Morariu, Vlad

(School of the Arts, Loughborough University)

The Deconstructive Subject of Institutional Critique

The art practice of institutional critique emerged at the end of the 1960s as a reaction against  relations of power and dominance concentrated in the art institutions of High Modernism. Various historicizations, like those proposed by Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson, emphasize that the strategies of institutional critique did not instigate the destruction of the art institution. They rather aimed at holding the institution responsible for values relating to a free, open, and democratic public sphere. Pascal Gielen even proposes that in the absence of a public sphere that guarantees rational-critical debates, institutional critique wouldn’t have been possible in the first place. However, the idea of art institution’s public sphere has started to crumble once artistic critique has been recuperated by what Boltanski and Chiapello refer to as the “new spirit of capitalism”. In other words, a new generation of institutional critics from the late 1990s not only acknowledged the corporatization of the art institution, but also their own contribution to this process. Recently, however, a range of practitioners have started to ask whether it is possible to reinvent institutional critique. Some go back to the ghost of a bourgeois public sphere, whereas others try to engage horizontalist strategies which concatenate art practice, activism, and the theoretical legacies of poststructuralism and postoperaism (Deleuze, Guattari, Foucault, Negri).

My research argues that the conceptual apparatus of deconstruction could illuminate much of the contemporary debates on institutional critique that aim to articulate its future possibilities. I argue that, though Jacques Derrida is widely ignored in this field, a return to his philosophy would facilitate an understanding of artistic critique’s possibilities in the phase of its recuperation by corporate capitalism. In my intervention, I want to ask precisely what type of subject does a contemporary institutional critique articulate? Using concepts such as undecidability and deferral I will suggest that the contemporary critical artist engages a logic of deconstruction which accommodates contradictions (being coopted by corporate capitalism / being critically resistant) without solving them in a synthetic reconciliation. What I aim at, in the last instance, is to explore the political effects of the tactics and strategies employed by the deconstructive subject of institutional critique.


Vlad Morariu is a theoretician, curator and art critic based in London. He is educated in philosophy and is currently finishing his PhD research titled “Institutional Critique. A Philosophical Investigation of its Conditions and Possibilities” at Loughborough University School of the Arts.

Selected Publications: Arthur Danto: Transfiguration of the Commonplace: A Philosophy of Art (2012; translated into Romanian by Vlad Morariu); texts and interviews in collective editions such as Atlas of Transformation (2010) and Crisis, Rupture and Anxiety (2012); collaborator of the Idea Art + Society magazine since 2007 and member of the ArtLeaks collective since 2011.