The Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb


Bart De Baere: Ensembles (art as an engagement for the commons)

Lecture, Saturday, 2/25/2012, 6.30 pm, exhibitionT-HT@MSU

The public can be seen as the common grounds of our society that cannot be privatized. Art is an important element in that. We can see it in the vein of Hannah Arendt who says that “Works of art are thought things” and situates them, together with philosophy, on the threshold of the space of action, the political in the broad sense;‘‘In order to be what the world is always meant to be – a home for men during their life on earth – the human artifice must be a place fit for action and speech, for activities, not only entirely useless for the necessities of life, but of an entirely different nature from the manifold activities of fabrication by which the world itself and all things in it are produced.”

The 20th century tradition we come out of, can be seen as a succession of three main periods. The European early avant-garde made a straightforward leap into the social imaginary, ambitioning to change that. It was hugely successful in this but failed to change its societies such that they could avoid the surpassing disaster of the Second World War. In the post war period, from the mid nineteen fifties to the mid nineteen eighties, the neo-Avant-garde ambitioned to restore that space of artistic potentiality. In the nineteen eighties the world started to become multipolar. The art scene absorbed the expansion of art into a wider array of activities and formal possibilities. Artists nowadays have to decide on their own behalf literally everything, from their existential socio-cultural position over the elements and the mix of the components of their work up to the details of their appearance.

How can such a vision of “work in action” for art be operationalised? The approach may shift away from art works as a key notion to ensembles, ways to focus on the specific ways in which artists shape their own set up. In order to be able to do this, an innovative focus on content and understanding is necessary, that which it ought to be about. M HKA is developing a discipline to do so. The broad engagement of artists may thus be validated. In this way temporary proposals that are site specific, time specific and public specific may be valued, momentary actions may be, documentation and information may be, and they will sometimes prove to offer a deeper access to the artistic project than ‘works of art’ that magically appear in the splendid isolation of the white space of art. It is in the relation between different elements of artistic activity that the stake of art can be understood.

At that point we can once again focus on what art may offer to the common grounds, letting go of formal or contextual systems to position it. “Spirits of Internationalism”, the present L’Internationale exhibition in M HKA and Van Abbe, ambitions to look at this for the art of the neo-avant-garde period.

Bart De Baere is director of the M HKA in Antwerp, a contemporary art museum. Since its merger with the Centre for Visual Culture in 2003, it is also dealing with visual culture at large. From 1999 till 2001 he was advisor for cultural heritage and contemporary art to the Flemish Minister of Culture. Before that, he was chair of the Flemish Council for Museums. From 1986 till 2001, he was curator in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent where he curated numerous exhibitions, like 'This is the show and the show is many things' in 1994,

He was curator of Documenta IX in Kassel (Germany). As consultant for the city of Johannesburg, he was involved in establishing a biennial in South Africa. He was a member of the International Advisory Council for the network of Soros Institutes for contemporary art in Eastern Europe. He is founding member of the association ‘Centrum voor Hedendaagse Kunst’, Brussels, which established the Kunsthalle ‘Wiels’ in Brussels.

He studied History of Art and Archaeology at Ghent University. His theoretical texts include ‘Linking the present to the Now’, in: Art & Museum Journal, 1994, 6, ‘The integrated Museum’, in: 'Stopping the Process?’, NIFKA, Helsinki, 1998, ‘Potentiality and public space, archives as a metaphor and example for a political culture’, In: ‚Interarchive’, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Lüneburg/Köln, 2002 and ’Ensembles as a Basis for Approaching Art’, in: 'L'internationale', JRP|Ringier, Documents series, 2012.

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