Title:The Whys and Hows of Deinstitutionalization
Authors:Martha Wilson, Michael Katchen
Publication:MW98: Museums and the Web 1998

As a burgeoning “virtual institution,” Franklin Furnace is pioneering new territory. In the early 90s, Franklin Furnace began to take steps to “dematerialize” as a result of the shared perception of both the Founding Director and the Board that the current model of an alternative space might not adequately serve the community of avant-garde artists now spread beyond the boroughs of New York to places across the nation and around the world. The process has evolved beyond our expectations: In 1993, Franklin Furnace’s artist book collection was acquired by MOMA; in 1996 it mounted its 20th Anniversary show to conclude its exhibition program with a bang, and it also launched its website as its public face on February 1, 1997. Our loft was sold in September, 1997, and in many ways, the anxiety that lay behind the question of what a “virtual institution” might be or what it could accomplish was unleashed. We now consider the point we have reached to be an opportunity to re-consider the role of Franklin Furnace in relation to the community of artists and the culture at large, programs that will best serve to fulfill our mission, the basis upon which Franklin Furnace can and should sustain its mission. Franklin Furnace will be remembered in art history for having championed art undervalued by mainstream institutions—artists’ books, temporary installation and performance art; and additionally for standing up for artists’ right to freedom of expression. At present, Franklin Furnace is continuing its rethinking process without preconceived notions as to the end result—in one, two or five years. Franklin Furnace is exploring the feasibility of becoming a peripatetic institution—spending one year in Beijing, another year in Santiago, still another in Rotterdam—to explode the identification of the institution with its real estate and to undertake projects that emerge from local needs but may attract an international audience. Franklin Furnace is developing a cybercast program of performance art, Franklin Furnace @, that expands the organization’s history of developing and preserving a new artistic medium and offering resources to emerging artists, while enabling us to re-establish our unique niche at the visual end of the performance art spectrum. Additionally, Franklin Furnace is commencing a multi-year project, Avant-Garde New York, 1976–96, through which Franklin Furnace will develop its institutional archives, which contain primary materials that increase in value with each day that passes.