het Westerse denken al met de vertaling van Grieks in Latijn achter onze horizon verdwijnt.)

Dit neemt niet weg dat het een zinvolle en misschien zelfs noodzakelijk onderneming is om als het ware een plaatsleer, een topologie in de termen van Groys, te schrijven van de kunst. Wie weet is de verschuiving in de status van het werk door de opkomst van de grillige figuur van de installatie wel een vruchtbaar aanknopingspunt om de plaatsloos gedachte kunstgeschiedenis van een plek te voorzien? Hoewel we natuurlijk voor een grote vraag van vorm en selectie komen te staan, immers, als we reflecteren op de plaats van de kunst, vanuit welke ‘plek’ kunnen we dat doen? Alle voorwaarde zijn daar om onszelf te verliezen in een aporie, een ‘oneindige regressie’ in het betekenisloze, door het ontstaan van een hypersensitiviteit die zowel ergens als nergens wil zijn. Of, om het risico te omschrijven in ene metafoor van Terry Eagleton, we lopen het risico om als het ware als acrobaten op elkaar te klimmen om uiteindelijk in een situatie te komen waarin we niet omvallen, maar ook geen enkele bewegingsvrijheid hebben om iets te doen. We zullen een manier moeten vinden om deze val te vermijden, waarbij één mogelijke manier die ik zie – het gesprek – kan zijn. Door als museum een conversatie te voeren met kunstenaars (curatoren, kunsthistorici) en publiek kunnen we beginpunten kiezen van waaruit de topologie van de kunst kan verschijnen. Misschien zal de verschuiving die wij invoeren er een zijn die in plaats van een object in het centrum plaats een subject naar voren schuift en als podium – of pagina – ruimte biedt om te spreken en te denken.

Van Abbemuseum