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Institutional critique. A philosophical investigation of its conditions and possibilities

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posted on 03.12.2014, 09:45 by Vlad V. Morariu
'Institutional critique' is a term that refers to a range of diverse artistic practices and discourses that emerged at the end of the 1960s and that continue in the present. In spite of their differences, they all share a concern with the institutional conditioning of artists and artworks. Various historicizations of institutional critique (Alberro and Stimson, 2009; Raunig and Ray, 2009; Welchman, 2006) concur that one could distinguish two 'phases': artists of the 1960s and 1970s allegedly investigated the possibilities of an escape towards an 'outside' of the art institution, whereas those of the 1990s analysed the ways in which the artistic subject reproduced the structures of the art institution. Since the beginning of the 2000s various artists and authors have revisited the histories and legacies of institutional critique. This growing interest was triggered by the perceived intensification of a process that began at the end of the 1960s; it refers to the recuperation and neutralization of artistic types of critique by what Boltanski and Chiapello (2005) have called the 'new spirit' of capitalism. In this context, the Austrian philosopher Gerald Raunig and the members of the European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies have proposed the hypothesis that 'a new phase' of institutional critique was to emerge. However, this proposition was based less on empirical evidence, than on a 'political and theoretical necessity to be found in the logic of institutional critique' (Raunig, 2009, 3). This thesis is a response to this set of circumstances. By asking 'what are the conditions and possibilities of institutional critique?' it investigates the categories of institutional critique's logic. My main argument is that a 'phase change' of institutional critique could and should be understood through the apparatus of Derridean deconstruction. This implies a criticism of the idea that one needs to escape the art institution in order to respond to urgencies stemming from the social, economic, and political realms (Truth Is Concrete Platform, 2012). At the same time, I will also refute the idea that institutional critique is trapped in the art institution (Fraser, 2009a). Institutional critique works on the remainder and rest that necessarily escapes the instituting will and intention of defining and describing in an exhaustive manner the whatness of what (art) is (Boltanski, 2011). I show that between critique and the art institution there is an irreducible relation of symbiosis and cohabitation, and that the deconstructive logic of institutional critique allows it to be both partner and adversary, at the same time, of the art institution.


Loughborough University School of the Arts



  • The Arts, English and Drama


  • Arts


© Vlad Victor Morariu

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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