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Contemporary Art in the Museum


  • Credit value: 15 credits at Level 6
  • Tutors: Dr Mara Polgovsky Ezcurra, Natasha Adamou, Bergit Arends
  • Assessment: a 3000-word essay (100%)

Module description

The notion of 'time-based media' describes a range of forms of artistic expression with a durational dimension, including:

  • video
  • performance
  • sound art.

These expressions often depend on technology, yet they also have live and participative components, leading some to argue that time-based media is literally alive. This constitutes a significant challenge for their exhibition and collection, a challenge that ought to be faced by the twenty-first-century global museum.

In this module we will approach a range of contemporary artworks through an in-depth understanding of the nature of time - seen from philosophical, anthropological and art historical perspectives - and its importance in the field of art. We also reflect on the presence of time-based media in exhibition spaces, exploring different curatorial and conservation strategies, while taking into account the nature of time-based media spectatorship.

Indicative syllabus

  • Definitions of time and their importance in artistic practice produced in Western and non-Western contexts after the 1960s
  • Discussions of time in art historical historiography
  • Meaning of 'the contemporary' and 'contemporaneity'
  • Existing analytical frameworks to discuss and describe time-based media as contemporary art
  • Scope and characteristics of video, internet and information art
  • Scope and characteristics of performance, dance and sound art
  • The role of time-based art in global curatorial debates and curatorial strategies to exhibit 'liveness'
  • Social and political contexts in which works of time-based art have gained a political significance
  • Presence of time-based art in museums and collections
  • Complexities of time-based art in archives, documentation and conservation

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • have critical knowledge of key works of time-based media produced globally since the 1960s
  • have a detailed knowledge of the scope and characteristics of time-based media, and the challenges it presents to museums, galleries and private collections
  • be able to analyse visually, aurally and through other senses works ranging from video and performance to software
  • have an awareness of the social and political contexts in which certain works of time-based media have gained a political significance
  • be familiar with current debates and approaches to the subject (within the fields of both theory and practice).