The (de)constructive museum
: how to transform the contemporary art museum from a place of harming performed neutrality to a place of honest care

  • Valerie Rath (Student)

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The (De)Constructive Museum engages in a critical examination of the contemporary art museum's role in the West and its potential for transformation. It attempts a deconstruction of the existing museum paradigm, particularly its colonial legacy, and envisions a reconstruction based on transparency, honesty, and care. Museums, often perceived as neutral, significantly influence the nature of encounters within their spaces and are inextricably tied to colonial power dynamics. This dissertation investigates how contemporary art museums navigate their relational structures and position themselves concerning their institutional, national, and global identities. It explores the transition from a singular, Western-centric perspective to embracing pluralistic knowledges, histories, and identities. To confront the legacy of colonization, the dissertation examines the historical interplay between colonization and museums, emphasizing their role in shaping European superiority over 'the Other'. It reveals how museums contributed to knowledge hegemony, presenting the museum as a neutral entity while concealing the constructed nature of presented narratives. Even without looted objects, the coloniality of power endures within these spaces, necessitating a deep confrontation. Trough the examination of case studies mirroring crucial moments in recent institutional art history, such as the Primitivism exhibition at the MoMA, the Magiciens de la Terre exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, and furthermore the formation of the Guggenheim-complex into a global entity, reveals the inherent bias of art museum spaces as well as their imperative authority to determine the location of culture. These case studies serve as a gateway to capturing the current western cultural landscape. In this context, Documenta15 as a contemporary example offers valuable insights into the complexity of decolonial perspectives and highlights the need to think of decolonial endeavors not as straightforward but as emerging from various centers with varied needs. Within this framework, this dissertation recognizes that the museum is a site of relations and thus an inherently political platform that, by virtue of its practice, always positions itself in relation to global problems such as the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, whether active or passive. The concluding chapter outlines guiding principles for envisioning the reconstruction of art museums that starts from and with themselves, into places of transparency, vulnerability and care. This transformative process extends beyond the human realm and fosters an environment that actively listens and thinks with care. In this way, the museum of contemporary art could transform itself into a place of fluid decoloniality and pluralism, returning choice to all who engage with it, while becoming a catalyst for social transformation.
Date of Award12 Apr 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Universidade Católica Portuguesa
SupervisorLuísa Santos (Supervisor)


  • Decoloniality
  • Contemporary art museum
  • Transformational care
  • Institutional vulnerability
  • Honest positioning


  • Mestrado em Estudos de Cultura

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