Tuesday, February 12, 2008


by Jason Marquis

I take issue with the disturbing fact that, despite the advance of Postmodernism, there are elements of our culture steeped in 18th century Enlightenment. We continue to speak and write of our thoughts and the things and spaces about us in dualist oppositions: good vs. bad, mind vs. matter, institution vs. the public. The masses are at odds with the institution in this paradigm. They are pupils to be instructed in culture by a master and schooled in the meaning of their shared history, making communication a one-way, fascist affair.

Derivative of enlightened rationalism, the museum is an institution that seeks out constants: steady principals that buttress the posthumous histories of past civilizations (histories that validate the position of our own). Therefore, criticism in the museum context, taking the form of exhibitions and permanent displays, is often an attempt to discover the universal values that inform artistic practice; something philosophers have raked out time and again in circular discussions of aesthetic theory.

But the modern man, as described by Baudelaire and contextualized by Foucault, does not seek outside himself for truth and discovery; rather he “invents” himself; or perhaps in this postmodern period he ‘re-invents’ himself. “This modernity does not ‘Liberate man in his own being’; it compels him to face the task of producing himself.” (Rabinow, 46). Due to this critical ontological shift (which took place three decades ago!), ought museums critique history less (that is, in the search for universal truths: building generalities from specifics), and refocus on the reasons why humans say, think and achieve what they do in the field of art? It’s time we reevaluate the way we use history in public art spaces to bring them in line with modern theories of critique.

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