Paper $16.00 ISBN: 9780226418124 Published September 2016
Cloth $22.50 ISBN: 9780226173818 Published September 2014
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In Search of a Lost Avant-Garde

An Anthropologist Investigates the Contemporary Art Museum

Matti Bunzl

In Search of a Lost Avant-Garde

Matti Bunzl

128 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2014
Paper $16.00 ISBN: 9780226418124 Published September 2016
Cloth $22.50 ISBN: 9780226173818 Published September 2014
E-book $10.00 to $15.99 About E-books ISBN: 9780226173955 Published September 2014
In 2008, anthropologist Matti Bunzl was given rare access to observe the curatorial department of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. For five months, he sat with the institution’s staff, witnessing firsthand what truly goes on behind the scenes at a contemporary art museum. From fund-raising and owner loans to museum-artist relations to the immense effort involved in safely shipping sixty works from twenty-seven lenders in fourteen cities and five countries, Matti Bunzl’s In Search of a Lost Avant-Garde illustrates the inner workings of one of Chicago’s premier cultural institutions.

Bunzl’s ethnography is designed to show how a commitment to the avant-garde can come into conflict with an imperative for growth, leading to the abandonment of the new and difficult in favor of the entertaining and profitable. Jeff Koons, whose massive retrospective debuted during Bunzl’s research, occupies a central place in his book and exposes the anxieties caused by such seemingly pornographic work as the infamous Made in Heaven series. Featuring cameos by other leading artists, including Liam Gillick, Jenny Holzer, Karen Kilimnik, and Tino Sehgal, the drama Bunzl narrates is palpable and entertaining and sheds an altogether new light on the contemporary art boom.
Two Jeff Koons ♥ Chicago
Three Fear No Art
Four The Gift
Five Untitled (Curation)
Six Ren

Further Readings
Review Quotes
Chicago Tribune
“Bunzl shines rays of welcome transparency into museums' heretofore hidden byways. His approach is akin to an anthropological study of indigenous tribes, only the tribe here is MCA's staff. His embedded look as an invited observer, free of museums' self-promoting rhetoric, is a valuable contribution to both museology and public awareness.”
Sarah Thornton, author of Seven Days in the Art World
“An important, lucid, and miraculously easy-reading contribution to the ethnography of art”
Jessica Winegar, author of Creative Reckonings: The Politics of Art and Culture in Contemporary Egypt
“With page-turning drama and great wit, Bunzl gives us a rare look behind the glamour of the contemporary art scene. His engaging analysis reveals how museum professionals work hard to manage the classic tension between art and money–a tension which has reached epic proportions in neoliberal America. Anyone concerned about the future of avant-garde art under capitalism should read this book.”
George E. Marcus, coeditor of The Traffic In Culture
“Not since Debora Silverman’s 1986 Selling Culture, near the beginning of America’s neoliberal era, has there been such a delicious, astute, and acutely observed account of the cultural economy of contemporary art museums, now in the full maturation of that era. Embedded ethnographically among the curators of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, as much managerial mediators as connoisseurs of the new, Bunzl ranges widely, and in so doing redeems  the idea of an avant-garde in an art system that so degrades it.”
Museum Anthropology Review
“The pleasure of Bunzl’s engaging account, I suspect, lies . . . in its invitation to peek behind the scenes of an institution that works assiduously to manage its public profile. . . . It stands as a compelling and persuasive set of insights into the struggles that today animate museums of contemporary art.”
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