Acting on the Omnipresent Frontiers of Autonomy

As one artist told me recently, the Van Abbemuseum is the only Dutch museum that one would even consider criticizing seriously - as an ambitious enterprise worthy of an immanent critique that rather than merely external criticism. In the near future the Van abbe will hopefully get company from the Stedelijk Museum, after years of utter malaise. One symptom of the intellectual bankruptcy of the Dutch museums for 20th- and 21-century art is their chronic inability to develop projects that involve significant and innovative art-historical research and/or a theoretical component. I certainly don't see anything comparable here to a historical investigation such as the MUMOK's Changing Channels, and in a different way the project To the Arts, Citizens! organized by Serralves in Porto (the exhibition opens on 21 November) likewise offers a stark contrast to Dutch business as usual.

There is a historical section with various documents, but this exhibition is mainly a survey of work by youngish contemporary artists (and collectives) focusing "on some of the intersections between art and politics − understood as action, representation or reference − as manifested in our time." The list of artists (which includes Bureau d'Etudes, Chto Delat, Zachary Formwalt, Nicoline van Harskamp and Gert Jan Kocken) looks promising, though it remains to be seen if the project can escape the usual problems of the museification of the political. The point of departure seems somewhat generic - and the title To the Art, Citizens! does not strike one as the best possible choice. However, I am looking forward to the two-part accompanying publication; one volume will be the catalogue while the other contains essays commissioned for the occasion from Peio Aguirre, Federico Ferrari, Brian Holmes, Roberto Merrill, Hito Steyerl and myself.

The authors were contacted well in advance, which suggests an awareness that these things take time - an awareness that is rather rare in my neck of woods. I haven't yet read the other texts yet, but the montage looks like it might be a productive one, and conducive to thinking about and beyond the limits of such museum projects. My text, "Acting on the Omnipresent Frontiers of Autonomy," investigates the use value of the notion of autonomy in these interesting times.

Image: overgrown rafts by Robert Jasper Grootveld moored next to the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam.