The Future of the Contemporary Symposium

Held in conjunction with the exhibition Luis Camnitzer at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia.

Traditionally, the museum as an institution has been devoted to a stable public. Conceived in order to exhibit the collections of individual donors and nation states to a sympathetic and stationary audience, the space of the museum was hermetic by design. Recent shifts in the international socio-economic landscape, however, have brought the very category of the “public” into question. As the speed and fluidity of economic, intellectual and political exchange increases powered by the motor of globalization, the stability of a singular public has given way to the proliferation of porous publics, calling for a reassessment of the status of the contemporary museum as such. The Future of the Contemporary, hosted by the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, will contribute to this reassessment.

Featuring lectures by a distinguished panel of critics, artists and curators from North America and South America, Europe, Africa and India, the symposium will ask what obligations the contemporary museum should address when confronted by the porous publics that populate the rich and often fraught space of the “global village.” Some past examples of representation of non western cultures in museums will be discussed. In addition to considering specific programming policies and exhibition strategies, the symposium will (re)conceptualize the museum more broadly. Speakers will ask how the waning of the permanent collection as a curatorial resource, the rise of online cataloguing, and the proliferation of satellite galleries, trans-national institutional partnerships and off-site exhibiting have influenced the cultural presence of the art museum as such. Symptoms of globalization, these developments in museological infrastructure have been seen by many as offering new opportunities to more accurately reflect the diverse and rapidly changing climate in which the contemporary museum is located. Others have regarded these developments as evidence of a willing complicity in commodity exchange and a concession of the contemporary museum’s critical distance. Practices of canon formation, curation and archiving will be discussed as possible components of an expanded 21st-century museology which might engage with and intervene in processes of globalization while maintaining the museum’s status as what Michel Foucault called a “heterotopia”, a space distinct from and unlike its object of analysis from which we can ask these questions.

List of Speakers (alphabetically)

THURSDAY, September 29, 2-5:30pm

Scott Watson, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery – Introduction

Luis Camnitzer, SUNY College at Old Westbury – “Michelangelo’s Conundrum”

Jaleh Mansoor, University of British Columbia – “The Future of the Contemporary, Or, What is Modernism? What was Modernity?”

Coffee Break

Katrin Steffen, Curator, Daros Latinamerica and Eugenio Valdes Figueroa, Director of Art Education and Research, Daros Latinamerica
“Daros Latinamerica: History and Future” –  a dialogue moderated by Antonio Eligio (Tonel), University of British Columbia

FRIDAY, September 30, 9:30am-3:30pm

Scott Watson, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery – Introduction

Nicolas Bourriaud, Head of Inspection of Artistic Creation, French Ministry of Culture

Clementine Deliss, Director, Weltkulturen Museum – “Remediating Collections in a Post-Ethnographic Museum”

Nicolaus Schafhausen, Artistic and Managing Director, Witte de With – “The Danger of Mediocrity”


Saloni Mathur, University of California Los Angeles – “Modalities of the Mega-Museum in India”

Maureen Murphy, Independent Curator – “Representing Contemporary African Art in Western Museums: Categories and Audiences”

This symposium is held in conjunction with the exhibition Luis Camnitzer (September 30 – December 4, 2011; Opening Reception, September 29, 7 – 9pm).

The Future of the Contemporary is co-organized and supported by the French Consulate of France in Vancouver and the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery. It is made possible with assistance from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ottawa, and the UBC Curatorial Lecture Series, supported by the Faculty of Arts and the Audain Endowment for Curatorial Studies in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory.

For further information please contact: Naomi Sawada at, tel: (604) 822-3640, or fax: (604) 822-6689

Photo credit: Luis Camnitzer, Landscape as an Attitude, 1979. b/w photograph, 28.1 x 35.5 cm. Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich. Photo: Peter Schälchli, Zürich.