"Museums are places where art is thought in its own terms as well as beyond its boundaries"
Interview with Amanda de la Garza, CIMAM Board member, Director, MUAC, Mexico City, Mexico for Tendencias del Mercado del Arte, Spain.
Published on February 2023.
Do you remember your first memorable experience with museums?
I have a number of significant memories related to museums since I was very young, as it was a recurring family activity. However, at the age of 19, when I was a Sociology student, I had a very important experience in front of a work, Matisse's The Red Room at The Hermitage in St. Petersburg. It was a decisive moment in my life, from the encounter with that work, that I felt traversed by the experience of art. The memory of that moment has accompanied me for a long time. I return to it from time to time to understand where my curiosity and passion for art came from.
What role should museums play in today's society? How can they remain relevant as a space for cultural exchange?
Museums must understand and reflect on the social role they play, that is, understand their function as public spaces, as places of debate, of dialogue, but also of friction, of construction of discourses on contemporaneity. Museums are places where art is thought in its own terms as well as beyond its boundaries.
You've been professionally involved in the field of contemporary art museums for a decade now. What have been the most outstanding changes you've noticed during this time?
One of the most outstanding changes has been the massification of contemporary art and its inscription in a broader social taste, coupled with the proliferation of museums and biennials of contemporary art in the world. At the same time, there has been a growing professionalization of those who work in museums and a greater institutionalization and specialization of technical and management processes.
How have issues such as the pandemic or social movements impacted museums?
A radical change, pushed by the pandemic, has been the full entry of the museum into the digital world. In communicative terms, the museum has become a medium in itself, whose vehicle is social networks and virtual programming. On the other hand, the work dynamics have changed in terms of management, promoting greater transversality and integration of the different work areas.
Regarding the relationship with social movements, the museum has been subject to political criticism, both at the level of its contents, artistic and intellectual orientations and in relation to the lack of ethnic diversity in the work teams. This has opened the discussion about the need for institutional transformation, the institutions' listening capacity, and their responsibility towards the present.
Latin America has a rich museum tradition, but do you think it enjoys sufficient recognition in the international sphere?
Latin America, with significant local differences, has a long museum tradition. However, many professionals from other regions are unaware of its museum richness. This lack of knowledge is based on power asymmetries, basically, an ideological issue whose origin is geopolitical. The consequences of this are ramified in several ways: the difficulty of developing projects between institutions in Latin America and the global North, the lack of interest in another history of art, decentralized from European or "international" art, and, on the other hand, the absence of intellectual and curatorial recognition of institutions in Latin America, which means that they are not considered as peers.
What makes a university museum like the one you direct unique? What particularities does it have compared to other museums that are also public?
For me, what defines a university museum is its public, the relationship with academia, freedom of expression and the exercise of criticism. On the one hand, this type of museum speaks to a young and developing population group, which defines itself in terms of identity, generation and politics. At the same time, university museums can establish a dialogue with academia and inscribe, from another place, research and discussions on key moments in the history of art, as well as being part of that same history. They can also produce interdisciplinary crossroads based on artistic research and influence the intellectual formation of new generations of artists through non-formal education. Likewise, the space for freedom of thought and criticism that the university represents allows the development of discussions that would be extremely difficult to carry out in other public institutions.
You have shown interest in the "situated museum" concept. What do you mean by this?
From my perspective, a situated museum is one that is capable of understanding its role in terms of the times, while at the same time being clear about the social, political, and artistic context in which it operates and to which it is committed.
You have advocated for museums to address issues such as gender, decolonization or power asymmetries. Could you give examples of how these or other current issues are reflected in MUAC's programming?
These three aspects are transversal orientations, a stance taken on the history of art and an institutional task, which is why they are reflected in different ways: in public programming, in the curatorial program and the development of our collections. On the one hand, for some years, we have had a gender parity program, and one of the curatorial lines is focused on reviewing the work and trajectory of women artists whose work has not been sufficiently addressed institutionally. On the other hand, from the curatorial and academic program, we have a series of projects and lines of work linked to feminist and gender issues and indigenous contemporary art. In this sense, MUAC seeks a thematic approach and to weave local and international networks in order to push forward these discussions from three different fronts: research, artistic production and activism.