text by Babacar Mbow
“Musing on a Museum” by Anne Tschida, published in the Biscayne Times’ June edition offers insight as to a state of mind that seems to still pervade discourses on cultural institutions in Miami-Dade County. “We asked a number of art-world participants, gallerists, former museum directors, artists, collectors—for comment about building a path forward…” In so doing, “Musing on a Museum” summoned what the writer identified as “foundational voices”; Terence Riley, Dennis Scholl, Barron Sherer, Tyler Emmerson-Dorsh, Felice Grodin and nine other “art-world participants” to the bedside of MOCA. (http://www.biscaynetimes.com). They bring background influences that strengthened Miami’s fledging visual arts field into the world-class site for contemporary expressions we know it today. By these means, we acknowledge their significance and give credence to their opinions.
The problem with “Musing” is that it is tangled up in an old paradigm, losing sight, still, of the diversity of existential realities. The homogenous nature (race, color, ethnicity and most importantly and definitively politics and representation) of the sample “foundational voices” is problematic. It risks continuing the very politics of exclusion that permeated the “Braman Board” which ultimately led to the failure of the Fifteen million dollar Bond Issue and subsequent upheavals that triggered the events described in “Musing”.
We can talk all day long but we cannot ignore the very over/under -representation dynamics inherent in the construction of the article. When a claim to “asking a number of world-art participants” is made, its selectivity can be turned against it. Where are other voices, such as Marylin Holyfield, Rosie Gordon-Wallace, Ludlow Bailey, Marshall Davis, Edouard Duval Carrié, Neil Hall, Willie Logan, Eveline Pierre, and Serge Rodriguez. Aren’t these voices too? It would be interesting to study the last time the “foundational voices” visited an exhibition at MOCA, donated a dime, attended a lecture or interacted with the staff just for moral support. Thus, “Musing on a Museum” keeps up and running a stable of a hegemonic ethnicity that is left untroubled and underarticulated.
Building on Jan-Erik Sundstrom’s questioning of Michel Foucault’s “Society Must be Defended” in The Unholy: Phantom Scenes in Global Society (ed. Ekwui Enwenzor), we may ask what foundations the “voices” are for/of? All foundations? All voices?
Yes, we must engage on “a path forward” but a path which considers society not as a condition, but rather as a precondition for human collectivity and togetherness and perhaps even for being human.
The conditions that led to the current situation of the Museum must be subjected to debates that allow winnowing the merely persuasive from the definitive. All private financial support was withdrawn from the Museum, leaving it without a penny. As of September 2014, all bank accounts were frozen yet, there were an annual Art exhibition to be organized around Art Basel Miami, a yearlong program to be developed, research to be conducted and publications to be undertaken; a framework to be established. We achieved all. The financial support of the Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs and the State of Florida must be acknowledged here. They never bought into the lynch mob mentality that surrounded the events at the museum and were steadfast in their duties to the institution.
The first organized symposium MOCA: Re/Claiming Art, Power and Vision in an Ethnically Plural Community which included a publication that bears the same title articulated the “Politics of Culture of Spaces in Times of Mutation”. The ideas and theories in the texts presented in-depth analysis of the economic, cultural and political impacts of the Museum’s experience and their repercussions for the future. (Mbow 2014). With the participation of all voices and experts in the fields of arts, cultural studies and museum management, the symposium set the framework MOCA operated from therein. These writings that were not accounted for in Ms. Tschida’s article; On the contrary, there were many ideas presented both in the sympodium and in the publication that articulate a dynamic path forward. The book is available at the museum.
The various expression of opinions by artists in “Musing”, are worthy of consideration. But, still, a variety does not equate diversity. Here, we are presented with a latest tune of “MOCA c’est nous” (We are MOCA) —a slogan of the campaign for the Bond Issue that met a catastrophic failure in its reception by citizens of North Miami.
While heralded as a beacon from its inception through Bonnie Clearwater’s “glorious tenure” the assessment remains at the level of the gloss. For our major point is that to a degree unacknowledged by the side of the “foundational voices” re/Claiming MOCA is already lodged in the core of the contemporary discourses transnationally. MOCA’s exhibitions and publications were reproduced at White Box Gallery, in New York and the 2015 CARLOS SALAS: Global Imagination exhibition presented during Art Basel is on its way to the Sunshine Museum in Beijing China.
The irony of “Musing on a Museum” is that it recasts a view holding a unicentric hegemony of intellectual thought resulting in a seemingly untouchable space; a particular experience with the power to re-present the point final of all other experiences.
Thus, it articulates a representation of artistic voices that would redraw the map of anyone else’s experiences. The usual lone Black voice is once again deployed for claim to diversity.
“Musing on a Museum” rightfully mentions a variety of artists’ point of views. However, in a city with a 58.9% black population sprinkling such an important subject with (again) the usual lone Black voice is regrettable. It re-inscribes a Biopower dynamic à la Foucault; controlling the distribution of human species into groups, the subdivision of the population into subgroups, and the establishment of a biological caesura between the ones and the others. Foucault labels it racism.
All this being the case, Anne Tshida’s article does nonetheless indicate a way forward for thinking about MOCA within the art community in Miami-Dade as a whole. What remains potentially unfulfilled is the project of thinking through the power of creative, embodied and material resistance at the level of everyday praxis; to think of the institution as able to engage the complexities of an evolving and globalized society, including trans-intra-, and international specificities and to see as crucial strategies and methods as well as sites be multiplied and diversified.