New Museum Seminars

Visitor to the New Museum’s SoHo Center Library, 1989. Photo: Veronica Sadler

New Museum Seminars: (Temporary) Collections of Ideas

In fall 2013, the New Museum’s Department of Education and Public Engagement initiated R&D (Research and Development) Seasons, connecting various projects in the galleries, Theater, and Resource Center around a new organizing theme each fall and spring. The inaugural R&D Season examined ARCHIVES, the Spring 2014 Season looked at considerations around VOICE, and the upcoming Fall 2014 Season will be dedicated to CHOREOGRAPHY. The seasonal, research-based approach allows artists and audiences to engage across multiple initiatives and to experiment and test the limits of ideas, connecting individual projects in active dialogues over the duration of several months.

This focus on sustained research and ideas in development stimulated the establishment of a seminar series, unique among museums, in which small groups of multidisciplinary thinkers gather to discuss pressing thematics related to art and the expanded art context over a three-month period. Entitled New Museum Seminars: (Temporary) Collections of Ideas, the series’ name directly references the Museum’s history of “collecting” ideas, rather than art objects. The goal of the Seminars is to provide a platform for discussing and debating ideas as they emerge, in real time, and to develop scholarship directly referencing art’s place in culture. Seminar participants are selected through an application process that takes into account the strengths and interests of a diverse group of thinkers and practitioners. A group of ten to twelve participants from various backgrounds (including artists, curators, critics, and scholars, but also those with specialties not directly art-related) constitute each Seminar group, along with R&D Season artists-in-residence and New Museum Education Department staff working on the topic.

The Seminars utilize some recognizable graduate-level and reading-group pedagogical strategies, such as syllabi and weekly closed, peer-led reading sessions, but are distinguished by their context within and about the contemporary art museum. To accomplish this, a topical theme—usually related to the Education Department’s Seasonal theme—is identified in advance for the open call, to which applicants respond with areas of focus they’d like to consider during the semester and a proposal for how they would lead one group session. Selected participants prioritize the direction for the semester’s study by jointly crafting a syllabus in consultation with participating New Museum staff and R&D Season artists-in-residence.

The series launched in late February of 2014 with a semester devoted to VOICE in all its valences: from inquiries into the political agency inherent (or not) in speech, to embodied practice, to the possibility that meaning is located outside language. Brought together by mutual, if not always compatible, interests in VOICE, the inaugural group of sixteen participants was made up of artists, scholars, curators, students, radio show hosts, advocates, activists, enthusiasts, and more. During the course of three months, the group put together a joint bibliography comprised of texts, artworks, and exercises that critique the dualism that has historically plagued discourse around the concept of voice. Participants met weekly to discuss this material, which included foundational poststructuralist, feminist, postcolonial, and queer theory texts alongside other fields of thought and practice, such as opera studies, communication theory, and critical animal studies, in order to pursue questions about the disembodied voice, acoustemologies, political speech, and radical forms of subjectivity.

Last Season’s semester culminated in June 2014 with an evening of discussions, performances, and lectures. The group invited four artists and writers whose practices were fundamental to the concepts explored during the semester—Daphne A. Brooks, Christine Sun Kim, Chris Mann, and Robert Sember—to present new works or ideas in progress. The day following the public event, participants engaged the invited speakers in a private roundtable, responding to the presentations.


Support for New Museum Seminars is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Generous endowment support is provided by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Skadden, Arps Education Programs Fund, and the William Randolph Hearst Endowed Fund for Education Programs at the New Museum.

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