When we posit in our project transform the provisional thesis that,
following the two phases of institutional critique in the 1970s and the 1990s,
a new phase will emerge,
this thesis is based less on empirical findings than on a political and
theoretical necessity, which a look at the deployment of institutional critique
makes evident. Both strands of the meanwhile canonized practice of
institutional critique had their own strategies and methods conditioned by the
context, were simultaneously similar to one another (more similar than the
delimitations of the art history canon and the art criticism canon would
suggest) and different from one another, depending on the social and political
circumstances. In particular, the circumstances have changed tremendously,
since Michael Asher, Robert Smithson, Daniel Buren, Hans Haacke, Marcel
Broodthaers and others introduced the first wave of what came to be known as
institutional critique, which led almost seamlessly into the multiple branches
of artistic projects circulating under the same name in the late 1980s and the
1990s. If institutional critique is not to be fixed and paralyzed as something
established in the art field and confined within its rules, then it has to
continue to develop along with changes in society and especially to tie into
other forms of critique both within and outside the art field, such as those
arising in opposition to the respective conditions or even before their
Against the background of this kind of transversal exchange of forms of
critique, but also beyond the imagination of spaces free from domination and
institutions, institutional critique is to be reformulated as a critical
attitude and as an instituent practice.
In his lecture entitled "Qu'est-ce que la critique?" in 1978, Michel
Foucault described the spread and replication of governmentality in Western
Europe in the 16th century, claiming that along with this governmentalization
of all possible areas of life and finally of the self, critique also developed
as the art not to be governed like that.
Even without going into more depth here on the continuities and breaks between
the historical forms of developing liberal governmentality and the current
forms of neoliberal governmentality,
it may be said that the relationship between government and not to be
governed like that is still a prerequisite today for reflecting on the
contemporary relationship between institution and critique. In Foucault's
words: "[…] this governmentalization, which seems to me to be rather
characteristic of these societies in Western Europe in the 16th
century, cannot apparently be dissociated from the question 'how not be
governed?' I do not mean by that that governmentalization would be opposed in a
kind of face-off by the opposite affirmation, 'we do not want to be governed,
and we do not want to be governed at all.'
I mean that, in this great preoccupation about the way to govern and the search
for the ways to govern, we identify a perpetual question which could be: 'how
not be governed like that, by that,
in the name of those principles, with such and such an objective in mind and by
means of such procedures, not like that, not for that, not by them'."
Here Foucault insists on the shift from a fundamental negation of government
toward a maneuver to avoid this kind of dualism: from not to be governed at all to not
to be governed like that, from a phantom battle for a big other to a constant struggle in the plane of immanence, which –
as I would like to add – is not (solely) actualized as a fundamental critique
of institutions, but rather as a permanent process of instituting.
Foucault continues: "And if we accord this movement of governmentalization
of both society and individuals the historic dimension and breadth which I
believe it has had, it seems that one could approximately locate therein what
we could call the critical attitude. Facing them head on and as compensation,
or rather, as both partner and adversary to the arts of governing, as an act of
defiance, as a challenge, as a way of limiting these arts of governing and
sizing them up, transforming them, of finding a way to escape from them or, in
any case, a way to displace them …"
These latter categories are the ones I want
to focus on in terms of the transformation and a further development of the
question of contemporary forms of institutional critique: transformations as
ways of escaping from the arts of governing, lines of flight, which are not at
all to be taken as harmless or individualistic or escapist and esoteric, even
if they no longer allow dreaming of an entirely different exteriority.
"Nothing is more active than fleeing!", as Gilles Deleuze and Claire
and as Paolo Virno echoes almost literally: "Nothing is less passive than
the act of fleeing, of exiting."
If "the arts of governing" mean
an intertwinedness between governing and being governed, between government and
self-government, then "transforming
the arts of governing" does not consist simply of any arbitrary
transformation processes in the most general sense, because transformations are
an essential quality of the governmentality setting. It is more a matter of
transformations, and this also rescinds a central aspect of the old
institutional critique. Through their emancipatory character these
transformations also assume a transversal quality, i.e. their effect goes
beyond the particular limitations of single fields.
Counter to these kinds of emancipatory transversal transformations of the
"arts of governing", there is a recurring problem in art discourse:
that of reducing and enclosing more general questions in one's own field. Even
though (self-) canonizations, valorizations and depreciations in the art field
– also in debates on institutional critique practices – are often adorned with
an eclectic, disparate and contradictory selection of theory imports, these
imports frequently only have the function of disposing of specific art
positions or the art field. A contemporary variation of this functionalization
consists of combining poststructuralist immanence theories with a
simplification of Bourdieu's field theory. The theories that argue on the one
hand against an outside in the sense of Christian or socialist transcendence,
for instance, and on the other for the relative autonomy of the art field, are
blurred here into the defeatist statement, "We are trapped in our
field" (Andrea Fraser). Even the critical actors of the "second
generation" of institutional critique do not appear to be free from these
kinds of closure phantasms. Fraser, for instance, conducts an offensive
self-historicization in her Artforum
article "From the Critique of Institutions to an Institution of Critique"
(September 2005) with the help of a brief history of the terms, ultimately
limiting all possible forms of institutional critique to a critique of the
"institution of art" (Peter Bürger) and its institutions. In
reference to Bourdieu, she writes: "… just as art cannot exist outside the
field of art, we cannot exist outside the field of art, at least not as
artists, critics, curators, etc. And what we do outside the field, to the
extent that it remains outside, can have no effect within it. So if there is no
outside for us, it is not because the institution is perfectly closed, or
exists as an apparatus in a 'totally administered society', or has grown
all-encompassing in size and scope. It is because the institution is inside of
us, and we can't get outside of ourselves."
Although there seems to be an echo of Foucault's concept of self-government
here, there is no indication of forms of escaping, shifting, transforming.
Whereas for Foucault the critical attitude appears simultaneously as
"partner" and as "adversary" of the arts of governing, the
second part of this specific ambivalence vanishes in Andrea Fraser's depiction,
yielding to a discursive self-limitation, which only just allows reflecting on
one's own enclosure. Contrary to all the evidence of the manifold effectivity
not only of critical art practices throughout the entire 20th century, she
plays a worn-out record: art is and remains autonomous, its function limited to
the art field. "With each attempt to evade the limits of institutional determination,
to embrace an outside, we expand our frame and bring more of the world into it.
But we never escape it."
Yet exactly this would also be a point in Foucault's concept of critique, the
critical attitude: instead of inducing the closure of the field with
theoretical arguments and promoting this practically, thus carrying out the art
of governing, a different form of art should be pushed at the same time which
leads to escaping the arts of governing.
And Foucault is not the only one to introduce these new non-escapist terms of
escape. Figures of flight, of dropping out, of betrayal, of desertion, of
exodus, these are the figures proposed – especially against cynical or
conservative invocations of inescapability and hopelessness – by several
different authors as poststructuralist, non-dialectical forms of resistance.
With these kinds of concepts Gilles Deleuze, Paolo Virno and several other
philosophers attempt to propose new models of non-representationist politics
that can equally be turned against Leninist concepts of revolution as taking
over the state and against radical anarchist positions imagining an absolute
outside of institutions, as well as against concepts of transformation and
transition in the sense of a successive homogenization in the direction of
neoliberal globalization. In terms of their new concept of resistance, the aim
is to thwart a dialectical idea of power and resistance: a positive form of
dropping out, a flight that is simultaneously an instituent practice. Instead
of presupposing conditions of domination as an immutable horizon and yet
fighting against them, this flight changes the conditions under which the
presupposition takes place. As Paolo Virno writes in The Grammar of the Multitude,
the exodus transforms "the context within which a problem has arisen,
rather than facing this problem by opting for one or the other of the provided
When figures of flight are imported into the art field, this often leads to the
misunderstanding that it involves the subject's personal retreat from the noise
and babble of the world. Protagonists such as Herman Melville's
"Bartleby" in Deleuze and Agamben or the "virtuoso" pianist
Glenn Gould in Virno are seen as personifications of individual resistance and
– in the case of Bartleby – of individual withdrawal. In a conservative process
of pilferage and reinterpretation, in art-critical discourse these figures are
thus so far removed from their starting point that flight no longer implies, as
it does with Deleuze, fleeing to look for a weapon. On the contrary, here the
old images of retreat into an artist hermitage are re-warmed, which are not
only deployed in neo-cultural-pessimistic (art) circles against participative
and relational spectacle art, but also against collective interventionist,
activist or other experimental strategies; for instance when the head of Texte zur Kunst, Isabelle Graw turns to
"the model of the preoccupied painter working away in his studio, refusing
to give any explanation, ostentatiously not networking, never traveling, hardly
showing himself in public", the reason for this is allegedly to prevent
the principle of the spectacle from "directly accessing his mental and
Although Graw refers to Paolo Virno directly before the passage quoted, neither
Virno's problematization of the cultural industry nor his concept of exodus
tends toward these kinds of bourgeois expectations of salvation by the
artist-individual. With the image of the solitary painter, who eludes the
"new tendency in capitalism to take over the whole person"
by obstinately withdrawing his person, Graw links a contemporary analysis with
an ultraconservative consequence. Even after the countless spectacular
utilizations of this stereotype, it appears that the same old artist image –
counter to Virno's ideas of virtuosity – can today still or once again be celebrated
What the poststructuralist proposals for dropping out and withdrawal involve,
however, is anything but this kind of relapse into the celebration of an
individual turning away from society. The point is to thwart dichotomies such
as that of the individual and the collective, to offensively theorize new forms
of what is common and singular at the same time. Particularly Paolo Virno has
lucidly developed this idea in A Grammar
of the Multitude. In allusion to the concept of the General Intellect,
which Karl Marx introduced in his Outlines
of the Critique of Political Economy, Virno posits the concept of the
"public intellect". The assumption of Marx' concept indicates that
"intellect" is not to be understood here as a competence of an
individual, but rather as a shared tie and constantly developing foundation for
individuation. Thus Virno neither alludes to media intellectuals in the society
of the spectacle, nor to the lofty ideas of the autonomous thinker or painter.
That kind of individualized publicity corresponds more to Virno's negative
concept of "publicness without a public sphere": "The general
intellect, or public intellect, if it does not become a republic,
a public sphere, a political community, drastically increases forms of
Virno focuses, on the other hand, on the social quality of the intellect.
Whereas the alienated thinker (or even painter) is traditionally drawn as an
individual withdrawing from idle talk, from the noise of the masses, for Virno
the noise of the multitude is itself the site of a non-state, non-spectacular,
non-representationist public sphere.
This non-state public sphere is not to be understood as an anarchic place of
absolute freedoms, as an open field beyond the realm of the institution. Flight
and exodus are nothing negative, a reaction to something else, but are instead
linked and intertwined with constituent power, re-organizing, re-inventing and
instituting. The movement of flight also preserves these instituent practices
from structuralization and closure from the start, preventing them from
becoming institution in the sense of constituted power.
What does this mean in relation to the
artistic practices of institutional critique? From a schematic perspective, the
"first generation" of institutional critique sought a distance from
the institution, the "second" addressed the inevitable involvement in
the institution. I call this a schematic perspective, because these kinds of
"generation clusters" are naturally blurred in the relevant
practices, and there were attempts – by Andrea Fraser, for instance – to
describe the first wave as being constituted by the second (including herself)
and also to attribute to the first phase a similar reflectedness on their own
institutionality. Whether this is the case or not, an important and effective
position can be attributed to both generations in the art field from the 1970s
to the present, and relevance is evident in some cases that goes beyond the
boundaries of the field. Yet the fundamental questions that
Foucault already implicitly raised, which Deleuze certainly pursued in his
Foucault book, are not posed with the strategies of distanced and deconstructive
intervention in the institution: Do Foucault's considerations lead us to
enclose ourselves more and more in power relations? And most of all, which
lines of flight lead out of the dead end of this enclosure?
To make use of Foucault's treatments of this problem for the question of new
instituent practices, I would like to conclude this article with a longer
recourse to the later Foucault, specifically to his Berkeley lecture series
"Discourse and Truth" from fall 1983 and the term parrhesia broadly explained there.
Parrhesia means in classical Greek "to
say everything", freely speaking truth without rhetorical games and
without ambiguity, even and especially when this is hazardous. Foucault
describes the practice of parrhesia using numerous examples from ancient Greek
literature as a movement from a political to a personal technique. The older
form of parrhesia corresponds to publicly speaking truth as an institutional
right. Depending on the form of the state, the subject addressed by the parrhesiastes is the assembly in the
democratic agora, the tyrant in the monarchical court.
Parrhesia is generally understood as coming from below and directed upward,
whether it is the philosopher's criticism of the tyrant or the citizen's
criticism of the majority of the assembly: the specific potentiality of parrhesia is found in the unequivocal
gap between the one who takes a risk to express everything and the criticized
sovereign who is impugned by this truth.
Over the course of time, a change takes
place in the game of truth "which – in the classical Greek conception of
parrhesia – was constituted by the fact that someone was courageous enough to
tell the truth to other people. […]
there is a shift from that kind of parrhesiastic
game to another truth game which now consists in being courageous enough to
disclose the truth about oneself."
This process from public criticism to personal (self-) criticism develops
parallel to the decrease in the significance of the democratic public sphere of
the agora. At the same time, parrhesia comes up increasingly in conjunction
with education. One of Foucault's relevant examples here is Plato's dialogue
"Laches", in which the question of the best teacher for the
interlocutor's sons represents the starting point and foil. The teacher
Socrates no longer assumes the function of the parrhesiastes in the sense of
exercising dangerous contradiction in a political sense, but rather by moving
his listeners to give account of themselves and leading them to a
self-questioning that queries the relationship between their statements (logos) and their way of living (bios). However, this technique does not
serve as an autobiographical confession or examination of conscience or as a
prototype of Maoist self-criticism, but rather to establish a relationship
between rational discourse and the lifestyle of the interlocutor or the
self-questioning person. Contrary to any individualistic interpretation
especially of later Foucault texts (imputing a "return to subject
philosophy", etc.), here parrhesia is not the competency of a subject, but
rather a movement between the position that queries the concordance of logos and bios, and the position that exercises self-criticism in light of
In keeping with a productive interpretation
for contemporary institutional critique practices, my aim here is to link the
two concepts of parrhesia described by Foucault as a genealogical development,
to understand hazardous refutation in its relation to self-revelation.
Critique, and especially institutional critique, is not exhausted in denouncing
abuses nor in withdrawing into more or less radical self-questioning. In terms
of the art field this means that neither the belligerent strategies of the
institutional critique of the 1970s nor art as a service to the institution in
the 1990s promise effective interventions in the governmentality of the
What is needed here and now, is parrhesia
as a double strategy: as an attempt of involvement and engagement in a process
of hazardous refutation, and as self-questioning.
What is needed, therefore, are practices
that conduct radical social criticism, yet which do not fancy themselves in an
imagined distance to institutions; at the same time, practices that are
self-critical and yet do not cling to their own involvement, their complicity,
their imprisoned existence in the art field, their fixation on institutions and
the institution, their own being-institution. Instituent practices that conjoin
the advantages of both "generations" of institutional critique, thus
exercising both forms of parrhesia, will impel a linking of social criticism,
institutional critique and self-criticism. This link will develop, most of all,
from the direct and indirect concatenation with political practices and social
movements, but without dispensing with artistic competences and strategies,
without dispensing with resources of and effects in the art field. Here exodus
would not mean relocating to a different country or a different field, but
betraying the rules of the game through the act of flight: "transforming
the arts of governing" not only in relation to the institutions of the art
field or the institution art as the art field, but rather as participation in
processes of instituting and in political practices that traverse the fields,
the structures, the institutions.
Thanks to Isabell Lorey and Stefan
Nowotny for critical remarks and advice.
Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota 1988.
Deleuze/Claire Parnet, Dialoge,
Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp 1980.
Foucault, What is Critique?, in: Sylvére Lotringer and Lysa Hochroch (Eds.), The Politics of Truth:
Michel Foucault,. New York: Semiotext(e) 1997, 23-82.
Foucault, Diskurs und Wahrheit,
Berlin: Merve 1996 [Discourse and Truth:
Andrea Fraser, "From the Critique of Institutions to an
Institution of Critique", in: Artforum
September 2005, 278-283.
"Jenseits der Institutionskritik. Ein Vortrag im Los Angeles County Museum
of Art", in: Texte zur Kunst September
2005, Heft 59, 40-53.
Isabell Lorey, "Governmentality
and Self-Precarization: On the normalization of culture producers", in: Simon Sheikh (Ed.), CAPITAL (It Fails Us Now), Berlin:
Raunig, "The Double Criticism of parrhesia.
Answering the Question 'What is a Progressive (Art) Institution?'", http://eipcp.net/transversal/0504/raunig/en
Gerald Raunig, Kunst und Revolution, Wien: Turia+Kant
Paolo Virno, Grammatik
der Multitude. Mit einem Anhang: Die Engel und der General Intellect, Wien:
Turia+Kant 2005 [A Grammar of the
On the temporal and ontological antecedence of critique/resistance,
cf.: Deleuze, Foucault, 89: "The final word of power is that resistance comes first"
(translation modified on the basis of the French original), and Raunig, the
chapter "The Primacy of Resistance" in Art and Revolution.
Cf. Lorey, "Governmentality and Self-Precarization: On the
Normalization of Culture Producers".
Foucault, What is Critique?, 28.
Deleuze/Parnet, Dialoge, 45.
Fraser, "From the Critique of the Institutions to an
Institution of Critique", 282.
Graw, "Jenseits der
Institutionskritik", 46 f.;
for further critique on Graw's text and the Texte zur Kunst
issue on institutional critique cf. also Stefan Nowotny,
Ibid., 47; cf.
also the additional critique on Graw's text and the Texte zur Kunst issue on institutional critique in Stefan Nowotny,
I have explained in more detail ideas on the social quality of the
intellect together with Klaus Neundlinger in the introduction to the German
version of Grammatik der Multitude:
Klaus Neundlinger/Gerald Raunig, "Einleitung oder die Sprachen der
Revolution", in: Virno, Grammatik
der Multitude, 9-21
I developed the following ideas in 2004 for the eipcp
conference in Vienna "Progressive Art Institutions in the Age of the
Dissolving Welfare State", and they were first published on the
republicart web site under the title "The Double Criticism of parrhesia.
Answering the Question, What is a Progressive (Art) Institution?" (http://eipcp.net/transversal/0504/raunig/en)
The oldest example of political parrhesia is that of the figure of
Diogenes, who commands Alexander from the precariousness of his barrel to move
out of his light. Like the citizen expressing a minority opinion in the
democratic setting of the agora, the Cynic philosopher also practices a form of
parrhesia with respect to the monarch