The Future is Now: Propositions for Art Museums in the 21st Century

  • What are the main challenges for the museums of the 21st Century?
  • Are institutions fully prepared to deal with technology-based works?
  • Do institutions need to re-think their architectural structure, e.g. function and role of walls, rooms design, etc. in order to display certain contemporary works?

“The question now is: what is the role of the new museum? I cannot give an equivocal answer to that question, not even by using a list of objectives and expectations. All I can do is go on a quest, together with the artists, together with my staff, together with the visitors. […] I experienced the embryonic nature of our former museum largely as an advantage. Insofar as that was not already part of my character, the situation forced me to remain always inquisitive, and always led to new challenges to the creative powers, both our own and those of the visitors. We also constantly pursued the “Association’s” policy of increasing awareness, and have continuously kept up negotiations between the artist and the museum, the museum and the public. Partly as a result of this we have helped to create an attachment to our museum that is not to be underestimated. To the extent even that the museums becomes the property of the spectator and the artist. But in what way should that be continued?”

Jan Hoet 1975 -1999, ‘Creating Space for Looking’ in S.M.A.C.K., Ludion, 1999, p.12


“She said: What is history? And he said: History is an angel being blown backwards into the future. He said: History is a pile of debris and the angel wants to go back and fix things to repair the things that have been broken, but there is a storm blowing from Paradise, and the storm keeps blowing the angel backwards into the future. And this storm, this storm is called Progress”

Laurie Anderson, ‘The Dream Before’ from Strange Angels, 1989


“Because of its characteristics, the digital museum poses a number of challenges to the traditional art world, not least in its presentation, collection, and preservation. Digital prints, photography, and sculpture are the kinds of object-oriented work for which museums are equipped, but time-based, interactive digital artworks raise numerous issues. These issues are to a large extent not medium-specific but apply to any time-based and interactive work, be it a video, a performance, or Duchamp’s Rotary Glass. However, such pieces have always been an exception rather than the rule in the mostly object-based art world. Digital art projects often require audience engagement and do not reveal their content at a glance. They are also often expensive to show and ideally require consistent maintenance. Museum buildings are mostly based on the ‘white cube’ model rather than being completely wired and equipped with flexible presentation systems. The success of an exhibit and the audience’s appreciation of the art is invariably dependent on the effort that an institution puts into the exhibition, both in technical and educational respects”

Christiane Paul, Digital Art, Thames & Hudson world of art, 2003, p.23


“The institutionalisation of net.art and the institutionalisation of network_art_activism are two different conditions contained by the same dominant trajectory of post-contemporary cultural institutions: the desire to be digitally correct. The post-contemporary museum/gallery needs to be digitally correct because it seeks economic support from large corporations like Microsoft, Dell, or Macintosh. This means that net.artist seeking a presence in these cultural institutions must become just another line of Research and Development within corporate culture; and the resultant type of techno-formalist work then becomes the aesthetic standard that museums will show and the gallery system will support. This circuit of presentation will disqualify any form of work not driven by techno-formalist code from being hosted on museum/gallery servers”

Ricardo Dominguez, ‘The Institutional Net and the Counter-Net’ in John C. Welchman ed, Institutional Critique and after, Jrp ringier,  2006, p.367


“You can be a museum or you can be modern,but you can’t be both”

Gertrude Stein, 1947