El Lissitzky, Victory over the sun, Facsimile, Sprengel Museum Hannover
essay

The future of museums. Living art

What should be the look and feel of today’s museums? What goals and shape this art institution should have today? It seems to be a recurring topic nowadays – unfortunately, it is increasingly brought up together with top-down decisions. Attempts to subordinate art are driven by governmental connections, making the issue highly political (it happens, for instance, in Poland or Hungary). These decisions are the key factors that determine the choice of artists, programmes, events supporting the main programme, or effect changes in museum employees.

It’s about the past, present, and future

The current discussion around the future of museums is underrated and insufficient. And it is a pity. Museums, traditionally educational, research and exhibition institutions, have evolved. We cannot perceive museums, or – in more general terms – cultural institutions, only from the perspective of the past or today and current, fairly short-sighted needs. It is not the issue of a programme of one “party,” it is an intergenerational project which requires continuity, a debate with heritage, and the shaping of the future, and only after that the present times can be shaped. A debate on museums of the future, their shape, obligations and goals should become a pressing need in this rapidly changing world which has accelerated greatly, and in many cases unexpectedly transformed over the last two years.

An example of living art

The issue of the museums of the future has been taken up worldwide for some time now. For example, in March 2021 UNESCO brought together 12 directors of museums from all over the world1 to discuss the topic during an online conference. Given the above, my attention was drawn also to the activities of one of the oldest contemporary art museums operating until present, which chose research into, and showcasing of, Avant-garde art and progressive artistic phenomena as its programme axis. I am referring here to Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, Poland, where, incidentally, to the surprise of artistic circles, not only in Poland, Director Jarosław Suchan did not receive contract extension from the Ministry, and, as the press suggests, the Deputy Prime Minister was said to dislike the title of a conference on the role of museums in the context of xenophobia and climate change. All the more so, the example of the activities of the Museum which have been performed until present is important, as it is a place where the call for a debate about the shape of museums can be heard particularly clearly for some time now. Undertakings aimed to take up the topic were initiated in 2017. It is when the museum organised a conference entitled “Museum of the Avant-garde or the Avant-garde Museum? Collecting the Radical.” After a few years of intense research work, in 2020, Museum Sztuki in Łódź released a comprehensive publication entitled “Avant-garde Museum” [Awangardowe Muzeum]. In early 2021, the Museum initiated a series of debates on the museum of the future, and the issues which were discussed include “alternative scenarios of tomorrow,” the museum of the future and the virtual world, or the role and status of cultural institutions in cities.

Show more, less sentiments

The culmination of the aforementioned activities was the opening of an exhibition entitled “Avant-Garde Museum” which will be available to visitors until 27 February 2022. 

Not many people are aware of the conditions in which art is currently functioning in our country – they do not know how much sentiment and how little deliberate decisions there are. Only few are aware that visionaries come across closed doors, because their works are considered odd.” 2

… and further on…..

to have more achievements, we need support from all those who care about progress, notwithstanding its direction. The relationship between progressive people, even people of different professions, who live in the present times, is stronger than the relationship which connects people longing for the past.” 3

Those words express calls for action beyond divisions to reach a higher objective, namely the future and progress.

Interion of Katherine S. Dreier's home, with Marcel Duchamp's artworks, photo: John Schiff, Yale University Art Gallery, Purchase, Director's Discretionary Funds
Interion of Katherine S. Dreier’s home, with Marcel Duchamp’s artworks, photo: John Schiff, Yale University Art Gallery, Purchase, Director’s Discretionary Funds
Interion of Katherine S. Dreier's home, with Marcel Duchamp's artworks, photo: John Schiff, Yale University Art Gallery, Purchase, Director's Discretionary Funds
Interion of Katherine S. Dreier’s home, with Marcel Duchamp’s artworks, photo: John Schiff, Yale University Art Gallery, Purchase, Director’s Discretionary Funds
Vievs of the International Exhibition of Modern Art arranged by Société Anonyme, Brooklyn Museum, 1926, Katherine S. Dreier / Société anonyme Archive. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
Vievs of the International Exhibition of Modern Art arranged by Société Anonyme, Brooklyn Museum, 1926, Katherine S. Dreier / Société anonyme Archive. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

Education – future of arts

Do we really need anything more than to boldly shape the future? If we want it to be sustainable, progress needs to be well thought out and business-like, with the awareness of the present times and the past, at the same time getting rid of fetters of sentimentalism, without clinging to the past. As it would seem at first, none of the above quotations come from contemporary culture critics/artists, but from a brochure issued in 1920 by “Société Anonyme” in New York. What an irony… or, if we look at it from a different perspective, we can see that we have failed to draw conclusions from history, as we are still walking in circles a hundred years later.

This small publication includes a mission and plans for the operations of the  mentioned Society, which advocated creating a place where ordinary people could get to know modern art through exhibitions and a library. Katherine S. Dreier, Marcel Duchamp, and Man Ray promoted art during such events as exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, Anderson Galleries in Manhattan, or Katherine’s private residence called „The Haven” in Connecticut. The establishment of a museum was to become the culminating point of their activities. Ultimately, the museum did not open, but the results of their outcomes were profoundly consistent with their founding ideas. The artists put together the collection and handed it over to Yale University. The showcasing continues from that moment on, but more importantly, new generations, who come to the university each year, may study the collection.

The idea to make art available, and study it, is significant here! We cannot underestimate just how topical the need for education is, to better shape tomorrow and “cultivate artistic culture among the public […] so that the viewers, watching a work of art, could develop their critical approach to imitations, and their creativity.”

Marcel Duchamp, Box in the Valise, 1952, mixed media, Archiv der Avangarden - Edigio Marzona, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
Marcel Duchamp, Box in the Valise, 1952, mixed media, Archiv der Avangarden – Edigio Marzona, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
Alicja Halicka, On the Beach, ca. 1920, oil on canvas, Mark Roefler / Villa la Fleur collection, Konstancin-Jeziorna
Alicja Halicka, On the Beach, ca. 1920, oil on canvas, Mark Roefler / Villa la Fleur collection, Konstancin-Jeziorna
Gustaw Gwozdecki, Head, before 1921, paper, watercolor, Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Collection Société Ananyme Gustaw Gwozdecki, Head, before 1926, monotype, retuched with oil, Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Collection Société Anonyme
Gustaw Gwozdecki, Head, before 1921, paper, watercolor, Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Collection Société Ananyme
Gustaw Gwozdecki, Head, before 1926, monotype, retuched with oil, Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Collection Société Anonyme

Museum – a manifesto generator and space for experiments 

The artists brought together around the The Museums of Artistic Culture in Russia (Wassily Kandinsky, Robert Falk, Alexander Rodchenko) had the same objectives as the Americans (Société Anonyme). They saw the museum  not as an archive but as a place for experimenting. For Rodchenko, it did not have a closed and finished form but constituted a “cultural factor.”5 According to him, the museum had “a dynamic strength shaping the present times and the future” and inspired further development.

Coming back to Łódź, leaving aside the extraordinary opportunity, unusual in Polish conditions, to see works of art of the greatest classics of the 20th century, borrowed from the most renowned museums (also those mentioned above) (editor’s note: collections and exhibitions in Poland rarely present works and collections of this class), the viewers could experience the above theoretical deliberations in real life, through numerous archival materials and works of art which are part of the exhibition. 

read also The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

5 Polish Artists At The Rebooted MoMA In New York

Dobromiła Błaszczyk Jan 22, 2020

The Museum of Modern Art in New York reopened to the public in late October 2019. On the very first day, lines of enthusiastic visitors stretched for miles along the neighbouring streets. This particular story traces the presence of the Polish artists whose works are featured on the current exhibit of the museum’s collection.

What is more, the Museum recreated the El Lissitzky’s hall with reverence, which was the best way to depict his deliberations on the perception and experiencing of art through movement, or the changing angle at which the light falls. In the reconstructed hall of the Hanoverian Cabinet of Abstraction, the works by Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Louis Marcoussis, László Moholy-Nagy, Alexander Archipenko, and small architectural elements create a single object/installation. The viewer’s body and senses are engaged in co-experiencing of proportions, colours, and planes. The art is approaching the viewers, leaves its pedestal, breaks away from golden frames or white cubes. It becomes our partner. Abstract compositions are no longer a foreign “body.” Through interaction with the viewers, with their bodies, and eyesight, and through a dynamic shift in time and space, art becomes an organism that is susceptible to external conditions just as we are. They are “a living body,” perfect in its imperfection, similarly to our organisms with their disproportions and flaws, supported on walking canes, or leaning against banisters and walls.

Piet Mondrian, Composition with black, red, yellow, blue and gray, 1921, oil on canvas, Kunst Museum Den Haag
László Moholy-Nagy, Composition-assemblage-photogram, 1926, mixed media, Kunst Museum Den Haag
Louis Marcoussis (Lukdwik Markus), Still Life with a Bottle of Wine and a Mandoli, 1925, Lithograph on paper, National Museum Kraków,
El Lissitzky, Proun 3A, 1919-1921, litograph on paper, Van Abbemuseum, Eidenhoven
Pablo Picasso, Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper, 1913, Printed papers and ink on paper, Tate, London Fernand Leger, The Blue Wheel, 1920, oil on canvas, Kunst Museum Den Haag
Pablo Picasso, Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper, 1913, Printed papers and ink on paper, Tate, London
Fernand Léger, The Blue Wheel, 1920, oil on canvas, Kunst Museum Den Haag
Piet Mondrian, Composition with black, red, yellow, blue and gray, 1921, oil on canvas, Kunst Museum Den Haag
Piet Mondrian, Composition with black, red, yellow, blue and gray, 1921, oil on canvas, Kunst Museum Den Haag

Unrestricted exploration of art

Given this outline of the background, I encourage everyone who will have a chance to go to the still open exhibition in Łódź! The initiatives undertaken by the current Director of Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź and by the entire museum team aimed at raising our awareness and allowing us to draw conclusions for the future seem extremely important. We better do this late than never! Muzeum Sztuki, reaching its founding history (a collection of contemporary art started by a group of artists, which has become the cornerstone of the Museum), recollects, analyses, and emphasizes the key movements from the beginning of the previous century. Through this, it accentuates bold (even for our times) calls to transform the ossified formula of a museum, and to open up to recipients and their unrestricted exploration and experience of art.

We need a new vision of institutions of art and culture for these new times. However, it is not to be created by drastic cuts and unexpected dismissals, but through an in-depth and joint thought, in order to  draw conclusions and define the goals. Exhibitions that illustrate specific topics, such as death in art, or family in art, do not push us towards the future. It is a safe and populist comfort zone in which we go around in circles.

Pure aestheticization will only give you a moment of elation, occupying your senses or entertaining you for a while.

We need deeper reflection on the condition of humanity, on the world we live in, and which we are part of. We need to keep in sight the art which might not be “pleasant or beautiful” but opens our eyes and points to the possible directions we are going in. We need to focus on the nuances and “all the colours” of the world we live in. Contemporary culture and art, often treated today as an “oddity,” should be a partner who makes us aware of vital and often difficult issues, leading us along a bumpy road. Paraphrasing Lissitzky’s words, art, and space do not exist objectively and in the same way for everyone. There are so many possibilities for observatories to perceive and experience them, hence any attempts to impose a single narrative are disastrous and always doomed to failure.


“The Avant-garde Museum” 

ms1, 36 Więckowskiego St, 2nd floor

October 15, 2021 – February 27, 2022

curators: Agnieszka Pindera, Jarosław Suchan

curatorial consultants: Masha Chlenova, Frauke V. Josenhans

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Alexander Archipenko, Flacher Torso, 1914, Bronze, Ludwig Museum, Koln
Alexander Archipenko, Flacher Torso, 1914, Bronze, Ludwig Museum, Koln

1 List of the Panellists:

  • Barbara Helwing, Director of the Vorderasiatisches Museum (Berlin)
  • Tristram Hunt, Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London)
  • Deborah Lynn Mack, Director of the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian (Washington, D.C.)
  • Xudong Wang, Director of the Palace Museum (Beijing)
  • Juliana Restrepo, Director of the National Museum of Colombia (Bogota)
  • Antonio Saborit, Director of the National Museum of Anthropology (Mexico City)
  • Ahmed Farouk Ghoneim, Executive Director of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (Cairo)
  • Barbara Jatta, Director of the Vatican Museums (Vatican City)
  • Mikhail Piotrovski, Director of the Hermitage Museum (Saint Petersburg)
  • Hamady Bocoum, Director of the Museum of Black Civilizations (Dakar).

2 Its Where & Its Wherefore. Société Anonyme [in:] The Avant-garde Museum, 2020, Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, p. 298.

3 Its Where & Its Wherefore. Société Anonyme [in:] The Avant-garde Museum, 2020, Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, p. 299.

4 Masha Chlenova, Muzea Kultury Artystycznej w Rosji i Władysław Strzemiński [Art Culture Museums in Russia, and Władysław Strzemiński], [in:] The Avant-garde Museum, 2020, Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, p. 77.

5 Maria Gough, Muzeologia futurystyczna [Futuristic Museology], [in:] The Avant-garde Museum, 2020, Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, p. 63.

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About The Author

Dobromiła
Błaszczyk

Founder and director of London-based arts organisation Contemporary Lynx, since 2013. Editor-in-chief and founder of the print magazine Contemporary Lynx with a global reach and international distribution, listed as one of the best art magazines in London by Sotheby’s Institute of Art and recommended by Tate Modern bookshop.

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