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The End(s) of the Museum

The End(s) of the Museum is a concerted collective attempt to come to grips with the questions of what the museum has been and done in the West, and where it might be going. Is the Museum as we have experienced it coming to an end? Has it outlived its definitions – from classical to postmodern – and, if so, what might become of it?

Of course, a reflexion on the possible disappearance of the museum cannot be separated from an examination of its aims and purposes, its ends. The exhibition and symposium are opportunities for rigorous and adventurous, artistic and theoretical speculation on an extremely challenging topic, one which holds within it the question of nothing less than the memory and the promise of our culture.

But “our” culture and “the” museum – as an institution, an idea and a practice – are not, could not be, just one thing. In fact, what is most interesting are the ways in which this situation has developed into an expression of multiple desires and goals which now, more than ever, seem at odds with one another. Classically, the museum was oriented toward the preservation and conservation of the canon of art history and aesthetics. Modernism gave it the task of embodying the utopian and recuperative power of art, and expanded our notions of what belonged in a museum. Today, the museum often seeks to become a space where a new community of cultures and histories challenges inherited aesthetic paradigms. These heterogeneous definitions and intentions have not simply succeeded one another, but instead often co-exist in an institution that envisions itself as directed toward the fulfillment of them all.

The End(s) of the Museum does not pretend to imagine a museum of the future, nor to recall nostalgically what the museum once was or might have been. Instead it is a sustained theoretical and critical inquiry into the genealogy of the museum. This implies not so much a search for the roots of the museum, as if history were only a continuous development from an origin, but a rigorous theoretical investigation of the museum as an historical artifact. What are the epistemological presuppositions of this institution, which is also to say, what are its social, economic and political stakes? The End(s) of the Museum aims neither to describe situations nor to prescribe solutions but rather to analyze the ways in which the museum is imagined within and without the histories and institutions which have overdetermined it. In deconstructing the locus of the museum in Western art and culture, we hope to provide the conceptual tools to redefine, and thus enable a new theory of, this project called the museum.

The End(s) of the Museum includes work by fourteen artists. Some of them have created work especially for this exhibit, others are showing previous work relevant to the questions raised by the exhibition.

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