New Museum Seminars

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

New Museum Seminars: (Temporary) Collections of Ideas

In the fall of 2013, the New Museum’s Department of Education and Public Engagement initiated R&D (Research and Development) Seasons as a means of connecting various projects in the Museum’s galleries, Theater, and Resource Center around a new organizing theme each fall and spring. Past Season thematics have included ARCHIVES, VOICE, and CHOREOGRAPHY, and the 2015 Spring Season theme will be SPECULATION. The seasonal, research-based approach allows artists and audiences to engage across multiple initiatives and to experiment and test the limits of ideas, bringing together individual projects in active dialogues over the duration of several months. Anchoring the New Museum’s dedication to expanded forms of knowledge and cultural production, Seasonal themes are wide-ranging and limber, rather than illustrative, and the artists, scholars, and curators whose work is examined test the limits of the themes themselves.

This focus on sustained research and ideas in development stimulated the establishment of the Seminar series, in which small groups of multidisciplinary thinkers gather over a three-month period to consider the Education Department’s Seasonal thematic, with pressing conversations related to art and the expanded art context examined in relation to broader issues in society. Entitled New Museum Seminars: (Temporary) Collections of Ideas, the series 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, debating, and enacting ideas as they emerge, in real time, and to develop scholarship or other forms of joint creative production relating to art’s place in culture. 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 the contemporary art museum. In addition to the weekly sessions, there is institutional support for some form of group production to grow out of the shared course of study (conferences, performance residencies, online publications, Resource Center exhibitions, etc.). A group of approximately fifteen participants from various backgrounds (including artists, dancers, curators, critics, educators, 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 members who work on the topic. Unique among museums, the Seminar truly functions as a “think tank” within a programming and exhibitionary institution, fostering new ideas and work between outside and intra-institutional participants (in the past, New Museum curators, editors, researchers, and educators have also applied).

Seminar participants are selected through an application process that takes into account the strengths and interests of a diverse group of thinkers and practitioners. To accomplish this, an open call occurs around the topical theme; applicants respond with the areas of focus they would like to consider during the semester and a proposal for how they would lead one group session. (In past Seasons, participants led the group through texts, movement exercises, and direct action and military training, enacted scores, invited in outside speakers, and shared video and sound works, among other activities.) Selected participants prioritize the direction for the semester’s study by jointly crafting a syllabus and bibliography in consultation with participating New Museum staff and R&D Season artists in residence, who also lead one session each.

The Seminars launched in late February 2014 with a semester devoted to VOICE in all of its valences: from inquiries into the political agency inherent (or not) in speech, to embodied practice, to the possibility that meaning is located outside of language. Brought together by mutual, if not always compatible, interests in VOICE, the inaugural group of participants was made up of artists, scholars, curators, students, radio show hosts, advocates, activists, enthusiasts, and others. Participants met weekly to discuss the Seminar 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.

The VOICE semester culminated 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. The CHOREOGRAPHY semester, devoted mostly to inquiries into the current role of dance within the visual arts and attendant questions of labor, embodiment, economy, pleasure, affect, and modes of exchange, will culminate in February with a multipart public program. This will include a performance residency with choreographer and dancer Jmy James Kidd; a performance by Kidd; a series of public propositions by Shayna Keller, Cori Kresge, Thomas Lax, Heather Love, Eve Meltzer, and Mariana Valencia; and a series of position-taking texts on the thematic, published on the Museum’s online publication, Six Degrees.

Call for applications: SPECULATION

Application due date: Tuesday February 10, 2015
Seminar dates: Mondays March 2–May 18, 2015
Associated Public Program: early fall 2015 (date TBD)

The Spring 2015 R&D Season theme will be SPECULATION. The term “speculation” has been frequently turned to of late; the aim of this Season is to explore at least three interrelated interpretations in depth. One such use of this word has been to describe the increasing monetization of the art world and the ways in which artworks are bought, traded, sold, and understood as commodities or assets. Yet, as much as the term aids in our assessing a global condition in which art is no longer seen as outside the purview of qualitative valuation and exchange but firmly accounted for within those operations, it offers other, equally powerful readings. Complicating this economic interpretation of the term is, on the one hand, “speculative realism,” as posited by a number of contemporary philosophers, a reading that grants new agency to objects in the material realm (and destabilizes the ultimate authority and hierarchical power of human beings); on the other, “speculation” points forcefully to older conversations about how and whether it is possible to imagine (or speculate) oppositional or alternative conditions for politics and social formations. In this sense, “speculation” embodies the realm of fantasy and critically considers the space of imagination and future radical possibility. Just one of the considerations that might emerge in the Seminars is how to approach making art or other forms of culture that envision such future political and social imaginaries precisely as these works become increasingly more valuable to forces of capital that appear to limit critical visions of futurity.

Applications for the Spring semester are due on Tuesday February 10. Applications should be sent to Please send a CV, a relevant work sample, a statement of interest detailing an overall directional approach to interpreting SPECULATION (approximately five hundred words), and a one-page proposal for how you envision leading, teaching, or facilitating one session’s presentation, including three to four objects of study (such as texts, artworks, cultural ephemera, and exercises). You can view the “VOICE Seminar Presentations and Ongoing Bibliography” for examples of how you might structure your proposal. While you are free to alter your direction once accepted—the semester is meant to be cumulative, and the hope is that you might find someone in the semester you would like to co-develop a presentation with based on compatible interests of study—this will give us a sense of your stakes/interest in pursuing the thematic.

Prior to the first meeting, selected participants will receive the Education Department’s research on the topic as well as the other participants’ proposals. From these materials, the group will prioritize the direction for the semester’s study by jointly crafting a syllabus in consultation with New Museum staff and R&D Season artists in residence Chelsea Knight and Constantina Zavitsanos, who will be members of the Seminar. A schedule of the presentations for the semester will be mapped out in the initial meeting.

In your application, please indicate any sessions you are not able to attend. Regular attendance is a critical aspect of the Seminars.

Admissions will be announced by the week of February 23, and the initial meeting will take place on Monday March 2.


New Museum Seminars are made possible through the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Additional support 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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