Thuistezien 283 — 01.06.2021

Jack Segbars
Interview: Charles Esche

When telling the story about the Van Abbe Museum, an art museum located in Eindhoven, there is a dominant story: a story, beginning at the end of the Second World War, that fits perfectly within the historical canon of modern art history and to which many Western European art interests can relate. This story is, however, not the kind of story the director of the Van Abbe Museum Charles Esche is interested in telling anymore. To Esche, this story, although possibly a good story, is highly curated and based on many biases coming from situated perspectives — primarily that of the Western white male. More importantly, there are many other stories to tell, which might be more relevant and which can give us a better idea of the history of modern art, as well as its complexity and paradoxes.

For his ongoing research on the issue of authorship in artistic production, researcher Jack Segbars conducted interviews with various artists, curators, theorists and organizers through questions related to their own practices and how they positioned themselves between aesthetics, curating and art. Segbars was interested in the Van Abbe Museum as an institution which, in different ways, is trying to incorporate a politically and socially inclined knowledge production in its curatorial format.

According to Segbars, there was a particular exhibition in the Van Abbe Museum, namely the Museum of Arte Útil initiated by the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, which signified a break in the museum’s typical way of programming art exhibitions. By trying to extend their relation to art as well as its function, it lays the foundations for a critique of the autonomy of the art and the artist. The initial reason for art’s necessity to be autonomous was highly a result of the Cold War conditions in which Western Europe and the United States sought a need for the arts to be free, liberated from any kind of political or aesthetic oppression. There were good reasons for funding the arts sufficiently to reach their autonomy. However, as Esche makes clear, the Western world is way past this time which, thus, flattens this aged reasoning entirely and makes the purpose of art less clear. If art is surviving solely through its purpose of being art, it eventually stops questioning itself. What became obvious to Esche and the team while making the Arte Útil was the fact that art drastically needed to re-evaluate its purpose in the broader society. By utilizing the purpose of art, the exhibition directly challenged a long-lasting and, in Esche’s view, romanticized idea of the struggling outsider artist whose purpose could never function in society.

Many of our assumptions of how the art and the artists are supposed to be is grounded in a canon that, fortunately, is visible to us now and Esche believes in the urgency to change this discourse that the canon reinforces. Museums can be part of changing this canon but it will be painful and it will take time.

The interview was part of the presentation Author, Platform and Spectator which showed a series of interviews conducted by Jack Segbars for his ongoing research. The presentation took place at West in 2020.

Text: Rosa Zangenberg