How do Contemporary art institutions walk? A path that leads from the West to the Southeast

Tekst objavljen u rujnu 2018. u Supervizuelna, magazin za savremenu umjetnost.


Several months ago I met a man. His face was gaunt and bony, with two blue eyes protruding, almost like an insect’s. He told me that the last ten years of his life have been spent walking…«Only» walking? Yes, walking…walking without a goal, without an urge to immigrate, to posses or to conquer. Crossing roads and penetrating forests, with no money in his pockets, feeling kindred to street dogs, adding an invisible, underground «fourth dimension» to our society.

Shortly there after, Niels Van Tomme, the director and chief curator at De Appel (from 2016 onward), an Amsterdam-based contemporary institution with a pioneering curatorial program, gave a lecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art Belgrade titled The Walking Institution (the Curatorial Program). The starting premise of the lecture, actually its main quote, was the paraphrase of Woody Allen, from the film Annie Hall (only that Allen was referring to a romantic relationship): An art institution is a bit like a shark: if it doesn’t move, it dies. De Appel (1974-ongoing) continuously re-stages itself to always remain in flux (…) In 2016, De Appel almost closed due to the cultural and post-crisis political context, and in 2017 it had to move from the center of Amsterdam to the periphery due to a lack of funding and permanent exhibition venue. To quote Van Tomme «The moment I arrived at the organisation, it had become too big; the consecutive crushing down and ensuing crisis had already happened. Some people (patriarchal funders) had wanted its death. Others, including myself, believed in a workable future for the organisation, albeit in a resolutely different way.»

An art institution in continuous motion, changing its «scenes,» «spaces» and «actors,» opening its space for debate, research and community. The participle «walking» refers to the on-going act, perpetuum mobile, that doesn’t stop… a kind of expression of both freedom and confinement, which does not necessarily need to include the notion of (neoliberal) speed, progress and growth. And, when would an institution actually be dead; would it die even when left to decay? The flux requiring a continuous effort, or the flux, in Heraclitean terms, happening by itself, like the nature…(?) There are different possible meanings and layers that this participle can open when connected to the term «a contemporary art institution», especially when simultaneously putting on the table both Western European and Southeast European contexts.In this case we are mainly concentrating on Croatian and Dutch institution(s), taking them as par excellence, blatant examples also for the wider Western or Eastern European and Balkan regions. Unlike the Netherlands, a country with a continuous capitalist system proclaimed (the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815), Croatia, in the form of two Yugoslav states, first had a period of undeveloped capitalism, then socialism, and is currently, as an independent state,going through the phase of post-socialist/transitional capitalism.