Belonging in the Museum?
Museums have long been cultural spaces where forms of belonging and inclusion have been fostered, contested, and reinvented. Belonging is usually associated with the rights and responsibilities of an individual in relation to certain places, whether the territory of a nation-state or a particular city. But how can one belong if that nation-state previously excluded or expelled certain groups of people? And what does it mean to belong to such a place now? How does culture determine who counts as a citizen, and who belongs in a certain country or city? More specifically, how have visual representations - from videos and photographs to performances and paintings - and museums limited and liberated definitions of belonging? Art provides a domain in which such questions can be raised, not least because it involves material and sensorial processes that exceed the limits of legal and political definition.
Adopting the perspective of museum studies, this seminar explores the politics of identity, migration and memory, and will reckon with the question of how forms of visual representation and their institutional presentation are linked to civic engagement. Recent amendments to the Austrian Citizenship Act have allowed individuals persecuted by the NSDAP, and their descendants, to apply for Austrian citizenship. From family histories impacted by racism and war to efforts to foster belonging after displacement and migration, this seminar interrogates what it means to belong in Vienna.
The seminar will be taught in two parts. The first seminar, in the autumn, will be an introduction to the history and theory of the museum, with a focus on problems of belonging and civic engagement. Readings will address: the development of the museum, especially as a public institution and in relation to civic inclusion; artistic and theoretical critiques of the museum; and its ongoing redefinition today as a space for elaborating narratives of belonging. Based on texts and discussions, students will write an essay focused on an object, collection, exhibition or museum in Vienna. To examine issues of belonging, students will learn and use methods of oral and archival art history to work towards a program of public facing events at the Wien Museum. In the second part of the course, students will collectively develop a public program (exhibition, performance, mini-symposium). They will do studio visits with an artist and each will choose a case study based on the Wien Museum collections or history that is the basis of an essay and preparation for a public presentation at the Wien Museum. These will be blocked in one week of the May 2024 semester.