Julia Robinson, Assistant Professor of Art History, New York University, New York

From New Artistic Paradigm to Museological Mandate: Music & Art after John Cage

The paper will consider the increasing relevance of a precise incorporation of music into the museum context today. Taking the Experimental Composition practice of John Cage as a paradigmatic musical model fundamental to our experience of the art of the late-20th century and beyond, bound up intimately in museums’ presentations of recent art – it will consider its reception and treatment from Cage’s time through to now. The paper will develop this as a “case study” to define certain criteria for methodological considerations essential to our field. The conceptual basis of Cage’s oeuvre, and his close contact with artists, has made his oeuvre especially relevant to fields of art history and exhibition making. Moreover, since Cage’s 1992 death, technological reality – having accelerated exponentially to the point of ubiquity – has caught up with his far-reaching vision for music’s role in contemporary aesthetic/perceptual experience, and the cross-disciplinary mandate has only become more central. With new artistic practices transcending all conventional medium boundaries, and museums the world over rapidly ingesting the “live arts” into their programming, programming issues of form and content, the integral and the supplementary, have never been more fundamental to museums’ conception of their changing mandates. The paper will consider the ways in which the experience of exhibitions today must be synchronized with a larger reality. The museum’s (re)presentation should be at once fluidly conversant with / and aggressively oppositional to / the saturated media-scape of the present. In other words, music in museums must register the dual imperative of continuing relevance and resistance to enforced experiential coding, which is alive and proliferating within the expanded field of macro quotidian apperception. This paper will take up such issues with the view to sparking debate on future attitudes and strategies vis à vis music in museums.