On Redesigning the Museumplein as a Dream Area
The Stedelijk Museum as a Virtual Museum
I would first like to mention two events, La Grande Parade' and Ulay & Marina's Amsterdam part of the series Nightsea Crossing'.
La Grande Parade was the huge exhibition to mark Edy de Wilde's departure as director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and Ulay and Marina's immobile performance took place around a golden table, together with an Australian Aboriginal and a Tibetan monk. In retrospect these are events which are exactly in keeping with what Fukuyama has referred to as the 'end of history'.
In a long line of saying farewell to the Big Stories, already heralded by the French philosopher Lyotard, we have seen many walls crumble anyhow, including the one in the Stedelijk. There, with the departure of De Wilde, the end of the supremacy of New York's modernistic story was celebrated. A celebration that did honour to his name. Isn't there the pressing thought when thinking of a large parade of that one to celebrate East Germany's 4o-year existence?
This artistic grand parade was the last spasm of a very successful but apparently outmoded tradition of the modernistic ideal of painting. Here the fate of an incestuous abstract painting tradition was sealed. This was once more emphasized when with the appointment of a new director the so-called room of honour in the Stedelijk, where contemporary works had hung for twenty years, was immediately dismantled. Who's afraid of red, yellow and blue, a painting that had been the high light of this triumphal installation, was relegated to a side room.
I was not the only one unprepared for this drastic move. My confusion and desperation brought about at the time by the moving of the canvas were not unique. A systems analyst, on reading a diatribe from the originally abstract but later fervent figurative-advocating painter Willink, set about Newman's work with a Stanley knife. For him the symbolic value of this canvas as a prototype for modernistic representation was also of special significance. The result reached us only on photograph: a shocking image of a painting in shreds as a result of a series of gashes.
That was five years ago. When a short time ago the canvas – totally restored took up its old position in the museum, I was left completely indifferent. After the corpus delicti had first been removed from the room of honour (Lenin taken out of the Mausoleum and dumped in a remote spot, I once heard someone say sneeringly), the lamentable desperate act of the systems analyst had led in the long run to Newman being reinstated. For the time being La Grande Parade was on its way again.
In the intervening years my 'belief in Newman's story had got lost. From a believer I had become an opponent of this 'religion', and through the opposition to rigid modernism, which I now exercised, I had gained more understanding of the reasons for this desperate act. What I had always experienced with Fontana's work, the artist who makes a speciality of slicing through his canvases, as being a sort of decadent, somewhat powerless aesthetic symbol, had in this case become deadly serious. Why not accept this outrage as an historical fact like the portrait of Q,yeen Wilhelmina damaged by Indonesian freedom fighters in the Rijksmuse~m? Or like, in the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, the Men of Emmaus the most famous 'Vermeer' by Van Meegeren, which hangs in a draughty corner somewhere as a curiosity?
Moreover, the restoration was disputed. According to Prof. Ernst van de Wetering, known from the Rembrandt Research Project, this is not the original canvas. A layer of acrylic paint protects the original canvas against our curious stares. But even making the scars public again cannot conceal the fact that this relic has had its day. Darwin and Marx have been toppled from their pedestals and every cobbled-together New York story by Greenberg, Marxist and Darwinist, and the modernistic avant-garde of progress and finality has suffered the same fate. Nevertheless, this dogmatic doctrine is still defended tooth and nail in the museum world. Nowhere is there such a stubborn belief in art history as there is there. The return of Newman's totally-cured curiosity to its original place in the room of honour is an ultimate attempt to resurrect a past long since given an historical context. It makes clear that the red of Newman (also Marxist schooled) is far less removed from the red of Lenin than we would perhaps assume. Newman, who as a child of his time became bewitched and fascinated by an artistic version of an ideology and was busy making history, must now pay for his highly one-sided vision of history.
The confusion in which our museum world currently finds itself is the result of the fact that the Big Stories, from which today's museums derived their justification as it were, are played out. Not only the nineteenth-century nationalistic version, which inspired diverse patriotic fatherland museums and which survives for us in a nostalgic, educational, understandably sentimental atmosphere of the national department of the Rijksmuseum. On the eve of the 21st century the age of international modernism, which postwar reconstruction could reflect and which was fleshed out in the Stedelijk Museum, is also definitely at an end. Our age has finished with the history and certainly with the phantoms of modernism. Major ideological impulses have lost their powers and with the crushing of modernism's plausibility the idea of the traditional museum as fundament has been swept away.
In this there is a clearly connected development: an overburdened welfare state assigns socialist ideals to the sidelines; a destitute commando economy ultimately curses the communists; our individualised concept of art ultimately dismisses the coercive structures of modernism. Our culture is compartmentalised, we do not ask of art history a simple, straightforward story any more. There are just as many stories as there are individuals with understanding and imagination.
What the museums are lacking nowadays is a flexible programme that could be fitted into a larger masterplan. Without a broad framework it is already too difficult. The older nationalism-related mUseums were according to the ideas of the day laid out as copies oflarge department stores. Twentieth-century museums (contemporary, modernistic or post modernistic) are still allied to an industrial society. That goes for the Netherlands, that goes for elsewhere. Paris, particularly the historical and contemporary, shows that clearly. There is no better guide than Baudelaire or, following in his footsteps, Benjamin with his Paris Passagenwerk. Their preoccupation with the Grand Palais and the Galleries Modernes is nowadays reflected in public buildings like the Musee d'Orsay and Disneypark. Elsewhere, in America, the large-scale Guggenheim plans for developing a sort of world museum in N ew York, Venice, Salzburg and Boston are gaining currency. The Getty Museum in California knows no other operational structure than the continuous circulation of liquid assets. A thousand-and-one formulas have been tried out elsewhere. Yet you constantly encounter one outlived art historical ideology as a palliative among the most diverse pragmatic, philosophical or artistic rationales. The new German museums are also still ideologically orientated. They are expressions of a tempered nationalistic 'overtaking' manoeuvre, with a view to postmodern 'ideology-of-victory-over-ideology', which, more Darwinian in character than modernism, is somehow experienced more deeply. In the same way that you clutch at the last straw. For while these museums were still in the pipeline the ideology had started to crumble. The museums were just ready when the hackneyed tale of art history no longer tallied.
Master of severe Post Modernism
How has the Netherlands attempted to mask the lost innocence? There is no better example than the new building plans for the regional museum of modern art. In Groningen the natural successor to Sandberg was installed as director of the museum, but the neutral architectural autonomy of Sandberg's Stedelijk Museum has been swopped here for the forcefulness and inflexibility of post-modern design, which only wants to exist for itself. The fairytale prince of frivolous post modernism, the wily Mendini, has known how to use his client's fascination for Sandberg by creating a new museum building which even by the time of its opening will probably already be a dated historicism of post-modern's colour-crazed history. In Maastricht Aldo Rossi, the master of severe post modernism, will leave a relic behind in the form of a building that seals the fate of the lost style of post modernism. In Eindhoven the monastic-like building of the Van Abbemuseum is totally snowed under by a genuine contemporary lightweight construction. This, in fact, still symbolises best the lost ideals of the museum world. The contemporary museum as a parasite on the back of a cultural climate come to an end.
At the moment important decisions are on the agenda for Amsterdam's Museumplein. The most obviously interesting of these is what will be decided regarding the new extension of the Stedelijk. What does a council do, saddled with a tourist attraction which has lost its ideological footing? Simply skirt the issue and ease the Stedelijk Museum into the configuration comprising the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh, the Concertgebouw and, further away, the Filmmuseum and the Rijksacademie! For if the ideological reason for modern art museums' existence is no longer there, then there is nothing for it but to latch on to the still, as yet, insatiable hunger of the tourist for icons in order to conceal the existential crisis as much as possible. It certainly looks like the choice will be for a solution that steers clear of the real issues. The idea is to see a general plan realised that closely resembles the Museuminsel in Berlin, in the former eastern sector. Thus a relatively small site crammed with several museums where visitors will certainly have their work cut out. And as is the case in Berlin, the set-up of the Museumplein like the Museuminsel, will have obvious nineteenth-century features.
Travel – in the style of tourist or real traveller – is something the art world cannot do without any more. The difference is between the motivated, non-conforming traveller and the submissive, all-admiring programmed tourist. This will make a great deal of difference especially to the Stedelijk's atmosphere. Keeping in mind the anarchy of Sandberg, the intellectual chic of De Wilde and the current post-modern trend, the aim it seems is to adapt the Stedelijk along with other museums ensconced on the Museumplein to a model made suitable for the tourist, but which is unable to deal satisfactorily with the needs and desires of the interested traveller. The concept behind the redesigning of the Museumplein is based on an outdated Darwinist development whereby art moves itself from a figurative to an abstract objective. Even the events surrounding Barnett Newma~ will not change anything on this score. The planned worship around Malevich's Black Square, Yves Klein's Azure, Robert Ryman's Fingerprints, Fontana's Cuts or Newman's Red will simply continue. An atmosphere of apres moi le deluge.
Let us just imagine that new Museumplein. The two state museums have it easiest. The Rijksmuseum knows how to bring together the interests of the tourist with the task of portraying Dutch national history. The Van Gogh museum sui generis defends a view of painting that is validated by an alive-and-kicking myth and a superabundance of tourists. The modern age can take note of this.
But with the tourist so much at home in these museums, the Stedelijk should choose rather for the traveller. The cRoice between traveller and tourist has long been thrown off balance in Amsterdam. Politicians have championed tourists and made way in the city for mass culture. The question is how to position the Museum with regard to history, but equally, with regard to the future. Grabbing the opportunity and building as soon as possible seems to drive thinking at this time. This is a fatalistic attitude. Once, the new cafe terrace of the Stedelijk was the place where it happened, but the new up-and-coming, well-endowed-with-pavementcafes lay-out for the Museumplein can never make up for this.
What modern art museums lack nowadays is a reliable artistic plan that does justice to the interests of the intelligent visitor. That is to say no more outside cafes for tourists, there are enough in the city already, but challenges for the traveller, or to make a traveller of the tourist: to replace the consumption of passive art with active discovery. To recognise the rights of the art lover over and above those of the outdoor cafe owner.
In discussing the possibilities of the Museumplein as a site enclosed by museums, its surrounding satellites are also important. They partly determine how the Stedelijk could re-define itself Therefore the Rijksacademie, the Filmmuseum and the Concertgebouw are no less vital to the image of the Stedelijk than the Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh Museum. As far as the artistic climate of the Rijksacademie is concerned, its direction is clear. The tone has been set: At the Rijksacademie artistic questioning is the main objective, even with new technological media, says the management, but of technocratic tomfoolery remain wary: the dinosaurs within the visual arts: big, impressive, possibly a necessary step in evolution but of only fleeting importance. This then is the cautious trend. The Concertgebouw and the Filmmuseum are also programmed with an artistic code that aligns with the artistic achievements of a nineteenth century model. In both institutes this code has almost reached a perfect form of programming. For the passive art lover an ideal position to take up. The Filmmuseum's refurbishment of the old sex cinema Parisien has shown clearly that nostalgia and looking to the past are being used to create the overriding atmosphere. In the Concertgebouw a retro feel pervades. The artistic augmentation of such an atmosphere need not give rise to too many uncertainties. With modernism outdated, there are sufficient harmless alternatives at hand. Most suitable is probably the Kraaipoel method. Based on the controversial diatribe by Diederik Kraaipoel 3, De Nieuwe Salon (The New Salon), only the last offshoots of modernism from the seventies and eighties need be removed from the museum and replaced by a somewhat more figurative content. Kraaipoel still believes in the truth and the applicability of conventional art history and the Greenberg version of this. In fact his world view does not differ much from that of his opponents. One could also extract a methodology from the new Amsterdamse Grachtenboek:4 (Amsterdam Book of Canals). There we find a smooth account of history which in many ways is adapted for tourists. And it does not betray the traveller either. It is a topical book that does not want to surrender a part of a city at the end of its history entirely to chaos, but at the same time picks enough holes in (art) history to remain credible.
We need have no illusions, however, concerning the official climate in which projects are developed: the tourist grip is the only thing that matters here, the arguments are economic ones – art as a component of the economic process. The council has pressed for an extension to the Stedelijk that closely resembles the
extension of the Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Brussels – namely the feeling of being in an air-raid shelter. Unfortunately not the pleasant atmosphere you can sometimes inhale in a depot opened for the public.
But if in the end you have to choose for the tourist there are enough starting points to operate a sound museum policy. For sometimes the interests of tourists prove to be tied in to relevant questions which come to the fore in the constant demands for a new museum. For the question, How to cope with all the visitors? lies side-by-side with the question: how to store the increasingly growing collection?
And suddenly I realise that my image of an ideally functioning Stedelijk (and of every new modern art museum for that matter) can be achieved via a tourist version. For my ideal image of a museum is that of a virtual museum. A museum that is incorporated into a digital data bank and does not need to exist in reality, but can be called up as desired. Within the constellation of Filmmuseum and Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh, where the emphasis lies on the aura of the work, where the idea of the materiality is more appreciated than the virtuality of the idea, where the fetishism of paint and film roll is celebrated, a Stedelijk that adopted a somewhat more distant approach towards the object would be able to have its own special niche.
Nowhere is there so much knowledge about the opportunities for storing data as in the world of information technology. Without allowing technology to take over the duties of director and curator, you should, in a metaphorical sense, think over these problems. And nowhere is there such an intuitive feeling for huge crowds of people then by the tourist himself The tourist has a nose for his own place in the crowd. As part of an entire systematic plan the public willingly allows itself to be tickled. Where there are queues they happily join them. No one is more knowledgeable about tourists then tourists themselves. In fact a long queue inspires, makes them determined to join and become an object of attention themselves. When Big Exhibitions are on, arranging a pass before arranging a visit has become the norm, yet despite this procedure there is still a stampede. In this context the choice of the 'stylish' expurgated-from-bodily-odours interior of the discarded Parisien sex and porn cinema for the Filmmuseum's screening room is a masterstroke. You do not sit down to watch the film any more, but you go because you know that in the auditorium you yourself are henceforth an object of attention. Edward Kienholz' Beanery falls into the same category. As one of the special cult attractions of the Stedelijk and until now permanently erected in a small, tucked away room, this unique artistic bar - an oppressive space where together with a couple of other museum visitors you are drawn into an American atmosphere - has been moved to a larger public space. Now suddenly queues formed which in themselves became part of the attraction of the work. This summer you did not queue outside the museum but within it!
Why is it, incidentally, that up until now the Japanese spirit has nestled itself into so
many spheres, but in art it has hardly been given a chance? Is it a question of time, that the problems of visitors and storage (which in many aspects is comparable to the silting-up of motorways and the problem of processing waste) will effect a definitive turnabout in museum collections. And have not the Japanese even trumped the Dutch when solving problems of organising space? I predict that the current museum problems will finally experience a manageable solution. Not by constantly expanding the museums – the Museumplein variant so far – but by reducing the core issue to the 'rucksack problem': how and what to take in your backpack as economically as possible. In this context, and everyone can take comfort from it, Marcel Duchamp jumps out like a Jack-in-the-box with his exemplary solution: a Duchamp collection in the form of a transportable case.
One Japanese inspired solution to the museology problem involves a master plan that dryly reduces the processing of x number of data on input to a digital database. Such a format should at the same time influence decisions regarding acquisition, exhibitions and treatment of the material. You can for instance look at our museums through Japanese eyes. The Van Gogh Museum then suffers from totally contrary premises: livingroom-sized paintings in far too big an overcoat. Vincent van Gogh had something about Japan, for obvious reasons so does the museum. But it is a strange relationship. The ponderous building is just as much in contradiction with Vincent's sense of proportion as with the Japanese culture. You see that the museum has a great desire to communicate with Japan. Perhaps it is worth considering the idea of acquiring Rietveld's Schröderhuis in Utrecht as annex for the museum. There you can at least trace Rietveld's ingenious spatial considerations which embrace those of Japan. Or place the compact, hiding-within-itself space of the Schröderhuis in an empty space of the Van Gogh Museum as a continual reminder of what it is all about. The Rijksmuseum should be returned to its original nineteenth century exemplification, with the many perfectly balanced small rooms, in order to get rid of the constantly new alterations being realised and to return what remains of the original architecture. This would mean a jump back to the past and a reconstruction giving a sense of how the nineteenth century coped even then with considerable numbers of visitors.
In this sense the Japanese labyrinths are worth mentioning. They are a way of speeding up the flow of visitor traffic. Here the interests of public and operator come together: a labyrinth is nothing more than a means of hustling through as many visitors as possible at different speeds. This sort of approach could mean the answer to absorbing large groups of people: a maze with wooden dividing walls which from above looks like computer hardware. The visitor enters the labyrinth in order to come out as quickly as possible at the other end. A card announces the time available to him. The system is versatile, you can adjust the route. Anywhere within the three-dimensional structures with four towers and bridges and passageways running underneath - you can open and close doors to adapt the system to any total-number-of-visitors variant. During peak hours the tourist is bustled through the one-way system so that he is unable to return to parts of the exhibition already seen. The traveller in the quieter periods has a more difficult task and can hang around the maze much longer.
As a proven concept in accommodating as many people as possible in as restricted a space as possible, and exhibits in as small and compact a space as possible, exact made-to-measure space offers one of several solutions. The historical representation is also different. In Japan the traditional temples and holy shrines are often contemporary copies. The impact of the weather or unexpected disasters, which have affected the original materials, means constant renovation. It is a
country where the past is continually renewing itself in the present and future, a country where they are consciously preparing themselves to store the old culture digitally. The old objects are being prepared to be included in the magnetic and digital data bases. The past is there to be called up as virtual reality.
And here the traveller makes his entrance. He is the self-possessed museum visitor who goes his own way, that prefers not to be eased along, who does not fear the experimental and apart from tactile desires (the actual work should be there) has also conceptual interests. He is philosophical and not afraid of an experiment. He asks questions about reality and the interpretation of it. For surely in a museology atmosphere there is the pressing question of whether actual reality has ever existed? Has not reality always been something manipulated, have not all our realities been continually subordinate to the concepts of some order or another that made it possible for us to have a grip on reality? If this is so, what is it that makes us so anxious about a speculative digital processing of our past, when we feel so comfortable with a nostalgidtactile one?
I have my own views on this. You see a similar display of fear in relation to statements made on the status of art by French philosophers. Of course, speculative elements in that philosophy are considerable and invite contradiction, but that does not explain why in the museum world Lyotard or Baudrillard are so loathed. They have done nothing more than ask questions about the existential and ontological nature of the aura of the artwork. Qyestions which showed no respect for the nostalgic or tactile aspect of a work. Nevertheless, the actual situation has affirmed them both. Lyotard for anticipating the demise of the Big Stories and Baudrillard for establishing that we all live in an illusionary world – whether there is living art on the wall or not. If you no longer believe in the story of Newman what hangs there now is simply nothing more than a piece of red-painted cloth.
And should not the Stedelijk ask itself – rather than questions already long answered about art of the past – questions about the art, the art registering and the art collecting of tomorrow? Or simply become involved with art in a different way than the standard one? Constantly modify the paradigms and as soon as a fashion changes re-order all the data? The highly seductive tricks of conceptual art, however, take on a curious form in the light of computer language. And since we can compare the computer pixels with the dots ofSeurat as cross-fertilized metaphors, the nature of Kiefer's painting is changed. Only after a management course can we properly assess the shopping-art philosophy of the neo-conceptualists or the Benetton philosophy of Koons and company.
Nothing is more exciting than to visualise these points of change. The virtual atmosphere of digital storage, a digital presentation and a few other possibilities that change the passive viewing of an observer into a much more conscious activity. From Seurat to Gerald van der Kaap, the past of the present digitalised: Malevich's Black Square, the linear Renaissance windows, the curvature of Baroque. The widely diverging paradigms of art history have always displayed circumlocution due to the problems of filing and recording. Every generation wants to avoid the superabundance of the previous one by working with new macros, by lightening the memory so as to leave the day free for a new output of ideas. Art history as a world of data-base information for those who do not wish to remain loyal to the rigid classification schemata. A virtual reality of visual material. The narrative structure and exciting scenarios that can be stirred up by the pictorial passions.
Moreover, the opportunities for storage and information processing could provide an enormous stimulus for solving the pressing depot problems. The storage period does not then have any problems any more, you store the material digitally, you recall it as necessary. In America when the private car reached its absolute aesthetic zenith, with nineteen fifties designed tail fins, and there was no limit to its size – when American battleships on the road were celebrated, the Japanese Trade Ministry (MITI) was working on the scenario of how the car in the nineteen eighties would look. We all know how that scenario, which had not even taken the development of the computer chip into account, produced the compact passenger car. By 1969, when the first chips were integrated into the American car, the lag in development was already too great. Thinking in smaller measurements is still not standard practice. Perhaps the American car industry has now finally learned, but contemporary museological culture still suffers from what I would like to term 'American car-thinking'. Based on an eradicable, misinterpreted philosophy, a misadapted high-school philosophy, this culture could make wrong choices for both modernism and post-modernism in fact: Barnett Newman who was the first to bring size into play by paintings which are largely experienced as andachtsbilder or as mandalas. Anselm Kiefer, who used big and heavy as principle starting points and in our museum world, both in the us and Europe, is regarded as the most important artist. The empty talk of a personal mythology, badly applied paint and the arbitrary collage technique suggest a European culture. But what makes him really popular are of course the enormous sizes of his works which measure up to nineteenth century prairie thinking.
If! gaze into the crystal ball for a second, what would happen if instead of a nostalgic feeling to the Museumplein a forward-looking interactive agenda were realised? It will be no longer the traditional curatQr or restorer who determines the image of a modern museum but the programmer or the in-house archive manager. In a way, a total programme could be realised that in many aspects closely resembles the set-up of digital visual media in Karlsruhe and Cologne. If the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, plus the Concertgebouw, the Filmmuseum and the Rijksacademie represent the classical aspect, then the Stedelijk should develop a much more experimental, less restricted agenda and atmosphere in which to study.
In my book Engelen 5 (Angels) I considered one of the many possibilities for an individually arranged art history. It is an offshoot of a branch long since sanctioned in Andre Malraux's Musée imaginaire and tested in the nineteen seventies from an entirely different starting point by John Berger in his Ways of Seeing. Although always suspect in museum circles, Rudi Fuchs' 'At-eye-Ievel-and-not-too-close together' dialogue with painters has a strong affinity to this. Engelen is a collection of dreams which, as a network of possibilities and considered designs, claims its own rightful position over that one, made-difficult route that dominates the museums. This dream method is borrowed from the idea of Songlines. Back then to the beginning and the performance of Ulay and Marina. As it has gradually become known, especially since the publication of Bruce Chatwin's book, The Songlines, the Australian continent is entirely covered by a system of singing paths. This web, thousands of years old, proved to hold some kind of validity for the Aboriginals in their claim for possession of land. This almost atavistic cultural code is a last weapon in the hands of the original people to put a stop to modern civilisation in important cultural places.
The Aboriginals have always cherished the concept of the Dream in their culture, a singing dream which they regard as the source of the Creation and which at the same time upholds the creation. Across the entire continent countless invisible lines have been stretched, along which the Ancestors made their journeys and which have to be woven afresh by each new generation. Every piece ofland is covered by Dreams, which are handed down nom generation to generation, and thus keep the land intact. In this way, through song and story, culture is brought into play. It has long remained hidden within the circle. But nowadays in the declining years of this almost extinct culture, this method has suddenly become very topical in the Aboriginals' fight with European 'civilisation'. They demand that these lines be respected and that roads, building projects and mining sites do not dissect their paths. From an old secret cultural precept they have fashioned a strong political weapon. Ulay and Marina introduced the Dream of the Aboriginals to Amsterdam in 1985. In the cupola of the Sonesta Hotel they invited an Aboriginal and a Tibetan monk to sit with them around a table and to meditate totally motionlessly for four days. For me it is an image that still holds some credibility.
It is similar to the way I imagine the structure of a new museum. No everyday place honouring the claims of an artistic order long discredited, but one that is in service of the personal, individual Dreaming of visitors. Without removing the painterly fetishistic atmosphere immediately, there would have to be a far greater emphasis placed on a different type of structure. The assimilation of Songlines would produce a weaving loom of widely diverging atmospheres that could all lead, via computer data processing, to an art history for every individual which is entirely his own. With the help of visual technology an entire flashing sweep of many traditions can be maintained. And also of course to challenge constantly the old fetish for an art object. In the end art history as a museological classification system of objects has only survived in the form of song-making works. In its consistency this historical incontrovertibility has always been very debatable and does not go along _ anymore with historical reality and certainly not with a vision for the future.
The Aboriginal is equipped for the future because he is not attached to objects and material values yet with the concept of dreams and songs has assured himself of
the truth. A superabundance of art objects has deprived us of the conceptual value of an artistic experience. Today paintings are tested for their value on the market; it is the insurance premiums that determine the value of a canvas or the body of work of an artist. For those whom the tactile, fetish-like experiencing of artworks constitutes the real essence of artistic experience (Yes, I know, we are all victims of it), they will find what they are looking for in the Stedelijk, but more so in the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. There lies the data base for classical art, there the memory of modern art is to be found. The Stedelijk must then have the role of stimulating the development of new agendas. But in particular should not exhibit too many artworks; that only distracts. In the Stedelijk a higher language is spoken, a language from the outset in art theory, in the art of Seurat and De Stijl, which gains its demonstrable right to exist in conceptual art. Duchamp can have his spot with his case. An image of a computer-related atmosphere: the museum reduced to minimum dimensions. The hardware from the past, as it is stored in the collection, must provide sufficient room for the developing of new software.
A Series of Wiggles
From the computer world we know that object-oriented programming is very conceptual. That should be the motto behind the new Museum policy. A dreamworld for the twentieth century, art liberated from historical and nationalistic tendencies. The end of history also means that totalitarian thinking is outmoded. The end of history as well as the beginning of a history without boundaries, just like that long experienced by the Aboriginals, an almost perfect interpretation of the end of the Big Stories as heralded by Fukuyama, Lyotard and others. If it were left to me the Museumplein would really become a Dream Square. And then as a reference for an exceptional group of artists, the Aboriginals should provide the opening exhibition. But no songlines on canvas on the wall, that would look totally out of place. The idea would be to bring the spirit of the songlines to the city; redesign the Museumplein on the basis of their sung dreams and experiences. No outdoor cafes, no footpaths, but a sung and dreamed public work. And in particular as an example of absurdity. For if there is one culture that is able to take itself with a pinch of salt it is the Aboriginal one. As an example here is an extract from Bruce Chatwin's //The Songlines:
Aboriginals, when tracing a Songline in the sand, will draw a series oflines with circles in between. The line represents a stage in the Ancestor's journey (usually a day's march).
Each circle is a 'stop', 'waterhole', or one of the Ancestors campsites. But the story of the Big Fly One was beyond me.
It began with a few straight sweeps; then it wound into a rectangular maze, and
finally ended in a series of wiggles. As he traced each section, Joshua kept calling a refrain, in English, Ho! Ho! They got the money over there.
I must have been very dim-witted that morning: it took me ages to realize that this was a Quantas Dreaming. Joshua had fled once into London. The maze' was London Airport: the Arrival Gate, Health, Immigration, Customs, and then ride into the city on the Underground. The 'w£ggles' were the twists and turns of the taxi, from the tube station to the hotel.
In London, Joshua had seen all the usual sights – the Tower of London, Changing of the Guard and so on – but his real destination had been Amsterdam.
The ideogram for Amsterdam was even more perplexing. There was a circle. There were four smaller circles around it: and there were wires from each of these circles which led to a rectangular box.
Eventually, it dawned on me that this was some kind of round-table conference at which he, Joshua, had been one of four participants. The others, in a clockwise direction, had been 'a white one, a Father one: 'a thin one, a red one', 'a black one, a fat one'.
I asked if the 'wires' were microphone cables; Joshua shook his head vigorously. He
knew all about microphones. They had microphones, on the table//.
No! No! he shouted, pointing hisfingers at his temples.
Were they electrodes or something?
Hey! he cackled. You got him.
The picture I pieced together – true or false I can't begin to say – was of a 'scientific' experiment at which an Aboriginal had sung his Dreaming, a Catholic monk had sung the Gregorian Chant, a Tibetan lama had sung his mantras and an African had sung whatever: all four of them singing their heads off, to test the effect of different song styles on the rhythmic structure of the brain.
The episode struck Joshua, in retrospect, as so unbelievably funny that he had to hold his stomach for laughing.
So did I
We laughed ourselves into hysterics and lay grasping for breath on the sand.//
It seems to me the right tone for a new policy for the Stedelijk would be set if the adventure and the unexpected entanglements, the evil and misunderstandings of rumour and knowing-everything-better hearsay and the pre-established policies of a pre-determined route were to be replaced.
Truth is what you make of it yourself. Even in art history.
translation LYNN GEORGE
1 La Grande Parade exhibition, Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum, 15-12-84 - 15-4-85
2 Ulay & Marina, The Nightsea Crossing, Cupola of the Sonesta Hotel, Amsterdam, 1983
3 Diederik Kraaipoel, De Nieuwe Salon, Groningen, 1990
4 Paul Spies et al, Het Amsterdamse Grachtenboek, The Hague, 1991
5 Paul Groot, Engelen, scenarios for visual art, Amsterdam, 1990
6 Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines, London, 1987