Groundless in the Museum: Anarchism and the Living Work of Art

  • Luis Jacob


This speculative text begins with reference to a conversation held in 1967 between artists Allan Kaprow and Robert Smithson, focused on the question “What is a Museum?” and tackling the relationship between Art and Life. The essay argues that for anarchists, it is significant to make a distinction between the dead version of a common word — such as “democracy” — and the living version of the same word. Works of art are used as instances where this distinction between a thing understood in its living aspect, and a thing understood in its “dead” or reified aspect, becomes the very content of the work. Works of art by nineteenth-century creators such as Charles Willson Peale and Jean-Léon Gérôme are brought into dialogue with the work of contemporary artists such as Joan Semmel and Chris Curreri. The premise of this text is that artists ceaselessly try to invent images that allow us to perceive the difference between the dead version of things and the living version of things, and thus attempt to create the conditions for the artwork to come alive.