November 26, 2012

Proposal for a Museum

Robert Smithson, The Museum of the Void, 1969

In Summer 2013 SFMOMA will close its doors to the public to accommodate construction for an impressive expansion, currently planned to last nearly three years. And while these months of closure will be filled with off-site programming and exhibitions at other places, it will nevertheless be felt keenly among those who care about art and its institutions.

When we were asked to edit a series for Open Space, it did not take us long to arrive at this absence as our subject. But rather than a space for melancholy, perhaps the closure allows for a moment of reconsideration or reflection, the sort of pause that (for some of us, at least) is the precondition for thought. Just what should be the role of the museum of modern art today, more than 90 years since Katherine Dreier and Marcel Duchamp first inaugurated the Société Anonyme in 1920 as a “museum of modern art”? What are its tasks, its subjects, its forms of institutional organization and legitimation? How might they be productively reimagined for a present that Dreier and Duchamp (or Alexander Dorner, or Alfred Barr) could hardly have foreseen? Even as museums everywhere expand, or deploy franchises to the farthest reaches of the globe, the narratives of public life and universal modernization that once drove the museum forward seem to have faltered. In such conditions, “expansion” is both spatial and ideological, though the import of the latter is very often unspoken or ambiguous.

Understanding the renovation to be a sort of intra-institutional reimagining, we’ve engaged several people — writers, curators, historians, and artists — to share their own dreams and (counter) images of the contemporary museum. They were given the simple prompt to “invent a proposal for a museum in San Francisco”; their responses will be posted over the coming months. They range from the political to the utopian, from topical to oblique. Interspersed with posts from our guests, we’ll include our own selection of historical proposals for museums, drawing upon the fields of art and architecture in particular.

Our first proposal, by artist Zarouhie Abdalian, will appear tomorrow, with several more to follow. We hope you’ll check back as we develop this series through the spring.

Comments (3)

  • Jan Szupinski says:

    It would be great if Grupa OK could spark a debate on what the museum in Warsaw should be. I agree with everybody else that the Karez’s proposal was hopelessly inadequate, so were other entries that were submitted. And I don’t necessarily blame the contesting architects for the lack of vision. The vision has to come from the body that is organizing it, like a cultural institutions that should reflect the spirit of Polish and Warsaw culture. In this case, it’s not about architecture, it’s about a story! Once the story is made, great architectural designs will follow. But a story is hard to make, which this failed competition clearly proves.

  • My idea is better, an interactive space using Google’s museum initiatives, cell phones, video projectors, geodesic.domes, Twitter, eyesweb, ir cameras, ai bots. Of course my idea will be passed over, but I will leave you with this verbal outline.

  • Because the SFMOMA does a great service to the communities of the Bay Area, I think it’s sad that it will be closing for that period of time. I do, however, anticipate the museum’s expansion and the amazing works of art that will come from it!

Leave a comment

Please tell us what you think. We really love conversation, and we’re happy to entertain dissenting opinions. Just no name-calling, personal attacks, slurs, threats, spam, and the like, please. Those ones we reserve the right to remove.

Sign Up

Join our newsletter for infrequent updates on new posts and Open Space events.
  • Required, will not be published

Dear Visitor,
We regret to inform you that Open Space is no longer active. It was retired at the end of 2021. We sincerely appreciate your support and engagement over the years.

For your reference, we encourage you to read past entries or search the site.

To stay informed about future ventures or updates, please follow us at

Thank you for being a part of our journey!