Imagine! How 1970s Performance Art Contributed to Critical Museology

Vortrag von Lisa Beißwanger (AUK/ATW) auf der Konferenz „Reinventing museology. The role of conceptual art“, 6.–7. Oktober 2022, Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme (FMSH), Paris


The Reinventing museology. The role of conceptual art conference is integrated into the Saison Croisée France-Portugal 2022 and organized by the Fondation Maison Science de l'Homme and the Universidade Lusofona, Lisbonne (CeiED and the Department of Museology).

Foto: Celette/Wikipedia

Brief summary:

Imagine! How 1970s Performance Art Contributed to Critical Museology

This paper discusses the contributions of conceptual performance art to critical museology. It will explore the work of three pioneering women artists in 1970s New York that directly addressed the museum and introduced new socio-political questions and concerns to museum discourse:

• Yoko Ono’s One Woman Show – Museum of Modern (F)Art, held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1971. This was an entirely imaginary exhibition, complete with press announcements, a catalog, and visitor participation. With this event Ono addressed the inaccessibility of the powerful institution for living women artists and pointed to the museum as a social construction.

• Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ Maintenance Performances at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Heartford, 1973. Enacting her “Maintenance Manifesto” from 1969, the artist took over the roles of a cleaner and guard at the museum to reveal the museum’s internal hierarchies and the invisible labor required for the institution’s upkeeping.

• Lorraine O’Grady’s uninvited appearances at New York exhibition openings as Mlle Bourgeoise Noire around 1980, for which the black artist arrived in an extravagant costume, handed flowers to the audience, and declaimed poems criticizing racial segregation and discrimination in museums.

With these works, all three artists built on earlier conceptual art, the “dematerialization of the art object” (Lucy Lippard) and the legacy of Marcel Duchamp—whom all referred to as a major influence. But they went beyond the more formal concerns of these earlier approaches. By engaging directly with museum visitors and staff, they dismiss the traditional idea of the museum as a discrete enclosure for objects on display, framing it as a social space. At the same time, they critically comment on the institution’s discriminatory politics of access, in this case particularly focusing on women and people of color. Even though specifically directed at art museums, the artists’ critique resonated with overarching political debates that were—and continue to be—relevant to any museum. Conceptual art provided a powerful tool to voice and visualize a position in these debates. Especially performance artists were able to develop strategies for direct on-site actions, provoking instant re-actions and public attention. In doing so they not only spurred change in the respective institutions but also provided thought provoking starting points for museological reflections.

Conference Program:

Thursday, October 6, 2022

11am – 11.15am

Welcome speech by FMSH Representative

Introduction by Marta Jecu

11.15am – 12.30pm

Keynote: Sara Alonso Gomez, art historian, curator and Associate Professor at Aix-Marseille Université ('Vers des muséologies multiples? Réflexions sur les frontières des regards et sur le décentrement des politiques de représentation').

Keynote: Mario Moutinho, dean of Universidade Lusofona and Director of the Museology Department of Universidade Lusofona.


12.30pm – 13.30pm

Lunch break

13.30pm – 15.15pm

Anna Chiara Cimoli : 'Beyond the colonial canon at the Musée de l'Homme: Yto Barrada reads Thérèse Rivière's archives'.

Clementine Debrosse: 'Brook Andrew: disrupting colonial archives'

Željka Miklošević, Patricia Počanić: 'Art and Social Agency in a State of (Post)Transition'

Lisa Beißwanger: 'Imagine! How 1970s Performance Art Contributed to Critical Museology'

30 min final discussion

15.15pm – 15.30pm

Coffee break

15.30pm – 16.45pm

Johanna Wurz: 'Art & society in the museum discourse around 1970: Theoretical contributions and exhibition designs redefining the role of art in an activist and democratic manner.'

Karen Jacobs: 'Re-embodying museum objects: Pacific contemporary artists emphasising process'

30 min discussion

16.45pm – 17pm

Coffee break

17pm – 18.30pm

Nicola Foster: 'Contemporary Art Interventions: The Rijksmuseum exhibition REVOLUSI!'

Maria Luisa Moita: 'The impact of social and museological insurgencies on normative museums, from the 1960s on.'

30 min discussion

- – -

Friday, October 7, 2022 – 11.15am:

Louis-Antoine Mège, Paula Stoica, Felix Vogel: 'Challenging the Museum: documenta as Para-Museum. Functions and Frictions as illustrated by Harald Szeemann’s documenta V (1972)'

30 min discussion

11.15am – 11.30am

Coffee break

11.30am – 12.45pm

Markus Walz: 'From Material Testimony to Visual Objects to Fake Objects'

Constança Vasconcelos and Ines Andrade Marques: 'The pedagogical Suitcase: La Boîte-en-valise reinterpreted'.

30 min discussion

12.45pm – 2.15pm

Lunch break

2.15pm – 5.30pm

Stephan Koehler: 'Museumwhywhy?'

Carolina Ruoso: 'Musée d’artiste, la musélogie sociale pour la décolonialité de l’histoire de l’art'

30 min discussion

3:45pm – 4pm

Coffee break

4pm – 5.30pm

Karla Barroso: 'Carnival Art and Museums'

Pablo Martinez: 'Museums and Climate: From institutional critique to the ecosocial museum'

30 min discussion


Closing Word