Robert Smithson, Museum of the Void, [Museu do Vazio] 1966.
Cultural confinement (1972)
Cultural confinement takes place when a curator imposes his own limits on an art exhibition, rather than asking an artist to set his limits. Artists are expected to fit into fraudulent categories. Some artists imagine they’ve got a hold on this apparatus, which in fact has got a hold of them. As a result, they end up supporting a cultural prison that is out of their control. Artists themselves are not confined, but their output is. Museums, like asylums and jails, have wards and cells – in other words, neutral rooms called “galleries.” A work of art when placed in a gallery loses its charge, and becomes a portable object or surface disengaged from the outside world. A vacant white room with lights is still a submission to the neutral. Works of art seen in such places seem to be going through a kind of esthetic convalescence. They are looked upon as so many inanimate invalids, waiting for critics to pronounce them curable or incurable. The function of the warden-curator is to separate art from the rest of society. Next comes integration. Once the work of art is totally neutralized, ineffective, abstracted, safe, and politically lobotomized it is ready to be consumed by society. All is reduced to visual fodder and transportable merchandise. Innovations are allowed only if they support this kind of confinement.
The museums and parks are graveyards above the ground – congealed memories of the part that acts as a pretext for reality. This causes acute anxiety among artists in so far as they challenge, compete, and fight for the spoiled ideals of lost situations.
Excerpt of statement originally published in the Documenta 5 catalogue as Smithson’s contribution to the exhibition curated by Harald Szeeman.
Robert Smithson (Passaic, EUA, 1938 – Amarillo, EUA, 1973) artista…