Museum as Interface

The departure point for this concept is the author’s PhD thesis entitled "Museum Imaging, Modelling Modernity" of 1993 at the University of Liverpool and the most recent field of application, in addition to Forum Permanente (this mediation platform where this essay is published), was the Sao Paulo Cultural Centre (CCSP) where from July 2006 to May 2010 an institutional programme was developed, influenced mainly by the conclusions, ideas and situations presented and discussed in this text.

Published in: GROSSMANN, M. & MARIOTTI, G. "Museum Art Today / Museu Arte Hoje", São Paulo, Hedra & Forum Permanente, 2011, pp 89-116

Text by Martin Grossmann


portuguese version


A museum operating 'criticism from within' would maintain a flexible, elastic (topological) rationale in the form of well-published and constantly debated precepts/attitudes, which would nevertheless be open to constant reformulation.

The fourth dimension is a necessary step towards hyperspace, a multidimensional experimental space. Therefore, it is the meta-language resulting from a synthetic operation (promoted by the ‘user’) that opens the three-dimensional space of material culture to the experiential ‘n’-dimensional time/space of virtual culture.

 

The contrast between the diachronic in History and the synchronic in critical experience, or between norm and otherness, generates a situation that could be named paradigm/paradox; not as an antagonistic configuration, as opposition, but rather as contraposition or superposition or even complementarity.

When criticised or questioned, the museum responds with different actions and reactions that operate more in the scope of synthesis than the scope of analysis, and which allows a reposition and more importantly a more flexible, plural, hybrid and even contextual representation in the cultural system.

The possibility to explore museums through synthesis, both by the critical subject [flâneur] and the critical cultural mediation consciously operated within - by art system’s agents such as artists, educators, directors, visitors, etc. -, fosters the inspirational role of museums in our society, as an environment that potentiates the collective imaginary. Alexander Sokurov’s film Russian Ark (2002), described by North American critic Roger Ebert as a film that ‘spins a daydream made of centuries’ is a good example. Perhaps Walter Benjamin would also like it to be this way, countering this impression.

The disappointed expression of people wandering around in an art gallery where only paintings are hanging.

The contemporary museum shows vitality not only in its original context, Europe, and its modernist extension in North America, but also in other parts of the globe. In fact, to a great extent, this happens because museums remain anchored in a powerful epistemology established by the Enlightenment and updated by Modernism, gaining different, more malleable and hybrid contours from Post-Modernism onwards; even though this universal notion of time and space has been – more often than not – sublimated by so-called contemporary museums. Irrefutable evidence of this persistent investment in an epistemology based on the idea of an universality for knowledge is the internet and its multimedia interface, the world wide web, with its powerful encyclopaedic applications (i.e. Wikipedia), search engines and Google Earth, a global, current and semi-immersive photographic atlas.

However, when certainties and the ‘a priori’ aspect promoted by legacy and successive updates of the notion of ‘universal’ space/time are assessed/confronted by the concerns and doubts of a critical subject in the jetzeit [present time] the situation is presented in a different way.

The study of how the museum has been reacting to meta-linguistic and meta-critical cultural actions is intriguing, both in relation to the anti-museum and the 20th century art avant-gardes, or the new institutional formats such as cultural centres, biennials, art fairs and alternative spaces - which have multiplied around the globe in the Post-War period - or the effect of a culture in virtuality. The latter is, undoubtedly, a new frontier for cultural and artistic actions, as well as for the representation of art and of the various cultural modes and, moreover, an interactive repository of collective and individual memory.

The aim of this text is to critically present some stages of the negotiation performed by the art museum in the last 200 years between the interests of a diachronic determinism, based on analytical processes, and the aspirations of synchronic existences, constituted by synthesis. This exposition aims to facilitate a better understanding of the current situation, not only as paradigm/paradox but mainly as interface, which is understood as the main differential of its action in contemporaneity. Therefore, we shall place the continuity of this museum trajectory in diachronic time by establishing as counterpoints the synchronic actions and concerns which put this linearity into question. These contrasts are indispensable in this updating.

A challenge to be examined in this presentation and shared with the reader is in fact the very synthesis operation in effect in this text, mainly the attempt to translate a plethora of thoughts, notes, experiments and experiences, into a linear, textual format. Certainly, the most natural environment for this plethora would be the hypertext, the multimedia and the hyperspace. However, given that it is fundamental to use synthesis in the elaboration of a text we have opted for the construction of a narrative which references and uses other texts and authors, but mainly texts from the author himself, published in different formats, from academic thesis to newspaper and magazine articles and online publications. The departure point is the author’s PhD thesis entitled Museum Imaging, Modelling Modernity of 1993 at the University of Liverpool and the most recent field of application, in addition to Fórum Permanente, was the São Paulo Cultural Centre (CCSP) where between 2006 and 2010 an institutional programme was developed, influenced mainly by the conclusions, ideas and situations presented and discussed in this text.


A Very Brief Chronology

The origins of a history of art museums, of their trajectory in diachronic time, as approached by this text, are the first purpose built museums of the beginning of the 19th century, which also marked a period historically called Neoclassicism.

Even though this origin refers to and venerates the past, the Classic Period, the continuity of a history of museums is based on a formal, stylistic and technological process of modernisation. The main counterpoints in this evolution are the Great International Exhibitions and the reproducibility of the field of printing and technical images, phenomena of popularisation and cultural consumerism that emerged in the mid-19th century and migrated to the New World at the turn of the century, searching for new fields of application and, obviously, market expansion. This dynamics fostered perceptive and epistemological changes by encouraging the rise of a new museum paradigm: the Museum of Modern Art, particularly the MoMA in New York (1939), generating a new ideology for the art space, commonly known as the ‘white cube’. In the Post-War period we see the configuration of a new geopolitics and a new social-economic situation, which led not only to a greater diversification of modes of representation and production of meanings but also to the revitalisation of the museum as means/centrality for legitimation and sovereignty. The insertion of the museum is expanded to different places around the world and we also witness the empowering of museums in the Old and New World, particularly art museums, which are redesigned and reconfigured in order to receive multitudes. In this case, these blockbuster museums replace the Great International Exhibitions and are today one of the main ‘erudite’ drivers of a Society of the Spectacle. The internationalism of Modernism is replaced by globalisation that, in the contrast between local and global, forces the museums and other platforms of social-cultural representation to review and update, amongst other things, the principles of the French Revolution which institutionalised these cultural apparatuses as public spaces and community property. If the counterpoint in the diachronic trajectory of the museum of the 19th and 20th centuries was the popularisation of cultural consumerism by means of analogue technologies, the museum at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st interacts with a new force shaped by digital and electro-electronic technology still in its initial stage: virtuality.

In order to better understand the contemporary condition of the art institution in the face of the period of time briefly described above – two centuries of history –  the isophormism between two cultural elements will be explored: the Museum and the Book. The reference point is the essential nature of the idea of space as an individual constituting property, both for textual space (the Book) and visual space (the Museum). Both are able to host the abstract knowledge generated by dominant epistemology. Both are representations of an abstract space (Euclidian). Even though they present themselves as sensitive and multidimensional objects, they are not truly present, pertaining to a higher hierarchy, such as temples: eternal and fundamental recipients, ideal spaces and products of the mind. In other words, spaces that are at odds with daily, concrete experience.


Museum and Book

The Book and the Museum are renowned mediums that follow rigorous standards based on the values of Classicism: symmetry, proportion and element hierarchy. The building and the book are containers. Their internal composition, content and layout are presented in a linear, sequential and hierarchical way. In both cases there is a clear separation between form and content.

Both the Museum and the Book require an exclusive and individual approach to their contents from users. Reading a book usually demands total attention from the reader, as well as isolation and a highly specific notion of time and space. This also applies to the observer/visitor at the Museum. There are clear differences in terms of the abstraction level required in each case; and the notion of ‘recipient’ is more concrete in the Museum than in the Book. We can physically occupy a Museum, whereas in the Book the notion of ‘being inside’ depends on whether the reader has an immediate predisposition for empathy, that is, if there is an effective connection between the reader and the book’s content.

Both these mediums, Museum and Book, have a standard format. This is more evident in the Book, but the Museum also has a generic, standardised matrix, following the development of architectural museum projects within the lineage promoted by the history of museum architecture from the 19th century onwards.

By presenting a selective sequential progression, our departure point – as mentioned above – is the beginning of Neoclassicism, that is, the origins of this linearity with a project for a hypothetical art museum designed by French architect Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand in 1803 and shortly afterwards the paradigmatic Altes Museum by Karl Friedrich Schinkel of 1830, in Berlin’s Museum Island. The latter became a reference for new architecture, such as the 1968 Neue Nationalgalerie by Mies van der Rohe in Western Berlin, a Modernist landmark, and also the 1982 Neue Staatsgalerie by James Sterling in Stuttgart, a frequently quoted example of Post-Modernist architecture.

These museums’ plans follow the same matrix, which is promoted under the ‘evolutionary’ layers of the containers and their façades. This process is similar to that detected by Rosalind Krauss in relation to modernist painting: there is a standard grid that structures the entire stylistic evolution of the art museum’s three-dimensional typology.

However, the most important aspect here is the conceptual similarity between the Museum and Book as interior. The book favours the ‘portable’ point of view whilst the Museum, as protected, orthogonal material space, establishes a collection of individual points of view, guided by a ‘curatorial’ strategy which puts them together in a ‘coherent’ way, with the aim of producing meanings. This practice is essentially guided by a ‘historical-scientific’ consciousness, which is based – to a great extent – on deductive/linear conventions.

Under this perspective, the Book’s cover and the Museum’s façade can be seen as specialised designs, which are – to a certain degree – inter-independent from their contents and external/local contexts; therefore, they are ultimately linked to a stylistic discussion. Even if throughout history their appearance has changed – a fact that reinforces the idea that in fact they have ‘evolved’ – the same cannot be said about their common epistemological basis, which has remained practically unchanged in the last two centuries.

This system’s logocentrism, as well as its universalism, stability and ‘a priori’ nature gradually became a nuisance and a cause for concern not only to theoreticians and philosophers but also to artists, architects and writers, mainly because they limited the possibilities of exploring new art spaces and, of course, due to the fact that they were linked to strategies and interests of the powers that be. Critical and deconstructive manifestations became more evident from the mid-19th century onwards but the radical repositioning of aesthetical values’ standards and knowledge was only established in the 20th century, mainly by the avant-gardes.

There was a search for a new framework for art and architecture, and in this process of transformation – not only stylistic but also epistemological – a new standard appeared, that is, a new paradigm in the isomorphism between the Illuminist Book and Museum: the Magazine and the Modernist Museum.

 

Modernist Museum and Magazine

The modernist museum – taking as a model the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) – and the magazine, both originated in New York, and, as well as sharing their origins, hold an analogue relation: their basic form and content were developed in the 1930s, both in terms of technology and epistemology. They were both created under the wing of the mass media, of reproducibility and of spectacle; therefore, they have been guided by the prerequisites of Consumer Society, as well as – and no less importantly – being anchored in the democratic principles and liberal convictions typical of North American society.

The architecture of MoMA’s final building, inaugurated in 1939, is an authentic example of International Style, designed by P. L. Goodwin and E. D. Stone in the same cultural context which led to new artistic expressions in the US, not only in the field of Fine Art but also in modernist graphic design, object-functional design and photography. Therefore, this museum cannot be seen only from the point of view of art architecture, as it presents itself as a museum-gestalt, that is, a museum in which artworks – images, sculptures and objects – are displayed in the most suitable and communicative environment, where elements of spatial reference dictated by architecture and the artworks are composed according to an interaction between parts, guided by the ever present idea of the whole whilst preserving the individuality of the artwork. Another factor to be considered in this ‘gestalt’ provided by this new space is the horizontalisation, be it in the treatment, in the collectionism and in the exhibition of similar and contemporary artistic manifestations. At the MoMA, from a programmatic point of view, painting, sculpture, visual art, design, photography and architecture were placed side by side.

A comparison can be drawn with the development of the North American modern magazine in the same decade of 1930. Amongst the most prominent designers conducting this process were: Alexey Brodovitch (1898-1971) and Mehemed Fehmy Agha (1896-1978), as highlighted by Miller and Lupton in their article "A Time Line of American Graphic Design, 1829-1989" :

Prior to the work of Brodovitch and Agha, magazines such as Harper's and Vogue used traditional layouts and, like newspapers, relied on framing techniques which treated photographs and illustrations as discrete compositional units. Brodovitch and Agha often let images cross the binding and bleed off the page, bringing an unprecedented centrality and force to photography in publication design. By considering the coherence of each spread and the sequential rhythm of the entire magazine, Brodovitch and Agha came to play a primary role in the total look of the magazine.

There are great similarities between the editorial and design processes of magazines, as mentioned above, and the process of cultural action initiated by the MoMA in 1939 with its new building. In the frontline of these processes are the museum curator - the curator running MoMA at its inception was the legendary Alfred Barr Jr. (1902-1981), a mythical figure in the American art system – and the magazine art director – Brodovitch and Agha.

 

Book, Magazine, Museum and the City

Another aspect that should be highlighted in this analogy between the Book and the Museum is the contextualisation of the Book-Museum in the urban environment – the locus of Modernity in its Neoclassical and Modernist stages. In the first stage of Neoclassicism at the end of the 19th century, we see a conscious isolation of the city’s space-time. With regards to the book, this is evidenced by the individual habit of reading, the isolation and moving away from everyday routines, as well as the ‘elitisation’ of this habit, which is exclusive to dominant classes. The public of the museum is also elitist and defined by exclusive use. Its privileged localisation – in a prominent place and away from the urban flow –, combined with a museological staging planned by specialised architecture and landscape, lead the visitor to a ritualistic experience, detached from daily routines. There are examples everywhere: in Berlin, an impressive variety of museums are located on an island; in London, museums and universities coexist in the same neighbourhood, South Kensington; in São Paulo, the Museum of Ipiranga lies magnificently at the top of the Ipiranga Hills surrounded by a garden.

In the case of the Modern Art Museum and the Magazine the relationship with the city is entirely different, as it is shared and, therefore, part of everyday life. Both not only take active part in the urban dynamics but also depend on them. However, in order to put this shift into context – which was a true behavioural transformation – it is necessary to refer to the conceptualisation of the anti-museum, which encompasses two prior aspects, two synchronic cuts in the turn from the 19th century to the 20th century, which already signal – even if anachronistically – a change in the museum’s raison d’être. These are two almost unknown projects of vertical museums, museums that stand out because their programmes have a string element of social-cultural and citizenship education targeted at the average visitor, which was a very unusual feature in that historical moment. This eccentricity is an important component for the characterisation of the anti-museum. The first one, still in the Old World, in the centre of Scottish capital Edinburgh, is known as Outlook Tower.

Patrick Geddes, considered one of the forefathers of Modern Sociology, acquired the building in 1892. Geddes (1854-1932), inspired by his studies comparing spatial forms produced by men – particularly urbanisation and architecture – to social transformation processes, adapted the building to become a  museum-observatory. It is a reversed lighthouse. In the top of the building there is a camera obscura, which captures real-time images of the moving city projected indoors. The tower searches the city and its surroundings for supports for an informed and contextualised placement conducted by the average citizen. A museum-observatory related both to its place and to the expanding world, at the height of British colonialism.

Another vertical museum - which was never materialised - is the Museum of Tomorrow by Clarence Stein (1882-1975) projected in 1929 as a gigantic skyscraper to be built in New York. In the same year, MoMA, still housed in provisional adapted facilities, was inaugurated. One of the main factors that distinguishes one project from the other is the fact that the Museum of Tomorrow was conceived for the visitor, as for Stein the contemporary museum should improve their facilities mainly in terms of internal design, taking into account the satisfaction of the casual visitor:

In the museum of today there is too much to see. (…) The museum of tomorrow will show the casual visitor a limited number of its choicest possessions. (...) He will see as much or as little as he wants to, and will find it without difficulty.

This museum’s programme incorporated features that are inherent to a modern city. In addition to the scientific, historical, cultural and artistic elements of a traditional museum, the Museum of Tomorrow’s aim was to become – in the same way as squares, galleries and commercial streets – a space for coexistence and convenience. Therefore, Stein designed a huge museum to fulfil the aspirations both of the average visitor and the specialist. The public museum was to be surrounded by the specialist museum. That is, in its centre, as well as galleries organised as a human knowledge index, the average visitor would find, in alternated spaces, restaurants, squares and other places of convenience. In this sense, galleries were planned in a specific way to attract the visitor to the realm of knowledge and culture, without excess. An indexical museum which, while ascending in its vertical axis, would allow the visitor a deeper understanding of the themes and subjects exhibited in the lower floors. Stein’s suggestion that the specialist museum should surround the public museum was not only aimed at guaranteeing the popularisation of knowledge or supervising the continuous education of the average visitor, but also at promoting a new possibility of storage and study. This is due to Stein’s unusual proposition of not ‘packing’ the collection of this museum into large technical lots, but individually or in smaller groups. This important detail was anticipated in his gigantic architectural project: a museum served by a multitude of small cabinets, in which the specialist - in solitude - could be in living contact with the artworks.

The Museum of Tomorrow was not materialised at that moment but the Museum of Modern Art was. In the latter case, certain features of the modern city were not incorporated in the museum as suggested by Stein; however, the modern city played a fundamental role as it was used as context and counterpoint to the environments and situations experienced by the visitor in its interior. By analysing the insertion of the MoMA in the urban network of Manhattan, the strategy of relating this museu-gestalt directly to the street becomes evident. This new type of museum aimed to attract not only the interested visitor but also the passer-by, those that during daily errands on the busy street look for spaces where they can temporarily remove themselves from the chaos of the megalopolis. At this moment we see the configuration of a new museological mise-en-scène, which is very different from the one explored by the Neoclassical museum, whose aim was to distinguish and isolate itself from the urban context. The question raised by Michael D. Levin in relation to the purpose of the modern art museum insightfully encapsulates this new condition: temple or showroom? In fact, the answer is both. MoMA created a new temple for art, the white cube, shaped by a cult to art displayed in a seemingly neutral interior. This ideology was the theme of a prudent critical analysis by the artist who coined the expression for this new mystified condition of the art space:

‘O’Doherty undresses the artifices of this introspective and self-referring space of modernist art [the art gallery], demonstrating that a great part of the art produced in the last century was pre-idealised to be exhibited in this sacralised space, distant from the world’s reality.’

We enter this modern art temple by its front door, in the same way we would enter a shopping mall, with no special pretexts or preparations. However, once inside, the intention is not only to promote a new space for the fruition of art, but also to create new audiences in the face of a new cosmopolitan, international cultural reality, as well as fostering new forms of consumerism. O’Doherty qualifies this intention:

‘The ideal gallery subtracts any indication from the artwork that interferes in the fact that the artwork is ‘art’. The work is isolated from everything that could damage its appreciation of itself. This provides the space with a presence which is typical of other spaces were conventions are maintained through the repetition of a closed value system’.

If in the Museum of Tomorrow the visitor conducts the formation of spaces, this is not necessarily the case in the Museum of Modern Art. The spatial model established by this new conception of art space, the ‘white cube’, corresponds to a combination of interests, which led modernist art to a certain exclusivity that resembles the exclusivity of art collected in the previous centuries.

Curiously, Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace of 1851 influenced two contradicting/contrasting trends in the relationship between art and architecture, which shaped the art museum of the 20th century. The first one is related to pure form, culminating with the conception of the ‘white cube’ and the second one is related to the experimental, participative space, which is in direct dialogue with the city and its inhabitants, and which is the precursor of the museum as interface.

The Crystal Palace launched by chance, or more precisely, unconsciously, the modern desire for ‘pure form’. The huge ‘greenhouse’ meant the definitive start of the modern architectural trend of emphasising all that is ‘unique and irreducible in each art in particular’ (Greenberg). This was one of the first ‘bare’ architectures, representing at the same time transparency and corporality, a result of modernity’s self-criticism. Even if this was not intentional self-criticism, these architectures played with this modern characteristic by being the product of an engineer. In other words, by being imagined by a non-architect, this construction directly questions architecture’s raison-d’être and its truths. (...) In any possible way, all these circumstances brought profound instability to other ‘reified’ concepts and understandings, amongst them the museum.

Crystal Palace, Imaginary Museum, Lab-Museums, Cultural Centres,  Large Exhibitions

The Crystal Palace was an ‘event’ directed at the great public as it was not built under the shelter of marble, pompous stylobats or porticos and pediments, but as an ‘open space’, a ‘showroom’ (Levin) or better still a ‘transparent space’ where people could move amongst (or interact with) the products/objects exhibited. The public was an integral part of this architectural environment, as opposed to a mere spectator or admirer. This first ‘technological circus’ of modernity ended up influencing the rise of other intriguing contemporary architectural projects, such as the Beaubourg in Paris or Buckminister Fuller’s Dome over Manhattan.

It is interesting to note that the impact of the Great International Exhibitions on Europe’s and the New World’s cultural structure was not very significant during that time – from 1851 to the First World War. It certainly influenced ‘third-party’ outcomes, such as the idea that train stations would be the new cathedrals; however, it certainly did not affect the trajectory of museums, libraries and archives, which were still considered the true drivers of the universal cultural legacy. Its influence, however, is evident in the post-war period when it became part of a new cultural formulation.

The need for a new social-cultural model for post-war Europe was evident and paramount. Amongst the reasons for this we can list: the atrocities committed by fascist dictatorships; the misuse of art symbolism for the construction of an overbearing national identity that perversely justified the extermination of millions of people – as beautifully reflected by Peter Cohen’s film The Architecture of Doom (1992) -; the devastating effects of war on the populations and economies of European countries; and, finally, the downfall of Colonialism and its definite impacts on global geopolitics and social-cultural values, which had in the museum one of its primary references.

In face of this new local, regional and global reality, the museum’s symbolism and cultural representation began to be reviewed not only by the artistic avant-gardes but also officially by new cultural policies, and even by a critique originated inside its own operational system, that is, criticism from within.

 

Malraux

It is not a coincidence that France became one of the main stages of this revision. Internally and externally demoralised due to the effects of World War II, it had to invest in a cultural plan that could activate society’s self-esteem. Public power took the lead in this process with André Malraux (1901-1976) appointed as France’s Ministry of Culture in 1959 by President De Gaulle. His main innovations were the cultural action strategies adopted in his public policy that did not prioritise material culture values but processes of cultural mediation that sought to develop actions and relations between cultural work, its production, its reception and its public and collective use. The basis for such an approach are Malraux’s own ideas, especially those presented in his book The Voices of Silence (1951), which contains his most quoted text: the Imaginary Museum.

From 1950s to 1960s, whilst exploring the relationships between photography and printing techniques, both undergoing continuous improvements, Malraux proposed, with the imaginary museum, the elimination of framings, both of painting and sculpture, as well as of architecture itself. That is, the metamorphosis of the ‘artworks’ surroundings hosted by the museum takes place mainly due to the effect of photography not only on the perception of art but of the space which reifies it, the museum. This is due to photography being able to transcend the limits of representation with its resources, through the possibilities of recording and publishing. Therefore, Malraux sought to identify and explore the impact of this new technology on human perception. He believed that a new perception of art was imminent and that art books were the forerunners of this transformation. In short, the technological advances of the time revealed a powerful dormant individual imaginary. In this sense, Malraux did not criticise the museum of material culture, but he added a new and contemporary facet to this complex. Regarding the museum, his intention was to investigate a new ‘envelope’ capable of promoting a different context for the artworks it hosted, as well as encouraging new purposes for both the museum and art.

Malraux imagined the art book not as a beautiful and glossy book to adorn the tables and bookcases of bourgeois homes, but as another means for the improvement and expansion of visual knowledge, a new space for art. By registering an artwork in detail, photography allowed the edition of books promoting another kind of experience of the legacy shown, a fruition which is different from our ordinary experience or that which is allowed in a Neoclassical or even Modernist museum.

His same avant-garde concern with regards to the space of art, modes or operations that could enhance the fruition and perception of art, led Malraux to develop, alongside his team in the French Ministry of Culture, a new format of cultural facility: the Maison de la Culture which, beyond fostering the experience of art, were also spaces that promoted sociability and community spirit. Pierre Moinot, Malraux’s assistant, at the launch of the Ministry of Culture’s five-year plan in March 1961, defined the Maison de la Culture as a ‘pluridisciplinary meeting place between man and art that promotes a familiarity, shock, passion, another way for people to consider their own condition. The works of culture are, in essence, the welfare of all, our mirror; it is important that we can all measure and contemplate its wealth. The idea is to encourage the immediate encounter, the direct confrontation with the artwork.”

In principle, the plan reveals the installation of these Maisons de la Culture in the main French cities, but only seven were effectively built, amongst these, projects designed by internationally renowned architects such as Oscar Niemeyer in Le Havre (1978) and Le Courbusier in Firminy-Vert (1965).

This conception of a pluricultural and multidisciplinary space, aimed at diverse artistic and cultural manifestations, with intense simultaneous and continuous local, national and international programming in its various spaces, supported by a heterogeneous group of qualified professionals and equipped with conveniences such as a café and/or restaurant, not only already functioned as socio-cultural interfaces but also served as a basis for the improvement of this new format of cultural facility.


Cultural Centres

The large-scale cultural centres that emerged in great urban centres in the 1970s and 1980s are therefore updated and improved versions of the Maisons de la Culture. Thus it is not a coincidence that the National Centre for Art and Culture Georges Pompidou in Paris, known as the Beaubourg, opened in 1977, is still considered as a main reference amongst large-scale cultural centres.

Modernisation/upgrading was needed mainly due to the worldwide trend of growing cities, markedly the ones which today are global cultural and artistic centres, and also due to the increasing influence of the mass media in the socio-cultural configuration of those cities. The Cultural Centres also correspond to the aspirations which, in great part, motivated the revolutionary movements that marked the year of 1968, as they sought to correspond to the aspirations of cultural democratisation and participation from new agents that were entering the cultural system, both locally and globally.

Therefore the 1960s and 1970s marked the passage from an artistic internationalism – which guided the creation and maintenance of the Museums of Modern Art – to a cultural globalism that today seeks to relate the plurality of existing structures of cultural display and production – which includes museums, cultural centres, biennials, the Documenta, the Kunsthalles, art fairs, etc. – not only with mass media, but with a virtual culture supported by current information and communication technology.

But before we examine this new artistic and cultural configuration that promotes the existence of museums-interfaces, of hybrid production, display and memory platforms, we have yet to highlight a few important passages in cultural practices from the 1960s to the 1980s.


Pontus Hulten

A singular practice in the relation between cultural centres and museums is that of Pontus Hulten (1924–2006). Director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden, between 1958 and 1973 and responsible for its worldwide projection as a space dedicated to contemporary art, Hulten was also director-founder of the National Museum of Modern Art which, along with the BPI - an immense public library with open access -, film and performance theatres, temporary exhibition galleries, Brancusi’s ‘dislocated studio’ and the IRCAM – Georges Pompidou Institute of Acoustic and Musical Research and Coordination in Paris - constitute the above mentioned National Centre for Art and Culture Georges Pompidou in Paris. The Beaubourg, is a revolutionary cultural facility due to its unusual configuration, which combines display, performance, reading, information, research and memory resources, manifested through a singular and remarkable architecture.

For this great Parisian challenge, Hulten brought his experience as the director of the Moderna Museet and also as the director of a multidisciplinary and multicultural space with similar features and a similar mission to the Maisons de la Culture in France:

In 1967, we worked at the Kulturhuset for the city of Stockholm. There, public participation was intended to be more direct, more intense and more participative than ever, that is, we wanted to develop workshops where the public could participate directly, where they could debate, for instance, something new that was being dealt with by the press – a space for the critique of everyday life. It was meant to be more revolutionary than the Pompidou Centre in a city much smaller than Paris. The Beaubourg is also a product of 1968, as seen by Georges Pompidou.

In his statement and through his curatorial experience, Hulten demonstrated that a new space for culture must privilege not only basic activities – such as the preservation of collections, exhibitions, presentations and the access to information – but also participative ones, either through practical or discursive activities. His trajectory in the cultural sphere underlines another important element in this work method: the close work between cultural management and curatorial work, and the artists, through creative processes.

Another two agents of the same importance as Hulten during the same period must also be mentioned here: Szeemann and Zanini, since both were key figures in the modernisation of art museums in the new geopolitical and cultural reality that was being formed in the post-war period. This new reality was shaped, amongst other things, by the dissolution of colonialism, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the military dictatorships in Latin America and by technological innovations, as well as the profound transformations in the very nature of art, mainly those caused by processes today characterised as of the dematerialisation of art. Avant-garde movements such as Arte Povera, Conceptual Art, Site-Specificity and Land Art, as well as new artistic practices such as performances and happenings, influenced particular and remarkable transformations in the direction of certain art museums and their programmes.

The first step in this transformation were the exhibitions. These new forms of production and artistic attitude were hosted for the first time in two memorable exhibitions: ‘Op Losse Schroeven’ (On Loose Screws) at the Museu Stedelijk in Amsterdam and 'When Attitudes Become Form - Live in Your Head' at the Bern Kunsthalle, both in 1969. The first was curated by Wim Beeren (1928-2000) and the second by Harald Szeemann (1933-2005).

Beeren would later become the Stedelijk’s director in the 1980s. Following Willem Sandberg’s [1945–1963] innovative and experimental direction, which put this museum on the international contemporary art map, Beeren’s proposal for that exhibition was to bring productions into the museological space which, due to their process-based, ephemeral and performative nature, destabilised the museum’s own systematic, conservative and materialistic nature.


Harald Szeemann

Szeemann used an alternative art space, a Kunsthalle, which, without a permanent collection, could, according to him, operate more like a laboratory than a memorial. Due to a lack of resources, it was necessary to improvise and make the most of what they had. It was in this context – due to the impossibility of realising an exhibition that would require shipping artworks from other European and American cities and following an idea he had whilst paying a studio visit to the then young artist Jan Dibbets, who showed him a work in process - that the conception of the exhibition ‘When Attitudes Become Form’ was born:

(…) I will organise an exhibition focusing on behaviour and gestures that are similar to the one I see here. (…) the catalogue documents this revolution in the visual arts, discussing how the works could either assume a material form or remain immaterial. (…) It was a moment of great intensity and freedom as you could produce a work or simply imagine it. (...)

If Hulten build bridges between the realm of museums and the more recent realm of cultural centres, Szeemann, in turn, played a key role in establishing another important connection between alternative art spaces and large international exhibitions such as the Kassel Documenta and the Biennials, which was a key factor in the renovation of art museums. As the director of a Kunsthalle, he certainly had more mobility than a museum director, and when questioned by the municipality of Bern in Switzerland and the Kunsthalle Board about the radical nature of his exhibition ‘When Attitudes Become Form’, he decided to declare his independence from the strict institutional restraints by calling himself an Ausstellungsmacher, an ‘exhibition maker’. Thus in 1969, the figure of the independent curator was born, a nomad mediator in the art system. With his newly acquired position, Szeemann hovered between the arena of temporary institutional events such as the Kassel Documenta – having been one of its most renowned curators, with his project for the 5th edition in 1972 – and the institutional arena of permanent spaces such as the Kunsthalles and art museums.


Walter Zanini

But this picture would not be complete without mentioning the work of Walter Zanini in São Paulo, Brazil. Zanini was the main coordinator of the exchanges between the collaborative, experimental and laboratory practices of a contemporary art museum that was being formed and the São Paulo Biennial. Both - under the direction of Zanini - sought to understand, read and map out contemporary art production, as well as its critical and political insertion in an expanded socio-cultural context. These propositional management practices, which transformed the operating structures of cultural facilities such as the museum or the biennial, opened up new possibilities of artistic-cultural interchange with very distinct features from those championed by Modernism’s internationalism.

Upon returning from a long period of study in Europe [1954-1962], Zanini immediately started his teaching and research activities at Faculty of Philosophy, Languages and Human Sciences of the University of São Paulo (USP). With the extinction of the society that supported the Museum of Modern Art in 1962, Ciccillo Matarazzo donated the entire patrimony of the Museum of Modern Art to the University of São Paulo, including the collection, for the creation of USP’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC). Zanini took up the coordination of this new institution in 1963 and remained in the post until 1978. In 1980, he was invited by the Biennial’s president, Luiz Villares, to curate its 16th edition (1981). He remained in the post of curator and also carried its 17th edition (1983). In an interview given to Fórum Permanente in 16December 2009 Zanini mentioned some aspects of this relational cultural action between the museum and the biennial:

With regards to the Biennial issue, in 1980 I had the idea to make an exhibition based on analogies of language. This is what I thought about and presented to the Biennial’s Science and Culture Council. It was approved. (…) A great show comparing languages that exist in today’s world. I tried to establish relationships between these things, that is, to compare these things and escape from strict compartmentalisations, sometimes with a circular passage – the whole Biennial was compartmentalised by countries.

 

It had to reflect current times, that moment, that instant. Because a museum of modern art – what I think we tried to do – has to work with art that is being made at the time. Is this the kind of art that is being made? This is what should be in the museum. This is what I thought, what this group that was in the museum thought, and which started around 1970, in the late 1960s, in debates, in texts, everywhere. It was something that gathered momentum, wasn’t it? I believe this culminated in the 1970s, and then it died out. And the Biennial carried on with the division by countries for a long time. In spite of these Analogies of Language…

 

I believe the Analogies of Language was positive for the Biennial. (…) It was very difficult to do… it was very difficult for the countries to select the artists. The Biennial should have a curator. The Biennial should have a scientific curator to organise the show.

This curatorial approach based on analogies of language immediately allowed the radical modernisation both of the museum and of an exhibition of the scale of the São Paulo Biennial. The greatest merit of this kind of critical reading of contemporaneity is that it was not excluding or restrictive. It allowed more traditional languages such as painting, sculpture and graphic arts to dialogue with new technological languages and with new procedures in art that were being consolidated and reoriented at that moment.

Zanini, seeking to shorten Brazil’s geographic distance to the main cultural productions that emerged in North America and Europe, invested, along with the artists that assisted him at the MAC, in procedures and collective manifestations that operated with and critically incorporated the characteristics of a society based on mass communications and the development of new technologies. The way in which he and artists such as Júlio Plaza and Donato Ferrari promoted Mail Art both at the MAC and the 16th São Paulo Biennial, demonstrates well how this museum’s programme sought to overcome the hurdles it faced on a daily basis. Other investments in process-based art as well as in new visual languages such as video art, allowed the museum to keep up to date locally and globally. Creative solutions, based on collective work and on new modes of economic operation allowed the MAC, at the same time, to establish an immediate correspondence both with the international and local art circuit, whose audience at the time lacked opportunities and was eager for new modes of collective participation – due, mainly, to the limitations imposed by the military government.

At the beginning of the 1970s, until he left the museum, Zanini kept supporting conceptual practices – in which the idea prevailed over the result – and situations in which audience participation was part of the artists’ propositions. Freedom of choice crushed by the military dictatorship was transformed into artistic action by the artists, who sought different ways of relating art and the current political situation.

Zanini himself adds:

We did what we could in those times. The budget was small, and we had a small staff. (…) You picture the director sitting on a chair. It was nothing like that. It was very different; it was romantic, if you will. Romantic in the good sense, of doing things, of working together with the artists. There was involvement, great friendship. (…) We were colleagues. There wasn’t this bureaucratic issue of hierarchy. One sought contacts - simply human, technical, professional contacts - to join forces. (…) I believe this conceptualism brought on the force of ideas. No doubt.

In spite of the emphasis on contemporary critical and creative actions by means of exhibitions such as the JACs – Jovem Arte Contemporânea (Young Contemporary Art), 7/4/1972 Acontecimentos (7/4/1972 Happenings), Prospectiva 74 (Prospective 74), Poéticas Visuais (Visual Poetics), Zanini, with his small technical team and with the support of the artists involved with the museum programme, also carried out essential activities, that is, basic museum activities such as acquisition policies, publications and a programme of travelling exhibitions with its collection across Brazil.


Hulten, Szeemann & Zanini

Hulten, Szeemann and Zanini’s practices were contemporary, simultaneous and complementary. They were also practices informed by and conscious of contemporary art processes that were taking place concurrently in various localities. The three of them invested, in a pioneering way, in new art trends, mainly process-based ones such as site-specific projects, performances and happenings, mail art and conceptual art. They encouraged experimentation with new media. They also valued collaborative, horizontal work, which was motivated not by personal/authorial interests but by collective efforts. A working mode that - if not yet formed as a network - already anticipated this possibility, thus demonstrating its innovative character.

Imaginary, Hybrid, Anthropophagic, Tropicalist, Contextualised Museum

The concept of imaginary museum, besides corresponding to what has already been said in relation to Malraux’s ideas and its applications, also allows us to extend to other interpretations, such as the coexistence of existing museums and those created by collective imagination and, certainly, with those imagined by each individual. The imaginary museum also allows us to idealise the museum in the present time, in the a-temporality of the world of ideas and even as a projection of the future. However, for the socialisation of these processes it is necessary to establish a negotiation similar to what Adorno developed in his famous essay Valéry-Proust Museum (1967). Adorno contrasts two views; one, Valéry’s, which is critical to the legacy of the museum, and the other, Proust’s, of praise. Here I reproduce a previously formulated comment about this contrast:

Adorno’s essential difference in relation to Malraux’s position is to underscore a third instance suggested by the synthesis of this dialectical inevitability, in which neither death (Valéry) nor life (Proust), but the critical presence of a subject in the museum space is prevalent. Thus Adorno produces a foreground for a critical experience within the art museum.


MASP

In Brazil, Lina Bo Bardi brought this critical attitude to our reality - which is also a poetic attitude in relation to art museums – through her museum project, the MASP, built between 1957 and 1968. The MASP is the materialisation, the socialisation, of the imaginary Tropicalist hybrid museum: an anthropophagic museum which savours not only Malraux, but also Mies van der Rohe and Paxton’s Crystal Palace, amongst other references. The MASP is amongst the great landmark works of the 20th century, alongside Duchamp’s Large Glass (1915–1923), Hélio Oiticica’s Spatial Reliefs from 1959, Fontana’s Spatial Concept from 1961, etc. When conceiving the museum, Lina Bo Bardi also appropriated the way of thinking of modern artists. Lina Bo Bardi’s museum - and not the art museum which is there today – is a 21st century museum, whose poignancy and originality have unfortunately been contained by efforts to return to order by a retrograde conservatism.

The MASP is seemingly presented as a modernist museum but, in reality, it presents an antithesis to the principles established by the ‘white cube’ paradigm. The second floor of the building (the picture gallery) was originally conceived as a great ‘Imaginary Museum’. Lina also sought support from Mies van der Rohe’s programme. From his work, Lina appropriated mainly the idea of a crystalline and homogeneous space, in contiguity with the exterior, with the city. In order to achieve this, she marked the exhibition space with two large glass ‘panels’, eliminating the need for opaque walls and creating individual transparent supports for paintings. As entities, works ‘float’ in space and dialogue with the visitor. It is up to the ‘flanêur’ to organise the works in space-time. Visuality can be operated in layers, by superposition or work-by-work. This spatial situation demands a critical involvement with the art space from the visitor. It is a bold proposition, both in terms of praxis and museological concept.

This contextualised, permeable, hyper-spatial concept of museum is innovative when compared to the previous epistemological stage in the turn from the Neoclassical museum to the Modern Art museum and, consequently, from the book to the magazine. The modern art museum is part of the city, but the visitor’s experience in its interior is diametrically different from that of the city. That is, when entering the modern art museum, the visitor leaves the city outside. The white cube ideology promotes a mise-en-scène supported by the strategies revealed by O'Doherty. Just as the Neoclassical museum, the Modern Art museum was configured as a temple, as a space exclusively for art. There is no possibility of dialogue between distinct realities; its premises guide the subject’s experience in its interior as an a priori condition for the fruition of art. However, just like the MASP today there are other spaces for art and culture that already promote some kind of fruition and interaction with creative processes, in great part contextualised by the urban experience.

Another two examples in the city of São Paulo reinforce and corroborate the characteristics of MASP’s programme, thus pointing towards a new direction, to new possibilities of institutional action that seek to contextualise the institution within its surroundings, even allowing these surroundings to enter, in a filtered way, the ‘protected space’ of culture. Just like MASP, these are landmarks of a new way of conceptualising the space of culture, distinct from those of Modernism, and close to the idea of a museum as interface, of the museum in the n-dimensional space, in hyperspace. The examples quoted here are based on personal experience and proximity, as well as on their singularities in relation to the standard scenario of similar cultural facilities in Brazil and abroad.


SESC Pompéia

The MASP is part of Lina Bo Bardi’s intentional architectural programme, which includes other projects, particularly SESC Pompéia. A centre, or rather, a cultural complex formed by multi-use spaces, bar/café, theatre, workshops, as well as leisure and sports facilities which, expanding the MASP project, was designed by Lina and her team [1977-1982] not only to correspond to the requirements of a corporation, the SESC, but to truly motivate the community’s socio-cultural belonging. It was conceived as an environment open to exchange and dialogue in order to become a meeting point, an interface between the potential of popular creation and Western culture’s traditional manifestations. The departure point was to motivate the community to use the new centre’s facilities spontaneously, in a true spirit of appropriation stemming from a dialogic and collaborative process. Preserving the buildings of an old drum factory, a pioneering architectural structure in Brazil built in reinforced concrete with masonry sealing, Lina Bo Bardi also kept the original land use scheme, with an internal road that functions as an organising axis, formerly ordering the industrial dynamics. This same internal road still organises the centre’s cultural activities, and it is an essential feature in the positive occupation of this cultural centre.

Centro Cultural São Paulo

Conscious about the poignancy of the street metaphor as the organising axis of the socio-cultural dynamics of a space for art and culture today, the architects Eurico Prado Lopes and Luis Telles designed another equally popular venue for the city, the Centro Cultural São Paulo - CCSP, inaugurated in the same year as the SESC Pompéia.

The Centro Cultural São Paulo is a landmark of Brazilian Post-Modernism. Inaugurated in 1982, its architecture is singular not only for the richness of its concept and project, but mainly because it was designed to become a democratic and participative environment. The architects and team involved went beyond projecting ideals, putting into practice a spatial-temporal venue activated and modelled by the use and appropriation by people. This aim was made clear through the creation of an internal road that organises its socio-cultural dynamics. That is, the road as a metaphor activates visitors, offering new powers to the passers-by, allowing them to become agents in the processes generated in this environment.

We rarely encounter an architectural construction designed in full integration with light, with the plasticity resulting from the combination of iron and reinforced concrete, with the rhythmic articulation of generously horizontal floors and with the carefully planned transparency achieved with perpendicular sections of large glass surfaces. People are perfectly incorporated and at ease in this environment, visiting the Centro Cultural São Paulo on a daily basis moved by various interests and certainly attracted not only by the lucid beauty but also by the cultural activities that take place there.

Lopes and Telles invest in another type of architecture, which contrasts with the brutalism of Lina Bo Bardi’s architecture and that of other contemporary architects such as Paulo Mendes da Rocha. However, the similarities with SESC Pompéia are clear with regards to its occupation and the way in which people use its spaces and facilities. Originally, in its design developed from 1975, the building was to host a gigantic open access library of almost 50,000 square meters, but in 1981, when construction began, this proposal was adapted so the building would become a cultural centre hosting not only a library – the second largest library in the city and the most visited -, but also a complex of theatres, exhibition and multi-use spaces, a bar/restaurant and a shop. Furthermore, the CCSP has four different collections that are an addition to its singularity and diverse programme as a cultural venue. One interesting fact is that both SESC Pompéia and the Centro Cultural São Paulo were designed during the military dictatorship. However, the architects and teams involved in both have conceptually based their projects on principles of transparency and participation, thus valuing freedom and anticipating the democratic regime in 1984, after 20 years of dictatorship.

If, in the analogy of the Book and the Museum we could find and present a first epistemological turn in 1930s New York with the emergence of the magazine and of the modern art museum, would it be possible to identify another turn now?

 

Museum, Interfaces, Dimensionality

(...) First we have a segment that ‘lives’ in a straight line (one-dimensional space). By moving to a two-dimensional space, we move the segment towards a new dimension and we obtain a square. By moving the square into a new dimension we obtain a cube whose representation - through perspective in the two-dimensional space inhabited by the square - is very familiar to us. Finally, by moving the cube in a new direction (fourth dimension), we then obtain the so-called hypercube. Its representation on a plane is not as simple as that of the cube – perhaps a question of visual conditioning! (…) Six squares or six faces form the cube, whereas the hypercube has cubes as ‘faces’. How many cubes are there in a hypercube?

A warning before we proceed towards the conclusion of this text. We must remember that the magazine has not replaced the book; neither has the modernist museum taken the place of the Neoclassical museum. The ongoing process of the museum as interface does not imply the substitution or overcoming of the museum of material culture by a museum in virtuality. Neither do we propose a virtual museum, that is, a museum which exists completely in virtuality.

The fact is that by exploring hyperspace in a critical-creative way – taking as reference not only the ideas and practices mentioned here but also the history of the art museum -, we could develop, shape and take new relational extensions to existing museological structures further, which would certainly strengthen and update the material culture museum.

The great challenge launched by the hypercube, particularly in the realm of museums, is the virtual modelling of a set of active environments in continuous processing, which besides operating in their own relativised space-time, are also capable of simultaneously interrelating. This process will undoubtedly interfere with the idea and application of what we understand today as being a classroom, a laboratory, a library or a museum. These spaces, that were, and are, designed mainly for transmitting knowledge, when in interrelation to others of a virtual nature, end up being automatically relativised not only for the novelty factor but also the freedom and openness offered by hyperspace.

Thus, what is being discussed and analysed here, when considering the museum in virtuality, is the existence and the current state of the material culture museum and its possible connections in virtuality; that is, museological extensions already in operation - such as museum websites, data banks and discursive platforms, amongst others – or others that are still to be created and developed in this field. A greater understanding of these new spatial-temporal situations requires not only a more critical and effective incursion into n-dimensionality but above all a more conscious action by the museum in relation to this new interface condition.

An interface - as a mediation and encounter device that allows, promotes and regulates the interaction between processes that take place within the relation between the real and virtuality - presents itself as an environment/device shaped by the need/desire for the (in principle, non-relational) interaction of entities. The interface is something that positions itself ‘in between’ things, actions and processes.  All that is translation, transformation and passage, belongs to the realm of the interface.

Amongst the multiplicity of processes that it intermediates, the dynamics of the interface are not randomly extended. It depends on each component, their confrontations and sharing, affinities and conflicts with other components. In order to bring these encounters together, the interface guarantees the conditions of knowledge between each component. It establishes coordinates and defines each component’s role. In order to bring about change, it needs the forces created by tensions between processes that provide the necessary conditions for the traffic of information.

The term interface is commonly associated with the relationship between man and machine and mainly to the relationship between man and computers, but it has also been employed in other areas, such as in Social Sciences, in concepts that also help to explain the museum as interface:

A social interface is a critical point of intersection between different ways of living, social fields or levels of social organisation, where social discontinuities based on differences of value, interests, knowledge and power are probably located.

The epistemological turn proposed by this type of understanding– elaborated by the critical trends of the Sociology of Development - is centred on the figure of the subject - the human intermediation – capable of creating his/her own spaces as well as participating actively in the construction of multiple knowledge networks. The subject therefore is an active, an operative and a propositional element in this situation of dialogue, negotiation and commitment which is offered by the interface. The subject – through his/her participation – critically identifies which elements contribute to or prevent the success of the creation of social contexts, generators of both knowledge and the interchange of knowledge and belonging. Therefore, beyond knowledge transfer, the transformation of the subject and the lived context is also at stake.

This proposition is certainly complemented by another important social-economic-cultural phenomenon linked to technological innovations: the popularisation of the internet, which today connects billions of people around the world. This was only possible due to a combination of three factors: the creation of a standard (universal) protocol for the distribution of data (TCP/IP) for a global system of interconnected computer networks in 1989, the development of user-friendly browsing interfaces in 1993 with the launch of the Mosaic browser and the commercial launch of the internet between 1994 and 1995.

Usability is this combination’s central element. More than a concept and a demand from Consumer Society without boundaries, it is also an effort aimed at facilitating both the individual and collective or social use of cultural objects, mediums and processes, thus promoting the social sphere. Furthermore, the main elements of the current agenda are the ease of use and the ability to interact with processes or objects produced by man. The interesting aspect is that the internet, despite being configured to operate as a global structure for universal information and communication, acting as a sort of virtual spine of globalisation, allows not only the maintenance of universal mechanisms of knowledge but also suggests and facilitates the shaping of relative, contextual platforms, moulded by the individual or the community.

In contemporary art, mainly in post-modernist production, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) announces a similar understanding of the epistemological transformation in the field of art. In his text, ‘The Creative Act’ of 1957, Duchamp explains that the creative act is not performed by the artist alone: ‘the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and this adds his contribution to the creative act.

Duchamp brings these three elements (the artist, the artwork and the observer) to the same level, in which there is no hierarchical distinction amongst them. It is the interaction between these elements that allows the formation of context (...). Dimensionality - and no longer necessarily the visibility of the experienced world – is shaped through the interaction of objects and critical subjects, who are aware of not only the creative act but also the interpretative act and the limits of this relative knowledge. This other form of knowledge becomes operational when ‘users’ (producers and observers), their products and other element coexist in interaction, in a network.

By recognising the presence of the user within a context of knowledge, the spatial-temporal condition both of the user and the context is multiplied. This is possible because movements, times, patterns, colours, sounds, smells, thoughts, imagination, dreams, as well as all kinds of associated ideas and feelings can be understood as different and as possible dimensions of the context of knowledge.

Duchamp, with his avant-garde production and approach, reflected not only on his Ready-Mades, Large Glass and Étant donnés but also on his propositional participation in the world of art and his interest in the different areas of knowledge, such as Philosophy and Geometry – in particular with regards to the 4th dimension -, participates effectively in this new configuration of the understanding of art in the post-war period. His artworks, texts and attitude suggest new parameters for the production, exhibition and materialisation of art.

These final comments suggest the need to create and maintain social-cultural interfaces in the public sphere, inspired by programmes, projects and gestures recovered throughout the text which have influenced transformations in the art system’s institutional structures and practices. We have given special attention to the creation of the Maisons de la Culture in France and their more recent and globalised version, the Cultural Centres, as well as the Lab-Museums, particularly the cultural initiatives promoted by cultural  managers  Pontus Hulten, Harald Szeemann and Walter Zanini, considered here as ‘contemporary, simultaneous and complementary’. Finally, we have highlighted the programme of an ‘imaginary, hybrid, tropical, anthropophagic’ museum formulated by Lina Bo Bardi, the MASP – inaugurated in 1968 –, as well as other two cultural centres in the city of São Paulo inaugurated in 1982. This set of innovative propositions emphasise the visitor/user/participant/active central role in shaping spaces, proposing, therefore, a different ritual, a different mise-en-scéne, as well as new forms of materialisation and reception of art, which are more complex and integrated into reality and life. There were other cases that we could have also analysed. Here another three examples can be briefly cited  with the aim of not minimising or even regionalising the action of museums as interface. The Tate Modern in London, mainly for the impact of its site-specific programme at the Turbine Hall on the materialisation of the museum itself. The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan, for its bold, circular and transparent architecture, which reinforces the situation of the context in which it was built: a public square. The Musée D’Orsay in Paris, for preserving the original features of the building’s train station, giving priority to certain dynamics, both in terms of space of passage and crowd gathering. In all these situations, the reflection on the art museum occurs through the action of the spectator in its interior, by means of a critical experience, which updates the spectator in a transforming way.

From this perspective, the art museum is seen as a social-artistic-cultural complex acting on several fronts. It is the environment for and the driver of transformations in the modes of representation and production of meanings of a society that is updated with time. The museum of art, mainly after its modern version of the 1930s, has been playing a different role: from illustrative museum to cultural agent, that is, a museum placed not only in its own context but also in life and its dynamics.

By being complementary and subsequent to the other two stages previously presented – ‘book and museum’ and ‘magazine and modern art museum’ – the current stage, the interface stage, which is under development, broadens the condition and action both of the museum and of art itself. Guided by the sequence of examples and situations presented here, as well as by the reference to the trajectory of the hypercube segment – referring to the quote that opens this part of the text – it was possible to draw some features of this new condition for the museum, already announced with the title of the text as being the condition of interface.



SILVETTI, Jorge, The Beauty of Shadows, in Oppositions N. 9, 1977, pp 43-61

GROSSMANN, Martin, Museum Imaging: modelling Modernity, PhD Thesis, Liverpool University, 1993, pp 333

GROSSMANN, Martin, Hipermuseu: a arte em outras dimensões. Critical argument submitted to the Qualification Examination (Livre Docência) at the Department of Library Studies of the School of Communication and Arts of the University of São Paulo, under the specialisation of Cultural Action/Professorship Thesis, 2001.

Condition of modern art explored in the PhD thesis Museum Imaging: Modelling Modernity conducted from October 1988 to March 2003 at the School of Architecture and Building Engineering of the University of Liverpool, under the supervision of Professor David Thistlewood (1944-1998).

The term ‘flâneur’ comes from the French verb ‘flâner’, which means to walk or to stroll. It is directly linked to the theory of modernity, whose foundation is Charles Baudelaire’s work, particularly the way in which the poet and essayist treats the characterisation of modern man whose habitat is the city, the metropolis. Other authors that complement and update this conceptualisation are Walter Benjamin, Georg Simmel and Sigfried Kracauer, amongst others. The ‘flâneur’ is also currently linked to the experience of browsing the virtual world, particularly the hypertext that constitutes the internet. Please refer to an interesting site that associates the ‘flâneur’ to the notion of hypertext: The Arcades Project: The Flâneur. <http://www.thelemming.com/lemming/dissertation-web/home/flaneur.html>

BENJAMIN, Walter, One Way Street, New York Harcourt Brace Jovanivich, 1978, pp 96

As suggested by Walter Benjamin in relation to the allegory of Angelus Novus in his essay Theses of the Philosophy of History of 1940.

The concept of anti-museum was also developed during my post-graduation as the result of a process of deconstructing the prevalent concept of the art museum, which corresponds to its universalism. The possibility of exploring other transversal – or even eccentric and contextual – models and modes that are still related to the museological practice and theory, generates this concept which is fundamental for the constitution of a new rationale in terms of the reflection of the art museum’s role in contemporaneity. In addition to the PhD thesis, please see also GROSSMANN, Martin O Anti-Museu IN Revista Comunicações e Artes, Ano 15, nº24, 1991, pp 5-20

A multimedia version of this text is available at the Fórum Permanente’s website <http://www.forumpermanente.org>

The first purpose built museum was the Fridericianum Museum in Kassel, Germany, in 1779. The same country also saw the first museum construction boom from the 1830s onwards in cities such as Berlin and Munich.

O’DOHERTY, Brian No interior do Cubo Branco, a ideologia do espaço da arte, São Paulo, Martins Fontes, 2002

The trajectory of the Great International Exhibitions began on 1st of May 1851 with the opening of the Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park. Designed by engineer Joseph Paxton, this incredible 750,000 square feet transparent construction, made from pre-fabricated cast iron and glass, was 2,000 feet long, 500 feet wide and 70 feet tall. It exhibited the magnitude and diversity of the colonial production, from industrialised products, machinery and artworks, displayed by more than 13,000 exhibitors, both from the United Kingdom and other European countries and the US. The 1st International Exhibition at the Crystal Palace received around 6 million visitors. The resources from the profits resulting from its huge success made possible the construction of important museums, such as the Science Museum, the National History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, all located in the district of South Kensington in London.

Following this, there were the great exhibitions of Dublin (1853), New York (1853), Munich (1854), Paris (1855) and many more. Besides the Crystal Palace, other fantastic constructions based on this new cast iron and glass technology were erected thanks to the commercial and popular success of the Great Exhibitions, including the Palais de l’Industrie in Paris in 1855. The main exhibition building in 1867, also in Paris, erected by Kranz and Alexandre Eiffel, was oval shaped with a 1,739 x 1,370 feet axis. One of the main landmarks of this grandiose period is the almost 1,000 feet high Eiffel Tower, which weights more than 7,000 tons and was the central part of the Paris Great Exhibition in 1889. The great exhibition model loses momentum mainly due to the Great Wars.

Term coined by Guy Debord and explored by him is his 1967 book La Société du Spectacle, which can be accessed online in Portuguese at: www.arq.ufsc.br/.../debord_sociedade_do_espetaculo.pdf

Different fields of knowledge have been developing reflections and conclusions on the path from internationalism to globalisation. In the case of contemporary art and its institutions, we can highlight the work of GAM-Global Art and the Museum, a research and cultural action platform based at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, headed by Hans Belting and Andrea Buddensieg. Please visit the site: http://www.globalartmuseum.de/. As well as two published books so far: WEIBEL, Peter & BUDDENSIEG, Andrea Contemporary Art and the Museum, a Global Perspective, Ostfildern, Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2007, p.256 e BELTING, Hans & BUDDENSIEG, Andrea, The Global Art World, audiences, markets and museums, Ostfildern, Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2009, p.408

Please see KRAUSS, R. (1986), The Originality of the Avant-garde and other Modernist Myths, (London, MIT)

(…) a periodizing concept whose function is to correlate the emergence of new formal features in culture with the emergence of a new type of social life and a new economic order – what is often euphemistically called modernization, post-industrial or consumer society, the society of the media or the spectacle or multinational capitalism. This new moment of capitalism can be dated from the postwar boom in the United States in the late 1940s and early ‘50s or, in France, from the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958. (JAMESON, Fredric, Pós-Modernidade e Sociedade do Consumo Novos Estudos Cebrap; n. 12/ 1985 b. p. 16-26.

IN Mildred S Friedman; Joseph Giovannini; et al Graphic design in America : a visual language history; Minneapolis : Walker Art Center ; New York : Abrams, 1989

STEIN, C. S., The art museum of tomorrow. Architectural record, v. 67, Jan. 1930, p. 5.

The typology of the museum that incorporates all these features is the National History Museum.

M.D. Levin, The Modern Museum: temple or showroom? Tel Aviv: Dvir Publishing House, 1983.

GROSSMANN, Martin Apresentação IN O´DOHERTY, Brian. No interior do cubo branco: a ideologia do Espaço da Arte. São Paulo, Martins Fontes, 2002, p. xiv.

O’DOHERTY. op cit., p. 3.

This aspiration of ‘pure form’ in architecture can be found in the majority of avant-garde movements of the 20th century: in Futurism, at the Bauhaus, in De Stijl’s Plastic Architecture and mainly in the International Style.

GROSSMANN, O Anti-Museu, op cit p. 20

GROSSMANN, O Anti-Museu, op cit. p. 18

André Malraux was a multi-faceted man, committed to noble causes. He fought for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, organising the International Brigades’ Air Force (1936-39).  He also fought in WWII and took part in the French Resistance during German occupation. A fearless adventurer, he participated in some archaeological expeditions in Indochina. Writer, essayist, art historian and statesman, he was the Ministry of Culture during Charles de Gaulle’s term for 11 years, from 1958-1969.

MALRAUX, A. Museu Imaginário in “As Vozes do Silêncio”, Lisboa, Livros do Brasil, vol 1, undated

GROSSMANN, Martin Pensando el Museo de Hoy, in art.es n.3, May and June 2004, p. 16

GIRARD, Augustin, « 1961. Ouverture de la première maison de la Culture », Lettre d'information n° 43, 17 février 1999, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication

In 1956, Brancusi donated his studio with all its contents to the French state (finished works, drawings, furniture, tools, library, record collection…). With the aim of maintaining the integrity of this collection, the National Modern Art Museum decided to rebuild it as it was left by the artist, near the Beaubourg, and invited architect Renzo Piano to design this difficult transmutation: from studio to studio-exhibition. This is doubtless one of the most impressive installations of the 20th century, alongside Palácio Itamaraty designed by Niemeyer in Brasilia and inaugurated in 1970.

See BAUDRILLARD, Jean, O efeito Beaubourg: implosão e dissuasão (1977) in A arte da desaparição, Rio de Janeiro: Editora  UFRJ, p.165 and 173. (Collection of texts organised by Kátia Maciel)

Interview with Pontus Hulten by Hans Ulrich Obrist in 1997 in OBRIST, Hans Ulrich, A Brief History of Curating, Zurich & Dijon, JRP/Ringier & Les Presses du Réel, 2008, p-45 [note: the Kulturhuset exists, see:  http://www.kulturhuset.stockholm.se/]

GLEADOWE, Teresa et all, Exhibiting the New Art: 'Op Losse Schroeven' and 'When Attitudes Become Form' 1969, Afterall, London, 2010

Kunsthalle is a German term commonly employed in the art world to designate spaces for temporary art exhibitions.

Interview with Harald Szeemann  by Hans Ulrich Obrist in 1995 in OBRIST, Hans Ulrich, A Brief History of Curating, op. cit., p-87

Interview with Walter Zanini by Fórum Permanente. Interviewers: Martin Grossmann, Pamela Prado, Vinicius Spricigo, Isis Baldini Elias, São Paulo 16/12/2009, (forthcoming).

For more details about the role of mail art in the MAC’s curatorial strategy during Walter Zanini’s direction (1963-78) and also in the 16th São Paulo Biennial, see: BALDINI ELIAS, Isis, Conservação e Restauro de Obras com Valor de Contemporaneidade; a arte postal da XVI Bienal de São Paulo, PhD Thesis, ECA-USP, São Paulo, 2010, pp207

SULZBACHER, Tatiana Cavalheiro, Laboratório no Museu: Práticas Colaborativas dentro de Instituições de Arte, MA Dissertation, CEART/UDESC, Florianópolis, 2010

Interview with Walter Zanini by Fórum Permanente. Op cit.

GROSSMANN, Martin Pensando el Museo de Hoy, op. Cit p. 17. In the same text there is also an important remark on the opposing views about the museum, Valéry’s and Proust’s: (…) Valéry considered the museum as a dismal repository. (…) Proust considered the museum as the ideal place for enchantment. Valéry was very interested in the mechanics of human thought and in creating a poetry that was pure in itself, in which language would be able to be fully expressed. Proust took art as the heart of human existence and believed its role was to recreate the past. From Valéry’s more objective viewpoint, museums were like tombs for artworks. His critique was directed to the excessive accumulation of works in museums such as the Louvre and his argument was that no mind was capable to deal with such disparity of information. Proust, on the other hand, understood history as landscape and consequently the museum as an irreplaceable medium in supporting the joie enivrante that this experience allows.” p. 17

GROSSMANN, Martin Seduccion y Crítica; arte y arquitectura em Brasil, Sublime N.6, November and December 2002, p20

O’DOHERTY. op cit.,

Other projects by Lina Bo Bardi that should be highlighted are: Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia (1959), Teatro Oficina (1984), Fundação Pierre Verger (1989).

GROSSMANN, Martin A atualidade do Centro Cultural São Paulo, TENDÊNCIAS/DEBATES section of the Jornal Folha de São Paulo newspaper on 14th July 2010, p3

GROSSMANN, Martin Outra objetividade - o CCSP no olhar dos artistas, introduction text for exhibition carried out at the Centro Cultural São Paulo from May to August 2007 <http://www.centrocultural.sp.gov.br/expo_programacao_outraobjetividade.asp >

These are: City’s Art Collection, Multimedia Archives, Folk Research Mission, Oneyda Alvarenga Audio Collection

MARAR, Ton, Ao Hipercubo in exhibition catalogue AO3 CUBO [cubed], curated by Luciana Brito and Martin Grossmann, Paço das Artes, São Paulo, March and April 1997, p.25

Hyperspace, in Geometry, refers to spaces with more than 3 dimensions, that is, n-dimensional.

The concept of critical-creative action/management - still in process of formulation - emerges from the conjunction of several theories and strategies, as well as a process of appropriation. It was conceived during the development of the Centro Cultural São Paulo’s institutional programme, under the directorship of this article’s author, from July 2006 to May 2010. It is a hybrid concept, materialised mainly through the practices promoted by cultural actions such as those highlighted in this text: those of the anti-museum, of the imaginary museum, of the laboratory museum, as well as those of artists who not only produce for the art system but also operate in the system in a self-critical and metalinguistic manner. History of Art has plenty of examples of this form of action. An instigating starting point are the prints by Albrecht Dürer that form the ‘didactic’ side of his work, composed of four books titled Underweysung der Messung mit dem Zirckel und Richtscheyt from 1525. In these books, the backstage of the artist’s creative processes are revealed, showing how perspective is obtained through a set of apparatuses, procedures and specific techniques, which, in their turn, are anchored on an ideology of space and representation that permeate the work. Another remarkable moment is the painting Las Meninas from 1656, which exposes Diego Velázquez’s conscious politics at the heart of the Spanish Kingdom of King Philip IV, a metalinguistic situation that has been explored by Foucault in his book The Order of Things from 1966, amongst many others. These approaches were followed by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), Eduard Mamet (1832-1883) and Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), culminating with Marcel Duchamp, who is a cornerstone of this type of critical-creative action within the art system in the 20th century. His artistic-cultural action is a main reference for contemporary art production, especially with regards to the relationship between artist and institution.

GROSSMANN, Martin O Museu na Virtualidade IN Hipermuseu: a arte em outras dimensões, (2001) op cit.

Museological not only in the sense of a direct relation to Museology – field of museum studies and corresponding techniques such as conservation and cataloguing, its history and relation to society -, but also the various rationales developed and related to the realm of the museum, either the anti-museum, the artists’ (for instance, Marcel Duchamp, Marcel Broodthaers, Joseph Kosuth, etc.), or even the curators’, such as Szeemann - in a special section of Documenta 5 (1972) he explores the meaning and psychology of the sacred place today.

LÉVY, Pierre. As tecnologias da inteligência-o futuro do pensamento na era da informática. Rio de Janeiro: Editora 34, 1995.

DUARTE, Claudia Marcel Duchamp, olhando o Grande Vidro como interface, Rio de Janeiro, Rios Ambiciosos & N Imagem, 2000, pp10-11

LONG, Norman, Development Sociology: Actor Perspectives, Routledge, 2001, p 243

Sociology of Development is the field of sociology that analyses the effects of the generalised mechanisation of production by adopting a perspective of interdependence between the economic, social and political dimensions. Initially, by using the Theory of Modernisation, it studied the necessary conditions for the access of non-industrialised or developing countries (the so-called ‘Third World’) to the Industrial Revolution. In the 1980s and 1990s this model began to be criticised mainly on the basis that it was still linked to post-colonial power relations. This criticism opened space to the proposition of other models and understandings, such as the one highlighted in this text.

Browsing Interfaces: Mosaic, launched in 1993, was the first browser available for free in the internet designed in a way that usability could be improved, through graphic interfaces. However, Nestcape was the browser that really marked this opening, and was followed by Microsoft

DUCHAMP, Marcel The Creative Act, Houston, 1957 (IN BATTCOCK, Gregory A Nova Arte, São Paulo Perspectiva, 1975, pp 71-74.

GROSSMANN, Martin, Do Ponto de Vista à Dimensionalidade, ITEM, Revista de Arte, n.3, Rio de Janeiro, February 1996, p. 29-37

GROSSMANN, Martin Museum Imaging: modelando a modernidade. Summary of the main ideas developed in his PhD thesis, published in English: Spatial Imaging: Modelling Modernity in (anais) First Symposium Multimedia for Architecture and Urban Design, São Paulo, FAU-USP, April 1994, pp 51-62

SULZBACHER, Tatiana Cavalheiro, op cit.

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