The Need for Alternative Space

The progression of postmodernism in the latter half of the 20th century began to challenge the traditional assumptions of the art museum. It questioned the role of an institution that seemed more symbolic in scope than an integral component of modern culture. It was this thinking that encouraged the rise of alternative space. It is not just another place, but one whose existence serves as a forum for spontaneous discourse not marked by the weighted traditions of permanent structures dressed in the static past.

These permanent structures had their traditions born of ideas that the democratic state was a natural progression from the romantic ideals of former inspiring cultures such as Greece and the RomanEmpire. It was a desire to attach the awe of these ancient cultures to buildings that reflected a kind of intellectual superiority while housing plaster-of-Paris reproductions of the real thing. This lack of authenticity prompted artists to think that museums were representing the “symbolism of having theseobjects” (Institutional Critique 333). This is important because it encouraged the approach of alternative space as symbolic in its own right, as well as the consideration that what is contained within a museum changes if the walls of the museum become symbolic.

Fred Wilson, in Constructing the Spectacle of Culture in Museums (1992), suggested that by the simple act of placing art objects in variations of the “four-walls-and-a-roof” scheme of the museum―an ethnographic space, a white-walled gallery space and a turn-of-the-century saloon space―he was able to entirely change the perception of the work through this visual obfuscation (Institutional 332). Theworks became divested of their individuality and became works of historical and ethnographic significance. In some cases the works became entirely unrecognizable as he once told a curator: “No,Valerie, that work you’re staring at was in your gallery a month ago” (332). The intention was that Wilson considered the museum to be symbolic. Change the environment in which the object is placed and one can dynamically change the meaning of the object. Wilson himself pointed out: “…I use the museum as my palette. Curators, whether they think about it or not, really create how you are to viewand think about these objects…” (333).

Another artist who supported the spectacle of the museum was Mark Dion. In Untitled (1999), Dion’s work was about how:

… To better understand the museum, I have at various times had to become the museum, taking on duties of collecting, archiving, classifying, arranging, conserving, and displaying. Personifying the museum condenses its activities and articulates how the museum’s various departments function like vital organs in a living being.(Institutional 383)

Mark Dion was a curator just like Fred Wilson, but, unlike him, introduced individuality into his work. Not that Dion’s work is recognizable as a Mark Dion, but that through his collection and categorization of work, he has attributed an identity while Wilson would have removed it. Thus, the character of Dion’s work was less about how it was placed or displayed in a museum, but more about how the work participated collectively as a “living being” in the greater context of how it is viewed (and not necessarily viewed within a museum).

To use an analogy, Mark Dion’s Neukom Vivarium (2006) that was built for the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, has an 80 foot long hemlock with living plants growing on it (“Olympic Sculpture Park”). The hemlock serves as a skeleton while the hundreds of plants and organisms living off the nutrients of the decaying tree trunk demonstrate Dion’s concept of “vital organs in a living being.” If the hemlock were to disappear, the rest of the work would die. The body would die if any of the vital organs were removed.

Here the context of the work would not change significantly if it were removed to another location, such as inside a museum instead of a custom-built greenhouse. However, if Fred Wilson had designed the piece, it is likely based on his writings that he would choose to compartmentalize the plants, organisms and hemlock from each other. He would likely display them as preserved (dead) entities in sealed boxes, with labels such as: “Found, Green River Watershed, early 21st century.” How he would label them and where he would display them would affect the meaning of the work. If they wereto be displayed in the saloon space, the work would have authority while the white-walled gallery space would look “sort of scientific” (Institutional 332). This is quite different from Dion’s approach. It is possible to think that a living organism in a greenhouse is scientific, but the work is not separated fromits observer. This is an important distinction because while the work is understandably delicate, it is not so fragile as to be a preserved specimen behind glass.

It is not surprising that the saloon space would give works authority as most turn-of-the-last-century museum buildings were built in distinctively massive architectural styles. Such styles, built almost exclusively in stone, replicated the monolithic physical and visual integrity of banks while simultaneously suggesting that what is contained within is valuable in cost and culture. In a way, these buildings created insulated interiors similar to ancient tombs protecting treasures of the past. They created a space full of reverence due to their architectural presence as well as the aural quality of reflectivity (the many smooth surfaces in such a structure amplify the echo, which is discouraged as an annoyance).

Allan Kaprow argued with Robert Smithson in What is a museum? A dialog (1967) that the qualities of an art museum replicate such tombs. He suggested that the museums of the past were a “form of paying respect to the dead” (Institutional 56). It is curious if this statement illustrated that visitors are paying their respects to dead artists or to dead work. The work would be deceased if all the cultural references that may have been suggestive of the work while the artist was alive were lost. The work would then be appropriately entombed as a memorial. In other words, a work created even several decades ago can be dead (even if the artist is still alive) because the popular references of the time the work was created have either fallen into disuse or have been forgotten due to the specificity of current events. In essence, visitors to a museum would be paying their respects to dead works of past eras.

According to an Interview with William Wright (1950), Jackson Pollock presented the idea that every artist must create for the era in which they live. They must use new techniques and technologies to represent that era’s progress which is more novel than prior ones:

My opinion is that new needs need new techniques. And the modern artists have found new ways and new means of making their statements. It seems to me that the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture. Each age finds its own technique. (Theories and Documents 22)

While Pollock here may have been more inclined to speak of painting techniques which was the focus of the interview, he supports Allan Kaprow by affirming that art is made for mausoleums as soon as an age expires. An artist does not actively seek to create work for a mausoleum; what is meant is that all work will expire eventually. This lifespan may last a decade, a half-century, or merely a year before the associations of the work fade from cultural memory. Political works are a good example of this, as well as works that utilize technology that, at the time, may have represented the new and the “state-of-the-art.” In Where are thou, sweet muse? (I’m hung up at the Whitney) (1967), Kaprow writes:

[The museum] still enshrines its contents, still demands a worshipful attitude that reflects benignly on the spectator’s growing cultivation and status. By seeming to wish only to offset and enframe pictures and sculpture from the rest of nature for the sake of focus, the museum environment actually transforms everything into a true nature morte because of the kind of history evoked. (Institutional 52-53)

Kaprow’s counterpoint in What is a museum? is Robert Smithson, who agrees that museums should become mausoleums. Comparing a museum to a mausoleum is a reasonable conclusion if what are contained within them are relics of past artistic ages, and hence quite dead. He takes the bold step of proposing, however, that a museum should be “devoted to different kinds of emptiness... The emptiness could be defined by the actual installation of art. Installations should empty rooms, not fill them” (Institutional 57). In response to this, Kaprow suggests that the Guggenheim should become an environmental sculpture and remain empty all year (57-58).

With this last statement, Kaprow seems to contradict the idea of the museum as mausoleum. Smithson was suggesting that this emptiness would envelop the museum along with the art. Leaving the museum as an empty shell presents two problems. The first problem is whether the empty museum is a mausoleum because of what it has represented in the past, or whether the full museum is a mausoleum because of the objects contained within it? Somehow the concept of a tomb without its occupants cannot be a real mausoleum. But, this idea could be an allegory to a representative ideal. There may be no simple answer. The second problem is where would all the art go? If museums were emptied, artists would stop producing work. Obviously Kaprow is not so idealistic to be self-deprecating to other artists and instead proposes the alternative space as a solution (57).

Such an alternative space could be located at “…the fringes of life and art… at the edges of cities, along vast highways with their outcroppings of supermarkets and shopping centers, endless lumberyards, [and] discount houses…” (57) This suggests that museums, after all, are nothing more than glorified warehouses. Both have four walls and a roof, both have security and both present a shared cultural resource of protecting goods of “value.” A warehouse can be a supermarket, a shopping center, a lumberyard or a museum. It may seem insulting to compare a museum to a warehouse, but the representation of a museum is so deeply ingrained in our collective culture that it must be palatial rather than being a storage shed:

Physically, the museum is a direct parallel in mood, appearance and function to the cloistered, unattainably grand surrounding art once had. In Europe, it was the unused monastery and former chateau that were taken over for the purpose, which in America the style was imitated. Therefore, we have the ‘aristocratic’ manners of curators, the hushed atmosphere, the reverence with which one is supposed to glide from work to work. (Institutional 53)

Would a warehouse containing art become a mausoleum if it were located on the ‘fringes of life and art’? There is probably no correct answer for this, but it does beg another question: does silence create both a mausoleum and a museum? The character of a tomb is one of silence and of a place seldom visited. That would nearly contradict the traditional character of a museum – which is frequentlyvisited and almost silent. However, what if the art object were at such a large scale that it could not fit into any museum? What if it became a museum itself?

Michael Heizer’s City, reportedly expecting completion sometime this year, can be considered both a museum and a mausoleum (Tarasen). It is both because it sets up the condition for many and few people to visit (it is remote, but does not prohibit people from visiting due to its porous nature) and it is a space that resonates with silence both externally (not in a city) and internally. A museum does not need four walls and a roof to function as a museum. In a discussion with Michael Heizer, Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Smithson (1968-69), the conversation focused on whether it is necessary to exhibit in a gallery or in the outdoors. All of the artists were tied to working in both settings, but Dennis Oppenheim opened with: “…To me a piece of sculpture inside a room is a disruption of interior space. It’s a protrusion, an unnecessary addition to what could be a sufficient space in itself…” (Theories 534) This was followed by:

…But at that point I began to think very seriously about place, the physical terrain. And this led me to question the confines of the gallery space and to start working things like bleacher systems, mostly in an outdoor context but still referring back to the gallery site and taking some stimulus from that outside again. Some of what I learn outside I bring back to use in a gallery context. (Theories 534)

This affirms that not only can a museum or gallery lack definitive walls, but that the museum can also have a trans-locative aspect to it. As noted earlier with Allan Kaprow’s statement that museums need alternative spaces in areas rife with supermarkets, the exhibition space for these three artists suggests that the museum can be in a desert, in a supermarket, or in a city. Anywhere influences the contextual meaning of a work, and the inside/outside boundary is blurred:

I like the artificial limits that the gallery presents. I would say my art exists in two realms—in my outdoor sites which can be visited only and which have no objects imposed on them, and indoors, where objects do exist… (Theories 536)

Here Robert Smithson was comparing the seemingly unending horizon of the outdoors to the acute visual obstructions of a gallery. Both have artistic and conceptual limits defined only by the artist. Smithson was also referring to the relational presence of the viewer in both spaces. In the outdoors, it is difficult to understand the context of a thing so great in scale with only the self to act as a guide. In most work of the minimalist era, the scale is many times the size of the person viewing it. It tends to be imposing and grand. In a way, one is measuring the object outdoors to the self in the same way one would be in the gallery, but the limits are compared to the greater landscape limited only by visibility. In other words, the outdoor work must compare to the scale and environment of the landscape. The landscape is the gallery. In the constructed, indoor gallery, the scale of work tends to be smaller as it must fit into the confines of a very limited space, both dimensionally and physically. However, the work is limited by the artist’s intent, and not the physicality of the space. It is just as difficult to create a work in a landscape as it is in a gallery because of the ability to perceive and react to perception. A 20-foot tall chair may be acceptable in both a landscape and a gallery, but it is up to the artist to define its meaning in both settings.

It be may be more appropriate to avoid comparison of the obvious scalar differences of an indoor/outdoor space and instead focus on the passive/active qualities that each space embraces. Dennis Oppenheim would welcome the opportunity of interior spaces because he considered it his “hunting-ground” (Theories 534). Suddenly, the notion of an alternative space changes from a static space to an active one: if an artist considers such a space as a playground, as a sandpit for pushing new ideas in new eras, then what is to say that an alternative space cannot be a form of “specialized entertainment”?

But it seems that now there’s a tendency to try to liven things up in the museums, and that the whole idea of the museum seems to be tending more toward a kind of specialized entertainment. It’s taking on more and more the aspects of a discotheque and less the aspects of art. (Institutional 56-57)

Smithson’s critique of the museum devolving toward the discotheque and away from art isdisturbing. It suggests the art can only be preserved in a mausoleum and visitors may never experience it because it is a tomb. Smithson’s “non-sites” were installed in galleries; did he idealize that no one should ever visit them? However, his comment may be less about the aspect of a discotheque and what that means artistically than commenting on how a discotheque would shatter the reverence and stillness of the museum as mausoleum. In this context, “specialized entertainment” is the antithesis of the mausoleum. But this idea opens the way for the trans-locative museum/gallery/alternative space as almost any venue or place could be considered for the active exhibition of art.

The landscape is already a form of specialized entertainment. It is an active game board; in that it has such qualities as the movement of objects, either by their own volition or passively responding toan environment filled with reactive objects. It also has rules. An innate gallery shields many of these qualities from view due to the physical limitations of such a small space. Wind and rain are negated and light, natural or otherwise, is highly controlled. Random forces and events are also minimalized.

In a way, the gallery acts as Fred Wilson’s “sort of scientific” white walled gallery space. Everything is controlled to such minutia that the gallery becomes a passive, static space. To think of a gallery as a “hunting-ground” means less control with the various aspects of a highly refined and traditional space. Perhaps this would result in more noise generated in a traditionally quiet space, or perhaps it would encourage outside elements to permeate the walls of the gallery. It may even suggest support for the alternative spaces of the supermarket and lumberyard as multiple levels of engagement in the otherwise singular places of buying groceries and refining lumber.

Allan Kaprow in Where art thou, sweet muse? (I’m hung up at the whitney) also wrote about the specialized entertainment of art expanding into the realm of such singular places. He takes a wider, societal view, however, by expressing that:

…Instead, the vanguard tends to view art as a social process; as an ironic idea per se expressed in vacuities and absurdities; as a multimedia organism extending into the space of daily existence; as a slice of life needing no transformation since the mind transforms anyway; as a technological game or a psychological probe into the effects of technology on humans; it even views art as a shifting identity incapable of embodiment beyond allusive words and thus implies total inactivity. Clearly, such art can neither fit physically into an art temple nor feel comfortable with the latter’s mood of sanctity. (Institutional 53)

It is a curious idea that this vanguard should view “art as a social process,” because this is just what Ad Reinhardt thought while writing his Twelve Rules for a New Academy (1953). While Reinhardt was not as invested as others in thinking about alternatives to the museum, he did try to consider the ramifications of continuing the traditions of the past. He too stressed that the public sees art as a social process but that it stems from the role of how the art academy has taught artists to promote their work: “… The academy of art, whether the Western or Eastern ideal, has always aimed at ‘the correction of the artist,’ not ‘the enlightenment of the public.’” (Theories 88) It is entirely possible that this has contributed to the perception that art is absurd. If the public were as educated as the artist it would likely result in the shifting of cultural values. Perhaps art would no longer have the presence of some kind of inaccessible force invading, either willingly or obtrusively, the diurnal rhythms of society. A discussion on the reformation of the art academy would diverge from this topic of museums andalternative space, but Reinhardt was on to something. In a way, educational institutions have similar qualities to a museum: by shutting out the public from intellectual discourse they have both entombed their students and attached value to them in the form of societal readiness.

This does not mean that the art academy is the same as a museum. They do have different purposes. Creating an alternative space in an art academy has been done, but it still has the aura of amuseum. Evidently, only the built typologies that are far physically and conceptually from advanced cultural use can be used for alternative space. A supermarket does not have a high-culture status so it may be used as an alternative space. In contrast, a library would not work; its culture value is much higher.

The importance of that one sentence from Ad Reinhardt is the challenge of the relationship between the artist, the museum and the public. In this context, the museum is seen as a filtering agent to all parties involved. If specialized entertainment in a museum seems absurd to both artists and the public, perhaps it is the museum that is absurd. Fred Wilson in his discussion with Ivan Karp in Constructing the Spectacle of Culture in Museums, addresses the way museums filter as follows:

…what do cultural history museums do, such as the Maryland Historical Society? They define, through assertion and silence, the changing shape of societies and what people do. They tell you, as indeed all histories do… who was important, and who wasn’t, what experiences are important, and which aren’t. (Institutional 342)

Interestingly, this can be related to the earlier arguments of Allan Kaprow and Robert Smithson. With Wilson’s statement, it can be further identified that museums are mausoleums because tombs and cemeteries also filter their occupants out from the public. Those buried who even have mausoleums signify great wealth or great importance from those who have etched tombstones or merely a marker. If a museum is a filter and if Kaprow’s theory that the art of specialized entertainment cannot “fit physically into an art temple” is correct, it can only mean that this specialization can fit into an alternative space. Alternative space is, after all, a specialized place and can be considered the other half of specialized entertainment. The space involved can be that supermarket or it can be a space that transcends physicality.

Jenny Holzer has made attempts to engage the active, trans-locative alternative space behaving as its own museum. In Language Games: Interview with Jeanne Siegel (1985), Holzer explains that she wants people to stumble upon her art (Theories 886). This is similar to the fringe dérive concept first brought up by the Situationist International movement in which a series of random logic events in a well-known area can result in the discovery of something wholly unnoticed (“SI”). The general term, psychogeography, is more than this but it essentially involves the daily happenstance with the urban exploration of a city (“Psychogeography”). Holzer put it this way:

From the beginning, my work has been designed to be stumbled across in the course of a person’s daily life. I think it has the most impact when someone is just walking along, not thinking about anything in particular,and then finds these unusual statements either on a poster or on a sign.When I show in a gallery or a museum, it’s almost like my work is in a library where people can go to a set place and know they’ll find it and have a chance to study. I think it’s also really a question of distribution.… I try to make work go to as many people as possible and to many different situations. I even put stuff on T-shirts. (Theories 886)

Holzer completely removes the notion that a museum or an alternative space needs to have four walls and a roof. Her alternative space can be a granite park bench, the wall of a building or a T-shirt. She is successful at avoiding the contentious issue of whether the museum needs to become a mausoleum because most of her work is in the public realm within areas of highly saturated cultural values. If the work were found in a lumberyard or under a highway overpass on the outskirts of a city, the mausoleum construct may be more debatable. Thus, the art is highly accessible in usually noisy environments where the viewer is not meant to stand still with reverence. She anticipates that the viewer will have mere seconds to notice her art which is why her short deliverables of specialized entertainment are so appropriate on billboards, buildings, LED tickers and T-shirts.

Still, although Holzer’s work cannot support Kaprow and Smithson with their fringe alternative space of supermarkets and lumberyards, her art does happen to be projected in spaces that can be considered fringe space despite their cultural environment. This is problematic unless one considers that a fringe space is anywhere that has little to no cultural value. It may be surrounded by high culture,which may strongly influence the space, but perhaps because of this, the fringe space becomes just as unnoticed as the noticeable lumberyard. An example would be a blank building wall in a dense urban setting. Normally this cannot be acknowledged as fringe space unless one were to look at how that wall may be painted once or twice during an existence of decades and be otherwise forgotten.

While the art of Jenny Holzer is too active to be considered for a tomb, she has made work that memorializes phrases and writings, especially when she chose to engrave them onto granite. But that only represents a fraction of a body of work focused on temporal engagements of happenstance. Her LED tickertape messages are very temporal and raise the same challenge as Jackson Pollock for creating art with the techniques of that era. She agrees with Pollock but takes a slightly different approach: “People are concerned with staying alive… these are dangerous times and our survival is at stake. We should do whatever we can to correct it.” (Theories 886) Eventually the context of Holzer’swork will disappear and her work would be difficult to grasp. Due to the highly temporal existence of her installations, this may never become an issue as they will never become entombed forever in a museum.

However fleeting Holzer’s work may be, the alternative space that the art creates can still be considered its own museum. While it is the artist herself acting as a filter of content to the public, the interface of presenting short phrases can be thought of as a filter in of itself. Thus, as the work is filtering its message for the enlightenment of the public, it replicates the character of a museum.

The deconstruction of the physical space of the museum evolves with the likes of Claes Oldenburg. In his manifesto titled I Am for an Art (1961), Oldenburg writes about how art is evocative and interacts with its viewer (Theories 335). It is not an object to be looked at as in a museum. It is to be appreciably experienced exclusive from diurnal rhythms.

Oldenburg is for an art that illustrates and projects conditions of qualia, the experience of life itself. However, a distinction must be made between the experience of the everyday and the experience of indirect forces. The phrase, “I am for the art of conversation between the sidewalk and a blind man’s metal stick” is very different from the “I am for the art of bar-babble, tooth-picking, beerdrinking, egg-salting, in-sulting. I am for the art of falling off a barstool.” (Theories 336) The actions are different, yes, but so are the perceptions of the actions. In the first, the focus is on the interstitial space between a passive unmoving material and an active moving material. It is the space between a material made to be walked on easily and a material made to make that walking easier. It is not the man who is having a conversation with the sidewalk as he attempts to navigate the imperfect surface; it is his stick that does so as it touches the sidewalk.

It is impossible to illustrate just what the experience of indirect forces might be or mean, but what Oldenburg is describing is that he is for an art of all the kind of unrealized spaces in which we think are our highly interactive environments. In other words, he not only supports the creation of art in the fringe spaces of Jenny Holzer but in all the spaces that do not have an immediate physical definition to them (like the physical space between a walking stick and a sidewalk).

Oldenburg is interested in the interaction of infinite objects with each other that make the human experience possible. The latter statement of “bar-babble” and “falling off barstools” speaks of the perception of the self in the environment. It also speaks of specialized entertainment. It does not reference other things such as what is projected of the self in a flowing conversation. But it does refer to how something is understood and how it affects the perception of the self. The conversation between the sidewalk and the stick does not change, merely the perception of its presence. It may seem that the speakers are “talking” faster or slower but the reality is that the speed is the same.

Oldenburg also brings to attention three interesting constructs with his manifesto: material, decay and time. While his work has historically been sculpture and perhaps not all of it has been built with same serious intent as his writing, he does challenge the concept of material with his manifesto. He has chosen to represent his ideas with traditional materials such as metal, but if the absence of that metal is a material as well, then the space between a sidewalk and a metal stick is a material. Thus, if that empty space is also a fringe space, also an alternative space, it means that a material can be a museum.

This may have been Oppenheim’s reasoning when he said that the museum is his “hunting-ground.” A hunting ground is a material because it allows the hunter (the artist) to conform the space to their liking. The artist may mold this material space in the same manner that Fred Wilson would engage a viewer in a gallery through selective obfuscation. That interstitial space between stick and sidewalk is not only an alternative to a museum; it is a museum because it acts as a filter between the artist and the public. The quale of the blind man’s stick to the sidewalk is not something easily understood for the enlightenment of the public.

As a Pop Artist, Oldenburg does not concern himself with the serious matters that Robert Smithson and Allan Kaprow contemplated, but his work does have an element of decay from a conceptual perspective. Because of his interest in the interface of daily existence, his work suffers from the same passage of time as a Jenny Holzer work. The context and meaning he applied when the work was created will fade with decay and become a relic of the past. In this way, Oldenburg’s work becomes like a mausoleum, but the question is whether or not the work ought to be preserved because the nature of this interstitial space is so transparent and temporal? A museum is a tomb because it preserves its relics for eternity; but how would the artist succeed at preservation for the briefest moments of time in an always changing space? The space between a walking stick and a sidewalk contracts then expands for every step taken.

The challenge of the preservation of time and temporal alternative spaces was more specifically approached by the artist Agnes Denes in the reenactment of a work called Rice/Trees/Burial in the summer of 1977 just north of Niagara Falls. Denes filmed the Niagara Falls for seven days and then sent out and collected a questionnaire containing “existential questions concerning human values, the quality of life, and the future of humanity.” (Theories 542) These were compiled into microfilm, placed within a steel time capsule and buried in a lead box surrounded by nine feet of concrete and marked with a plaque. So it would remain for one thousand years until it’s unveiling in 2979. Her reason for including the microfilm was because the “questionnaire functioned as an open system of communication, allowing our future descendants to evaluate us not so much by the objects we created—as is customary in time capsules—but by the questions we asked and how we responded to them.” (542)

Denes’ Burial is the counter-argument to the decay of an era evident in the work of Jenny Holzerand Claes Oldenburg. There may be decay above the time capsule―societies falling, landscapes changing―but the work itself does not decay. The work has been recorded and lies encased in a tomb. The idea behind the work will instead decay.

This preservation does not ensure if future descendants will even understand the contents of the capsule, but it represents the idealization of the museum as mausoleum. Kaprow would get his wish for the museum becoming an environmental sculpture because that is the form of this time capsule (Institutional 54). Unlike a museum or tomb, it cannot be visited because it is impenetrably sealed and buried. It can neither act as a filter for the enlightenment of the public except to express that there is something of minor value contained within.

This kind of alternative space creates a new kind of value system dependent on time and curiosity. The time capsule of 1977 had almost no value when it was created. It contained current events and questions of daily existence. Thirty-three years later at the time of this writing, that time capsule has increased in value because of how much about it has been forgotten. Recent internet searches suggest that the time capsule does not even exist save for an obscure contemporary volume listing time capsules from around the world (Jarvis 169). It may be that Agnes Denes is an obscure artist, but that would mean that the time capsule and its contents would exponentially increase in value once her work is completely forgotten. Its value is increased further if the location of the capsule is lost and then rediscovered. In one thousand years this time capsule would nearly have the same cultural, historical and societal provenance as the relatively modern discovery of the Rosetta Stone (which was its own time capsule of sorts in that it was a fragment of a stele) (“Rosetta Stone”).

Only when the capsule is unearthed would it become both a filter and a mausoleum. It would filter to this new public from a long forgotten past and attribute value because of what was chosen to be preserved. It would become a mausoleum only after it is opened because of its new availability to the public. This alternative space has all the similarities of the other artist spaces but its principal distinction is the delayed time release. The museum as mausoleum, the fringe space of supermarkets and building walls, scaled spaces of environmental sculpture, and temporal entities are all more immediate than a time capsule. A time capsule is a temporal space, but it has conditions which are not realized within a life span.

The idea of a museum or gallery being a memento mori may be debated anew with each coming era until the end of time. The need for alternative space does not suggest that the idea of a museum will ever disappear. It is part of the human condition to want to preserve the past. Rather, cultural traditions will change and evolve this space dependent on the latest techniques of that age. What it does suggest is that the traditional enclosure of a museum may no longer be necessary for new works in coming eras. Installation art, performance art, and environmental sculpture all challenge this classicism. Old work may end up sealed in these museum tombs but the new, the timed, the weathering and the spontaneous will inhabit the limitless realm of alternative space.


// Jeremi Bigosinski / 2010


Works Cited

Please note that in an effort to simplify reference citation, all 10 readings were cited as either belonging to Theories and Documents (Theories) or Institutional Critique (Institutional).

Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art

Denes, Agnes. "AGNES DENES Rice/Tree/Burial (1968-79)." Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: a Sourcebook of Artists' Writings. By Kristine Stiles and Peter Howard Selz. Berkeley: University of California, 1996. 540-42. Print.

Heizer, Michael, Dennis Oppenheim, and Robert Smithson. "MICHAEL HEIZER, DENNIS OPPENHEIM, ROBERT SMITHSON Discussion (1968-69)." Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: a Sourcebook of Artists' Writings. By Kristine Stiles and Peter Howard Selz. Berkeley: University of California, 1996. 534-36. Print.

Holzer, Jenny, and Jeanne Siegel. "JENNY HOLZER Language Games: Interview with Jeanne Siegel (1985)." Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: a Sourcebook of Artists' Writings. By Kristine Stiles and Peter Howard Selz. Berkeley: University of California, 1996. 886-90. Print.

Oldenburg, Claes. "I Am for an Art." Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: a Sourcebook of Artists' Writings. By Kristine Stiles and Peter Howard Selz. Berkeley: University of California, 1996. 335-37. Print.

Pollock, Jackson, and William Wright. "Interview with William Wright (1950)." Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: a Sourcebook of Artists' Writings. By Kristine Stiles and Peter Howard Selz. Berkeley: University of California, 1996. 22-24. Print.

Reinhardt, Ad. "Twelve Rules for a New Academy (1953)." Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: a Sourcebook of Artists' Writings. By Kristine Stiles and Peter Howard Selz. Berkeley: University of California, 1996. 86-90. Print.

Institutional Critique

Dion, Mark. "Untitled (1999)." Institutional Critique: an Anthology of Artists' Writings. By Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2009. 382-84. Print.

Kaprow, Allan. "Where Art Thou, Sweet Muse? (i'm Hung up at the Whitney) (1967)." Institutional Critique: an Anthology of Artists' Writings. By Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2009. 52-54. Print.

Kaprow, Allan, and Robert Smithson. "What Is a Museum? a Dialog (1967)." Institutional Critique: an Anthology of Artists' Writings. By Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2009. 56-60. Print.

Karp, Ivan, and Fred Wilson. "Constructing the Spectacle of Culture in Museums (1992)." Institutional Critique: an Anthology of Artists' Writings. By Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2009. 330-44. Print.

Internet References for General Information

Jarvis, William E. Time Capsules a Cultural History. Jefferson (N.C.): McFarland &, 2003. 169. Print. Contemporary reference to Agnes Denes' time capsule of 1977

"Psychogeography." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 2005. Web. 23 July 2010. <>. Definition of the dérive

"Rosetta Stone." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 2003. Web. 23 July 2010. <>. The Rosetta Stone was a part of a stele, which were built for commemoration, which means that the Stone is a time capsule too!

"Sculpture." Robert Smithson. Ed. Estate Of Robert Smithson. 2005. Web. 23 July 2010. <>. Photos and dates of Smithson's Non-Sites

Sculptures, Commissioning. "Olympic Sculpture Park." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 20 Feb. 2007. Web. 23 July 2010. <>. Info for Mark Dion's Neukom Vivarium (2006)

"Situationist International." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 2002. Web. 23 July 2010. <>. Info on SI movement

Tarasen, Nick. "City." Double Negative | a Website about Michael Heizer | 1999. Web. 23 July 2010. <>. General info on Michael Hezier's City and expected completion