Will There Still Be a Future When the Museum of the Future Arrives?
I’m more worried about the future of our futures than I am worried about the future of our museums.
From a pessimistic anthropocene-capitalocene theoretical perspective, the future has already become our past. From an accelerationist theory perspective, the sooner we arrive at the future that has already become our past the better, so that we can move beyond the capitalist-planetary apocalypse. Beyond what, however, if there is actually no future? I’m being somewhat hyperbolic, and yet, there is deep anxiety and uncertainty gripping the globe at the start of 2018. Some of us are suffering from political post-traumatic stress disorder in reaction to the outcome of the 2016 election here in the United States. Will museums be the only things left standing in the future without a future? Are museums already the ruins of a lost future world? Or, are museums our continuously accumulating contemporary future? Within “developed/first-world” and certain “developing” economies—expressions I use hesitatingly, as they tend to reproduce global hierarchies that I’m deeply skeptical of—art museums would not seem to be imperiled now nor likely in the near future, at least on financial terms. It appears that large-scale art museums have attracted sufficient real capital, art capital, and cultural capital to weather most economic and political storms, even as museums have come under attack from some on the right and some on the left, with demands to either close exhibitions or to remove controversial artworks from shows. It is likely, though, moving forward, that museums will continue to have sustained relevance, even though various audiences and publics will have different expectations from museums and will apply pressure for various kinds of institutional reform. Museums are now deemed to be key engines of cultural tourism and the attention/experience/distraction economies, and so they are not going away anytime soon. And yet, depending upon local, regional, and national economies—and their connections to the global economy—museums of medium and small scales may experience increased fundraising challenges from public, private, and other hybrid sources. Big capital tends to be attracted to the idea of big institutions. For example, in the case of the new Broad museum in Los Angeles, Eli Broad combined his own private capital with his private art collection—and leveraged his significant political influence in Los Angeles for many decades—to create a big contemporary art museum in downtown LA that embodies, for better and/or for worse, the powerful intersection of art and the art markets, and has helped popularize contemporary art for wider publics. This particular museum is free to visitors because it can afford to be free, ironically or not.