Locating the Art Institution

Module code: MU7002

Co-ordinator: Professor Simon Knell

We begin our journey by locating a common understanding of the various ways art is defined, negotiated and deployed in different parts of the world. We deconstruct different kinds of artwork and the performances of those great art museums that remain so central to its shaping. We do this so that we gain a common understanding of our field of study and to push against narrow art interpretations of what art museums are and why governments support their creation.

In parallel with our disassembly of the architecture and curatorial performances of great historic institutions, we also begin to explore the alternative reality of contemporary art and the so-called ‘global contemporary’. Here, our attention is drawn to ephemeral performances and other art platforms, venues and sites that represent institutions engaged in creating and negotiating art now. We will take a particular interest in the form of the contemporary art museum and the biennial as a site of value creation.

We show how the museum and the contemporary art space exist within art culture as something quite different from the heritage institution.

Topics covered

  • Art museums and art history
  • Curatorial orthodoxies and curationism
  • National galleries and national art
  • Exhibitions that shaped art history
  • Art culture
  • Biennials and networks
  • Non-collecting contemporary art platforms
  • Art museums in the digital world


  • 18 hours of lectures
  • 6 hours of seminars
  • 18 hours of practicals and workshops
  • 8 hours of study visits


  • 2000 word, or equivalent, assignment. The style of assignment is different for each module and includes essays, critical reviews, art journalism, reports, portfolios, oral examinations and so on.