MOCA's art manifesto
Although he is still referred to as the new director of Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Philippe Vergne is settling into his role as head of one of the most respected art museums in the US.
His appointment followed a worldwide search for the right individual for the post, with a 14-member committee scrutinising every single candidate they thought had the personality, the connections and the intellectual might to take the museum into the future.
It was a smart move because Mr Vergne is a man with big ideas, as demonstrated by his take on what it means to be a contemporary art museum.
Writing in Dazed Digital, he outlined MOCA’s Manifesto on Contemporary Art, explaining the establishments specialising in works that fall under this banner have to be museums “of our time”.
“A contemporary art museum must address the forms, the ideas, and the questions that will, in the years to come, represent who we are today,” Mr Vergne went on to say, revealing that there is an impetus for museums to capture the zeitgeist as they see and experience it.
“It is how we share their complexity and eventually our inability to fully understand the aesthetic innovations that will deeply affect our understanding of art,” he added.
“Art changed when it became an assault against conventions and canons – a museum of contemporary art fosters such assaults.”
In other words, seek more and believe in the possible. Be vanguards and never accept anything for what it is. Do away with boundaries, real or otherwise and expand without fear or restraint, MrVergne elaborated in his piece for the online news provider.
Quoting the celebrated American minimalist Carl Andre, who famously remarked that “art is what we do, culture is what is done to us”, the director of MOCA called for a greater focus on the actual works produced by contemporary artists.
This nicely segues into the decommercialisation of the museum. Such spaces should be immune to the cult of consumerism, which has, since the fifties, come to define humanity in the industrialised western world.
Success in the cold facade of modern day life has long been defined by the objects we surround ourselves in and the zeros we add to our payslips. Museums, says Mr Vergne, has to be an “antidote”.
“If success is measured by the ‘door’ then remove the door,” the art expert advised. “If success is measured by the quantity of transactions, then let the museum be the place for intellectual transactions.
“A museum of contemporary art has to be beyond its walls, as one cannot contain what one does not know; one cannot contain what is yet to come.”
In some respects, this manifesto can be seen as a criticism of history, which is led us to the world we live in today.
Such a land likes to place limits on imagination, to quantify it and assess it through a list of established criteria. It orientates itself on the axis of elitism, it dictates the ‘right’ philosophies to live by and formulises relationships so that everyone contributes to the greater good of money for money’s sake.
Contemporary art museums, Mr Vergne says, is a remedy to this reality, albeit a temporary one – once you leave, you return to everything that the establishment is not; hence why its virtues have real world applicability.
“It is the location for innovation, experimentation and conversation,” he points out. “It is where ideas break open. It is place of accretion for which simultaneity defies accumulation and succession; it is a public place not a box, not a white cube, born from and for relationships between objects, ideas, projects, individuals and communities.”
Cadogan Tate can ship works of art to and from Los Angeles.