A Broader Institutional Critique

Hammer Museum
Feb 10, 2014 7:35PM

The category of art known as institutional critique has become widely understood—by art historians, theorists, and artists themselves, as well as within the more casual parlance of the contemporary art world—as a type of discursive practice in which artists challenge and question the institutions in which art is produced, displayed, and distributed: primarily the museum, the gallery, and the private collection.

Much of the early writing that set out to define institutional critique rightly discusses such practices within larger social and cultural contexts, astutely linking the museum to broader social and political systems of power. However, the notion that these other systems—be they the government, military, marriage, medicine, education, or even the American nuclear family—might be the object of institutional critique has not gained much traction in the evaluation of these practices to date. Take It or Leave It calls for a broader understanding of the “institution” within such practices, thereby allowing specific discussions of subjectivity to emerge and bringing to the fore issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality.

The curatorial argument for this broader inclusivity finds its roots in the practices of feminist artists of the early 1970s, like Mary Kelly, Adrian Piper, and Martha Rosler, whose practices grew out of conceptualism but who insisted on inserting subjectivity, psychoanalysis, and an awareness of the impact of mass media into their work. All three could arguably be characterized as engaged in institutional critique, not only because they challenged the museum and the art market through modes of installation and a resistance to the autonomous object, but also because they rigorously took up questions of identity and its formation through societal structures, focusing on such topics as motherhood, the beauty industry, the portrayal of the black male body in the media, war, and civil rights. Take It or Leave It is intentionally cross-generational, and foundational work by Kelly, Piper, and Rosler are positioned as profoundly influential to the critically engaged practices of artists who emerged later, such as Tom Burr, Andrea Fraser, Glenn Ligon, and Fred Wilson.

Hammer Museum