Exhibitions as Crime by Paul B. Preciado
Jorge Ribalta (former head of public programming at MACBA, and a participating artist in the show): “The exhibition The Beast and the Sovereign was scheduled to open at MACBA (Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art), on Wednesday 18 March, 2015. It was co-produced by MACBA and Württembergischer Kunstverein (WKV) Stuttgart and curated by Valentín Roma, Paul B Preciado, Hans D. Christ and Iris Dressler…
The exhibition took its title and concept from Derrida’s last seminar in which the beast and the sovereign were articulated as the two allegorical extreme figures of politics, both beyond the law: the beast ignores the law and the sovereign has the power to suspend the law. This onto-theological division establishes a series of binary oppositions (class, gender, species, sexuality, race, health, etc.) that articulate the multiple structures of social domination. The invitation card included the following descriptive subtitle: 31 artists unmake power logics.
That there was internal trouble with the exhibition at MACBA became public knowledge with the sudden cancellation of the press conference the day before the opening. Tuesday, the director decided not to open the exhibition and this was made public in a short press release on Wednesday. The reason given to the media for the cancellation by the director was his “disagreement with the curators” concerning the inclusion of a sculpture by Ines Doujak representing the former King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, being sodomised by Bolivian activist Domitila Barrios.”
The director changed his mind on the day of the opening, allowing the show to go forward. He resigned, but not before firing the two curators of the show. On November 11, 2015, eight months later, Paul Preciado read a prepared statement at a panel at the Württembergischer Kunstverein called “About Cultural Politics in Barcelona.”
When I tried to write about the exhibition The Beast and is the Sovereign my head is blocked, my spirit is opaque, but my body is awake. As a witness my body registers the political pain of censorship, a strange form of dis-encouragement and boredom. A form of exhaustion before even starting writing, something I have never felt before. I’m still trying to understand why it was so difficult to react, to write, to speak, to gather with others and act after the conflict and censorship.
At the start of the exhibition The Beast and is the Sovereign at the MACBA (Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art), exhibiting Ines Doujak’s sculpture was considered a crime. A crime against monarchy, a crime against the state, a crime against the institution of the museum itself. We (Paul Preciado and Valentin Roma) were both fired for “betraying the institution” they said. It was also said that our attitude towards the exhibition was unprofessional, that we were not loyal to the museum. It has been said that we were bad curators, both of us, and that Ines Doujak’s sculpture was ugly and bad. But is it possible to speak of a labour dedicated to suppressing the critical power of art as having a professional dimension?
It would be a mistake to think the MACBA case is an extraordinary and isolated event. On the contrary, the MACBA reveals the very operational logic of the new museum, the unexpected alliances between the bio-political disciplinary institution of the 19th century museum and the new neo-liberal institution. Just think about this sequence. Sovereignty. Sodomy. Animality. Ugliness as stupidity. Homosexuality. Transexuality. Blackness. Queerness. Indigenity. Communism.
How are we using aesthetic judgments to draw the limits of what should be institutionally represented? What is the relationship between aesthetic categories and the production of the hegemonic subject? Let’s remember that until today the artistic practice of non-white and non-western peoples has been considered ethnography. The production of women has been considered arts and crafts, and not art. The production of the sick and the institutionalized mentally ill has been considered outsider art, or just symptoms. The production of sexual minorities has been considered pornography, theatrical, kitsch, obscene. Or simply ugly, or bad.
What are we really saying when we say that the work of Ines Doujak is too ugly, too bad to be shown in a contemporary art institution? What kind of representations and practices are we trying to disqualify when we say that they are ugly, badly done, or that they are not institutional, or anti-institutional. What is the subject that the exhibition produces? What is the body that the exhibition, as a public device, constructs? What is the desire and the consciousness that the exhibition is putting into motion?
The book The University and the Undercommons reflects on the situation of the American university, its predatory, privatized economy that forces students to contract loans that they will not be able to pay, and thinks about the conditions of production and reproduction of knowledge, and the relationship between the university, colonialism and capitalism. Fred Moten and Stefano Harvey write: “The only possible relationship to the university today is a criminal one.” While I am still trying to understand what happened in MACBA, I now believe, that following Harvey and Moten, the only possible relationship to the museum and to the exhibition today, is a criminal one.
We need to stop being good professionals of museums. We need to stop being good professional artists. We need to stop being good professional curators. Good professional directors. Professionalization means accepting certain ways of doing things in the institution, accepting the aesthetics of the institution, the economic categories of the institution. Its patriarchal and hetero-normative politics. The gender binarism. Accepting white and western supremacy. Accepting the privatization of the public domain, its opaque economy, accepting the rule and role of foundations and consortiums within the institution. The separation from civil society. Accepting the naturalized historical narrative and the presentation of the political subject within it.
The opposite of professionalization is that of the fugitive and the criminal impulse to make everything public. To steal the privacy of the artwork, and turn it into public. To show everything. The artworks, the working processes, the figures, the numbers, the undermuseum. Therefore what I’m asking today from you is that we add disloyalty to the museum. That we betray the museum. Let us act disloyally to being good managers of the public programs and good servants of marketing expectations of the museum. Let us betray the professionalism of good exhibitions, let us betray the museum. Let us make exhibitions as crime.