Institutional critique is the act of critiquing an institution as artistic practice, the institution usually being a museum or an art gallery

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  • Carey Young, 'Everything You've Heard is Wrong' 1999
    Carey Young
    Everything You've Heard is Wrong 1999
    Single channel colour video (DVD), audio
    duration: 6 min 35 sec
    Purchased with funds provided by the Film and Video Special Acquisitions Fund 2005© Carey Young
  • Hans Haacke, 'A Breed Apart' 1978
    Hans Haacke
    A Breed Apart 1978
    Photographs on paper laid on hardboard
    image, each: 910 x 910 mm
    Presented by the Patrons of New Art through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1988© Hans Haacke/VG Bild-Kunst
  • Vito Acconci, 'Room Situation' 1970
    Vito Acconci
    Room Situation 1970
    Photograph and text on paper
    support, secondary: 940 x 700 mm
    frame: 963 x 723 x 32 mm
    Presented by Barbara Gladstone 2001© Vito Acconci

Introduction to institutional critique

Institutional criticism began in the late 1960s when artists began to create art in response to the institutions that bought and exhibited their work. In the 1960s the art institution was often perceived as a place of ‘cultural confinement’ and thus something to attack aesthetically, politically and theoretically.

Hans Haacke is a leading exponent of institutional critique, particularly targeting funding and donations given to museums and galleries. In 1971, the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne rejected his work Manet-Projekt 74 from one of their shows. The work was related to the museum’s recent acquisition of Edouard Manet’s Bunch of Asparagus and detailed the provenance of the painting and Nazi background of the donor.

During the 1990s it became a fashion for critical discussions to be held by curators and directors within art galleries and museums that centered on this very subject, thereby making the institution not only the problem but also the solution. This has changed the nature of institutional critique, something that is reflected in the art of Carey Young, who considers this dilemma.

Mark Dion in focus

Mark Dion, 'Tate Thames Dig' 1999
Mark Dion
Tate Thames Dig 1999
Mixed media
unconfirmed: 2660 x 3700 x 1260 mm
Purchased with assistance from private benefactors 2000© Mark Dion

Mark Dion is an American conceptual artist who creates sculptures and installations which comment on the boundaries between nature and culture through the processes he uses and the way in which his work is displayed. He often creates contemporary cabinet of curiosities. 

Artist biography
Read the Tate biography on Mark Dion.

Tate Thames Dig
Browse this learning resource about his work Tate Thames Dig. Mark Dion and volunteers combed the foreshore of the Thames around Tate Modern and Tate Britain and displayed the found fragments alongside photographs and tidal flow charts.

Institutional critique in detail

Watch a panel discussion exploring the diverse motivations behind artists setting up their own real and fictitious museums across the globe.

Speakers include dancer and choreographer Boris Charmatz, artists Simon Fujiwara and Dayanita Singh and chair Grant Watson.