Introduction - Joasia Krysa
“FROM PERFECT TO HUMAN” - Jørgen Leth, Det Perfekte Menneske (The Perfect Human,1967)
The Perfect Institution, a programme of events across the fields of culture and business, took place at Kunsthal Aarhus between September 2013 and February 2014 . Taking the format of talks open to the general public as well as closed workshop sessions, it set out to offer a pragmatic guide to constructing an art institution that responds to future cultural and economic conditions not only adapting to changes but pre-empting them. In the run up to 2017 - which has a two-fold significance as both the year Aarhus is European Capital of Culture and the year that Kunsthal Aarhus celebrates its centenary. It proposed a collective exercise in imagining 'perfect' scenarios for an art institution of the future.
The project took its cue from the specific context of Kunsthal Aarhus, as a contemporary art institution with its historical roots in artist self-organisation and the European tradition of artist-run spaces (Kunstvereins), and an institution in the process of continuous transformation. It is almost 100 years since Kunsthal Aarhus was established on at the initiative of Aarhus Artists Association of 1847 (Århus Kunstforening af 1847) with the central mission to ‘inspire and promote a general knowledge of the fine arts’. Since then the institution has undergone many conceptual, organizational, functional and architectural transformations and developments - serving over the years as an exhibition space for modern art, a horse stable and a refugee camp in the 1930s; a warehouse for building materials, and a storage room for potatoes in the 1950s. After architectural changes in the 1990s and 2000s, it is now a modern contemporary art gallery with over 1000 square metres of exhibition space. Changing its name from Åarhus Kunstbygning to Kunsthal Aarhus in 2012, it strives to connect the histories of the institution with wider contemporary cultural, social and technological transformations, and to rethink its function in the wider cultural ecology of the city and the international art world.
The Perfect Institution was not an exercise in science fiction but a platform for speculations, propositions and discussions on future possibilities with a quite pragmatic purpose, responding to the following current questions: How to organise the art institution, what are the models? How to identify the core business of the institution and articulate it to stakeholders? How to implement principles of service design into an arts context? How to communicate the institution externally? How to develop methodologies for constructing future imaginaries?
Contributions include: Artist and Professor of Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art in London, Neil Cummings imagines possible futures for the Kunsthal Aarhus, and the wider culture within which it might find itself operating; Tom Wilcox from the UK’s leading arts management consultancy Counterculture identifying and articulating the core business of an arts institution; Service design expert and author Søren Bechmann discusses the basic principles of service design; researcher Irene Campolmi discusses what a closer engagement with ethics offers contemporary art institutions; Kathrin Luz (Kathrin Luz Communication, Koln) offers seven pieces of advice on ‘how to communicate perfectly in the art world’; and finally, curator and writer Tom Trevor reflects upon the recent history of ‘institutional critique’ and the future of the self-critical art institution. The eclectic mix of contributions together offers some ideas in working towards the perfect institution whilst recognizing its impossibility.
Essays published in 2015, collated by Irene Campolmi, from The Perfect Institution curated by Joasia Krysa, supported by Statens Kunstfond and Aarhus 2017 Foundation.