Postmodern Museums of Late Capitalism
Museums as Places of Memory
Museums as Simulated Environments
The article provides tentative bridges between the condition of museums as cultural institutions undergoing transformation of their place within the urban space and the late capitalism as a globe-spanning process. The postmodern spatial relations single out museum as the site where the cultural logic of late capitalism receives its concrete expression within both the economic structures and aesthetic forms involved in it. The relation of the museum as a space where the boundaries of the aesthetic experience and expression are tested to the capitalism is not that of modeling the experience corresponding to the next stage of capitalism through its negation and revolt against it, as Krauss claims (Krauss 1990), but that of co-constitution. The late capitalist logic of production of difference as the index of economic value and the object of further investment attains its purest expression in postmodern status of the work of art whose sign-value is pure difference.
One possible entry point into the discussion of museums as places of memory in the early twenty-first century is Rosalind Krauss' essay on "The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalism Museum" (1990).The article provides tentative bridges between the condition of museums as cultural institutions undergoing transformation of their place within the urban space and the late capitalism as a globe-spanning process. The postmodern spatial relations single out museum as the site where the cultural logic of late capitalism receives its concrete expression within both the economic structures and aesthetic forms involved in it:
postmodernism is inseparable from, and unthinkable without the hypothesis of, some fundamental mutation in the sphere of culture in the world of late capitalism, which includes a momentous modification of its social function (Jameson 1991: 47-48)
While the late capitalism is a notably global phenomenon with features that “include the new international division of labor, a vertiginous new dynamic in international banking and the stock exchanges (including the enormous Second and Third World debt), new forms of media interrelationship (very much including transportation systems such as containerization)” (Jameson 1991: xix), Jameson’s discussion of postmodernism circumscribes the discussion toward the focus on Western Europe and North America. Even though the latter are conventionally privileged in the discussions of the modernism and the modernity, Pierre Nora understands the places of memory [“les lieux de mémoire”] to be engaged in the process common both to the former colonies and to their one-time metropolises:
À la périphérie, l'indépendance des nouvelle nations a entraîné dans l'historicité les sociétés déjà réveillées par le viol colonial de leur sommeil ethnologique. Et par le même mouvement de décolonisation intérieure, toutes les ethnies, groupes, familles, à fort capital mémoriel et à faible capital historique (Nora 1984: xviii)
The centrality of the Western Europe and North America in the accounts of modernism (Bradbury and McFarlane 1976; Bürger 1984) and postmodernism as its later stage (Astradur 1990), allows me to raise questions regarding the transformations in the capitalist mode of production as reflected in museums as the type of urban space coming to rising prominence. As Pierre Nora’s places of memory, museums contribute to the legitimization of the late capitalist society transformed in his opinion by "le phénomène bien connu de la mondialisation, de la démocratisation, de la massification, de la médiatisation" (xviii) from the coupling of nation-state into the nexus between state and society during the crises of 1930s:
Avec l'avènement de la société en lieu et place de la Nation, la légitimation par le passé, donc par l'histoire, a cédé le pas à la légitimation par l'avenir. Le passé, on ne pouvait que le connaître et le vénérer, et la Nation, la servir ; l'avenir, il faut le préparer (xxiii)
Late capitalism is also implicated in the regimes of visibility as they legitimize both the social and spatial ordering implicated in reproduction of the late capitalism as the regime of accumulation. Its reproduction hinges upon the coincidence of what Jameson calls postmodernism as “the consumption of sheer commodification as a process" (Jameson 1991: x) with Nora’s diagnosis of “la perception globale de toute chose comme disparue" (Nora 1984: xvii), which as Krauss testifies (Krauss 1990: 3) allows art museums to treat works of art as financial instruments and objects for memory’s anchorage at one and the same time.
Postmodern Museums of Late Capitalism
Postmodernism that Jameson refers to as ""cultural revolution" on the scale of the mode of production itself" (Jameson 1991: xiv) can be inscribed into the succession of Michel Foucault’s épistèmes (Foucault 1972; 1973) as their continuation. Foucault’s treatment of épistèmes as stable representational schemata cutting across economy, science, and culture holds in critical tension the historical sequence of the studioli, cabinets of curiosities, princely galleries, and national museums that histories of museums as institutions represent (Bennett 1995; Duncan 1995; Hooper-Greenhill 1992). The underlying component of such ordering of objects is the spaces where their interrelations become visible.
The Kantian category of aesthetic judgment (Kant 1998) finds in the art museums its reified and institutionalized existence as artworks are ordered within the discursive regime of the discipline of art history. Along with other institutionalized forms of knowledge, art history from its inception has been geared towards the late bourgeois governmentality of the nation-states (Bennett 1995). The end of colonialism as the regime of domination by various metropoles over their overseas or internal colonies illustrates both the legitimation crises of the modernity having colonialism as its disavowed concomitant and their intimate relation with the late capitalism:
Thus Mandel suggests that the basic new technological prerequisites of the new "long wave" of capitalism's third stage (here called "late capitalism") were available by the end of World War II, which also had the effect of reorganizing international relations, decolonizing the colonies, and laying the groundwork for the emergence of a new economic world system (Jameson 1991: xx)
Consequently, the post-colonial re-appraisal of the legacy of the colonialism (Spivak 1999) has its counterpart in the post-Eurocentric accounts of the modernism that historicize its aesthetic foundations (Vergo 1989) at the same time as it relativises the postmodernism as the situated vantage point from which such perspective on the project of modernity is accessible. The ensuing legitimization crisis erases the specificity of the postmodern condition in that it brings the post-colonial perspective on modernism and modernity that historically has seen these two latter terms of the Euro-centered discourse as involving injustice towards and silencing of the colonized others:
 “In the periphery, the independence of the new nations has carried into historicity the societies already awaken by the colonial violation from their ethnological slumber. And by the same movement of the internal decolonization, [so were] all the ethnicities, groups, families, with abundant assets of memory and with scant assets of history” (here and henceforward translation is mine, P. M.)
 “the well-known phenomenon of globalization, democratization, uniformization, mediatization.”
 “With the coming of the society into place and position of the Nation, the legitimization by the past, by the history therefore, has given way to the legitimization by the future. The past could only be known and venerated, and the Nation be served; the future one should prepare.”
 “the overall perception of all things as vanished.”
- Quote paper
- Dr Pablo Markin (Author), 2006, Towards the Theorization of Cultural Logic of Museums as Places of Memory in the Late Capitalism, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/120853