Towards new institutionalities. Notes for a museum of the common

Patricia Sorroche
December 22, 2021
Marinella Senatore, "Remember the first time you saw your name", 2017.
Marinella Senatore, "Remember the first time you saw your name", 2017.

"Due to the close correspondence existing between art and power, certain sectors have regarded modern and contemporary art and its structures as cultural expressions of capitalism. Modernity is associated with a set of bureaucratised institutional practices, with a predetermined structure of disciplines and social functions, and with the colonisation of the non-European world. From this it follows that the only thing that can bring about the end of capitalism is the cancellation of modernity."1


The institution of modernity, the modern museum, occupied early on hegemonic and powerful positions to announce and validate what was or was not art, questioning a bourgeois, patriarchal and colonial subject. The museum appeared thus as creating and legitimating unique and institutive accounts, by designating itself as a false democratic space for public access to culture. The artistic practices that took place outside this institution were simply ignored, and therefore invalidated and hidden within the hegemonic discourse of art historiography. Boris Groys defines modern museum from an anthropological position according to which "the modern museum is not a place of memory because the objects that appear in its collections were not considered artworks before being musealised"2. Therefore, the museum is seen for the first time as a "subject", and in it different subjectivities are made visible by means of expository devices and collections. This subjectivity to which the modern museum drew on was the beginning of the museum-state that took shape in postmodernity. The postmodern institution implied a change of paradigm in the conception of the modern museum. Benjamin Buchloch described this new institution "as a device that generates aesthetic, political, institutional or even economic and cultural values".3

The position of the museum-state has been in crescendo since the 1980s, during which cultural institutions proliferated all over the Western world, in addition to an architectonic and speculative boom of museum buildings themselves, which were embodied as "large containers" of art. The post-Fordist and secular status of capitalist and neoliberal societies, that based their success on the productive nature of society, found its place within some institutions that exactly reproduced these productive models, mostly dominated by a regulatory and Eurocentric heteropatriarchy. The organisational structures of these institutions made use of the same languages and codes of the State and capitalism to refer to artistic practices, relegating society, the public and the individual to a "subordinated status". In order to approach the access to culture from a false democratisation, the museum took ownership of those discourses and practices that questioned the very art system and the institution and dismantled them. In this way, the neoliberal speculative production method appeared as the only possible reality in which to locate institutionalised art, reducing it to its speculative and consumerist nature, as Baudrillard pointed out, and took it back to Greenberg's conception where art only exists in its aesthetic condition: invalidating the possibilities of social transformation and revolution.


It is a paradox that capitalist and neoliberal structures have appropriated for themselves institutions created as social spaces, that may make critical reflection possible as well as dissident stances, that question the present and that may drive the subject to a critical view of their own contemporaneity. Therefore, we should ask ourselves: why does today's institution still host artists and their practices? Contemporary art tries to express itself in political-social terms, very often from dissident, migratory, feminist or eco-systemic approaches. Given the fact that we continue being pinned to institutions that operate from capitalism a good knowledge of these practices leads them to be incorporated into the institution's discourse, under the premises and rules established by power structures, and never from the fringes or questioning the institution itself and its political and social governance. In this way, through a sophisticated messianic mechanism, the institution wields power over the very artistic practice and its activation, relegating the viewer to a consumerist "passive subject" and not as a "political subject" with reflective ability.


Likewise, alterity and otherness have been included in the exhibition premises to give visibility to the social realities that exist outside the Eurocentric cosmogony and, according to Daniel Gasol, "extend modernity around the phenomenon of Eurocentric industrialisation […] as an iconographic project of the world".4 Nevertheless, these visual standpoints have only taken place under the same premises and activations as other practices, and always keeping their status of otherness, which means that they are relegated again to their subordinate status. The inclusion of these practices in legitimised spaces appeases and validates dominant structures but it does not validate a collective construction of realities. This attitude corresponds to a postmodern wish of inclusion that, at the practical level, does not close the symbolic -although real- gap between normativity and otherness. Welcoming that which has always been excluded implies an act of commitment of the institution to the Other, but also to the "us" referred to by Marina Garcés. If we draw upon her concept of the "common world" then the latter cannot exist when that which has always been liminal but still keeps its subordinate label has been integrated.


Today's art, where there are increasingly more spaces for self-governance and self-empowerment that are created and that position themselves outside the limits of the museum, revolves around this diatribe. Such spaces avoid established structures and are created according to a collective and social will. It is here where art is ratified in its entropic condition, as Boris Groys5 or Jaime Vindel6 contended, in order to understand the non-dominion space, and perhaps the art that only declares itself as an achievement of the community and that points to the need for a constant reflection on its own artistic practice, because it wears out not only when being exhibited but also in its own cosmogony, as societies do.

Facing underlying realities within the institution-museum and the proliferation of non-legitimised and legitimising spaces, a debate arises on the need to understand the institution on the basis of other thoughts that reject the capitalist status of the museum and allocate it to a common and social sphere. In her essay Un mundo común, Marina Garcés appeals to the "us" against the capitalist "I".7 We understand that a relationship between equals, a systemic and relational one, gives us a real possibility of change. Art, the public and the subjects must be involved in the very artistic practice, as well as in the cultural institution, seeing it as a shared and affected whole. Speaking about affections means getting involved and being affected, that is to say, considering ourselves within the museum institution and not as playing a consumerist role.

The aim would be to construct and imagine the "museum of affections", in which the subjects could move from the individualist conception, originated by capitalism, to create a plural and communitarian "us", which is not the result of individualities but of the co-involvement of all, and that allows for interdependence without stigmatising it. To get rid of the metanarration and allow access to the different spaces of the institution to those that have been always excluded due to their subordinate or alterity status, to be on the same footing and to be aware of our belonging to an involved, collective and social whole.



  1. BORJA-VILLEL, Manuel: Campos magnéticos. Escritos de arte y política. Arcadia: Barcelona, 2020.
  2. GROYS, Boris: La lógica de la colección y otros ensayos. Arcadia: Barcelona, 2021.
  3. BUCHLOH, Benjamin: Formalismo e historicidad. Modelos y métodos en el arte del siglo XX. Akal: Madrid, 2004.
  4. GASOL, Daniel: Arte (in)útil. Sobre cómo el capitalismo desactiva la cultura. Rayo verde: Barcelona, 2021.
  5. GROYS, Boris. Op.cit.
  6. VINDEL, Jaime: Entropía, Capital y malestar. Una historia cultural. Comunismos por venir. Arcadia: Barcelona, 2019.
  7. GARCÉS, Marina: Un mundo común. Ediciones Bellaterra: Barcelona, 2013.



(English translation: Beatriz Krayenbühl)