Free School for Art Theory and Practice

Being Critical. Still. Seminar with Barbara Steiner


The Debating Museum. Barbara Steiner Interviewed by Dóra Hegyi


September 21–24, 2006; Collegium Budapest

1. The (socialist) past and its effects on the present.

To operate not only on a pure abstract level, the Gallery of Contemporary Art (GfZK) will serve as a model, describing certain features of a contemporary institution, which had to operate from the beginning under the new conditions of capitalism in a post-socialist country. In 2002, the nature of the founding program was questioned through the start of a three-year research project on the role of art and culture in post-socialist countries. A public debate has started about the program, its social relevance, its past, its local and international role. The institution itself turned into the topic, its mechanisms, the hopes connected to, its ideology.

2. The various functions of the gallery and the program of the various departments; the “commercial” projects.

The gallery consists of two buildings and a garden. The various functions of the gallery are temporary exhibitions, library, collection, residencies, education, and “commercial” projects (GfZK garden, Café Weezie/Neubau, Hotel Everland). Under the roof of the gallery, each department has acquired its own visual appearance, runs its own program, and addresses various audiences. The “commercial” projects, all developed by artists, aim to take new economic needs into consideration, reflecting them and putting them on display.

3. The architecture (GfZK 1/GfZK 2/GfZK garden).

Under the light of the new program, the topic of the architectural framework was taken up, acknowledging that architecture is never a neutral background to the objects exhibited, but rather organizes the gaze of the viewer and prescribes distinct modes of reading and interpretation. Starting from the position that the function and significance of architecture exists on the basis of a certain social agreement, an act of communication, the spaces are no longer designed with a single definite function in view, rather they imply the possibility of their own reinterpretation.

4. The role of artistic/curatorial/institutional critique/criticality.

Problems number one and two of artistic and curatorial criticism/critique are the authoritarian formulation of the concept of truth and voluntary and involuntary complicity with a system that is criticized. How can we, how can an institution, produce contradictions consciously for the sake of a critical debate? Instead of claiming truth, there would be a shift towards discourses of truth, accepting and setting up (conflicting and competing) alternatives in thinking and acting. This section will bring in examples of conflicting and competing elements in GfZK’s program but also in its general conception.


Barbara Steiner is curator and  Artistic Director of Europe (to the power of) n, a collaborative project that takes place in 10 cities in and outside the European Union. As a writer she contributes frequently to the Fair Observer. By the time the interview was conducted she was the director of the Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig.