Michelle Browne: The Search for Arte Útil

Advisor/tutor: Marina Vishmidt 

Arnhem, June 2016


“The Search for Arte Útil” explores the possibility of buying and collecting socially and politically engaged art. The Search for Arte Útil is a fictional story that follows the adventures of Jan and Ron, American art collectors, who are on the search for Arte Útil. The story is written in the form of a Choose Your Own Adventure Book. The past 40 years of critical theory have shown that there is no single definitive art-historical narrative. The Choose Your Own Adventure format allows for different paths to be explored and different outcomes to be achieved. 

This thesis takes its starting point from the proposed accession of the Arte Útil Archive into the Van Abbemuseum’s collection. It asks what is Arte Útil and how does it sit within the existing modes of collecting today. It charts a journey through various artworks, exhibitions and departments in the Van Abbemuseum to explore the potentials and pitfalls in the collection of practices that follow a trajectory from the dematerialisation of the art object in the 1960s through performance and conceptual practices, while holding ideas of radical change to societal structures at their core. It questions the role of private collecting in the history of art and how it can or should relate to Arte Útil. This thesis explores ideas of: collective authorship and usership; public and private ownership; the historicisation of art practices and the archive; and the future of the museum in the 21st century.