The future of the public museum has never seemed more at risk: rather than representing the diverse interests of society as a whole, in most cases it has been reduced to a vehicle for promoting block-buster events and protecting the privileges of private concerns, giving rise to temples of amusement and entertainment that are unable to grasp the actual historic moment in its entirety. Apart, that is, from the odd happy but rare exception. In this short essay, Claire Bishop talks about the experience of three European institutions of contemporary art – the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Museo Nacional Reina Sofía in Madrid and the MSUM in Ljubljana – which have dealt with the challenge of cuts to public funding dictated by austerity measures by making a virtue of necessity and developing brilliant alternatives to the dominant mantra of “bigger and better, and, if possible, also more profitable”. Through enlightened policies regarding the acquisition of new work and the display of their own permanent collection, these museums have turned themselves into places dedicated to experimentation, capable of using their own resources to put together a critical discourse and cast a political eye on the current period in history.
In re-opening discussion of a heated international debate, Museologia Radicale outlines a manifesto for a new concept of contemporary, which should be seen as a practice and not merely as periodization, favouring a reinterpretation of the museum’s role as an institution charged with preserving cultural heritage, at the same time providing a critical voice that can interrogate the present and contribute to creating a different future.