"The Absent Museum" at WIELS

Review

Mark Manders, Dry Clay Head (2015–16) 

WIELS is not a museum, but everyone in Brussels calls it one. To honour its tenth anniversary, the institution’s director Dirk Snauwaert embraced this acquired moniker by temporarily turning it into a stand-in for the Belgian capital’s nonexistent museum of contemporary art. Rather than institutional and structural questions, however, there is a clear emphasis on content. Works by the likes of Monika Baer, Isa Genzken, Thomas Hirschhorn, Sammy Baloji, Francis Alÿs, Otobong Nkanga, and Mekhitar Garabedian take on political and social problems spanning from immigration and colonialism to gender and race. This fictional museum thus represents a proposal for the museum as a space of speculative reinvestment in a common space for democratic values and community.

On the top floor of the WIELS building, Marina Pinsky covered the walls with wallpaper printed with motifs that represent four landmarks in Brussels, drawing attention to the museum’s relationship to social, economic, political and legal institutions. Many rooms are dedicated to the work of a singular artist, as in the case of Jean-Luc Moulène whose colour photographs of household goods made in the West Bank, Produits de Palestine (2002–2004), points to a larger geopolitical situation: exporting these objects is forbidden, though they can be represented as images and made visible again in the museum. In Lili Reynaud-Dewar’s performance and installation Small Tragic Opera of Images and Bodies in the Museum (2017), a series of mannequins representing conflicting opinions draws on the difficulties of discussing certain topics, such as political violence against black communities, in the art context.

 

_______INSERT_______

 

And yet – however admirable in appearance and intention, “The Absent Museum” could have benefitted from a more critical examination of the politics and ideologies of institution-building. If the works in this proposition were to be part of a real collection, who would take care of it and with what resources? Aren’t the values propagated by “The Absent Museum” – such as internationalism, radical diversity and community-building – the very ones you find in most major art events, like Documenta or, on a more local scale, Kunstenfestivaldesarts? What would (have to) be different if one were to enact the curatorial proposition of the show on an institutional level, rather than just for the duration of a single exhibition? And is that what we need, or should museums become more collaborative, a space for commoning – or perhaps more immaterial? In any case, art is inseparable from the obscured structures it is guided and contained by. In that sense, the blueprint of “The Absent Museum” leaves many questions unanswered.

"The Absent Museum"
WIELS
20.4. – 13.8.2017

 

This text appears in Spike Art Quarterly #52 and is available for purchase at our online shop

_______INSERT_______

_______INSERT_______

_______INSERT_______

_______INSERT_______

_______INSERT_______

_______INSERT_______

_______INSERT_______

_______INSERT_______

_______INSERT_______

_______INSERT_______