Museum of Arte Útil

The Museum of Arte Util is a project initiated by Tania Bruguera and the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. From december 2013 till march 2014 the Arte Util case studies archive was presented at the Van Abbemuseum. In the collaboration with Tania Brugera and the curatorial team of the van Abbemuseum the exhibition design concept of a Social Power Plant was developed by ConstructLab, Bureau d’Etudes and Collective Works.

What is Arte Útil?

Arte Útil roughly translates into English as ‘useful art’ but it goes further suggesting art as a tool or device. Arte Útil draws on artistic thinking to imagine, create and implement tactics that change how we act in society.

Whether through self-organised groups, individual initiatives or the rise of user generated content people are developing new methods and social formations to deal with issues that were once the domain of the state. Arte Útil case studies show how these initiatives are not isolated incidents, but part of a larger historical trajectory that is now shaping our contemporary world.

The notion of what constitutes Arte Útil has been arrived at via a set of criteria that was formulated by Tania Bruguera and curators at the Queens Museum, New York, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven and Grizedale Arts, Coniston.

The criteria of Arte Util state that initiatives should:

1) Propose new uses for art within society
2) Use artistic thinking to challenge the field within which it operates
3) Respond to current urgencies
4) Operate on a 1:1 scale
5) Replace authors with initiators and spectators with users
6) Have practical, beneficial outcomes for its users
7) Pursue sustainability
8) Re-establish aesthetics as a system of transformation

From a Museum to a Social Power Plant

How can we ‘use’ the museum? How can it become a civic institution for production and output? The old building of the Van Abbemuseum reopened as the Museum of Arte Útil, a place where art’s use value and social function was put to the test. The ambition was to transform the museum into a Social Power Plant, where spectators become users and collective, transformative energy can be generated for use in the world outside. The Museum of Arte Útil presented an archive of over two hundred case studies that imagine, create and implement beneficial outcomes by producing tactics that change how we act in society. This archive provided the fuel for the Social Power Plant, the presentations are a toolkit for users to re-purpose tactics and methodologies to their own ends.

The white walls of the museum were challenged by an alternative spatial support structure; a circular wooden wall that cut straight through all the existing “white cube” exhibition-space. A series of case studies were presented through the lens of seven strategies: Use it Yourself, Institutional Repurpose, A-Legal, Space Hijack, Open Access, Legislative Change and Reforming Capital. Every strategy was connected to an individual room and customised infrastructure. Infrastructure that derived from the circular wooden wall. Three additional rooms with accompanying infrastructure were added for analysis; The Room of Propaganda, Legitimation and Belief, the Room of Controversies and the Archive Room.

Within the museum a number of artists worked in the museum and the city over a sustained period of time, whilst many of the live projects relate directly to Eindhoven, through partnerships with local organisations.


Rooms and strategies

A1-01: Use it Yourself

The museum is here to be used. The case studies, workshops and activities presented are a way of taking matters into your own hands by finding new methodologies and strategies of operating in the world.

In this space children could play, users could make copies of Loompanics publications or make a proposal for using the wood workshop.

Initiators: Santiago Cirugeda / Luca Pucci / Bik Van der Pol / Vivireternamente / Yomango

A1-02: Institutional Repurpose

Institutional structures can be re-thought and transformed by using their resources, position and power to tackle urgent issues. If museums are forced to bend to a new culture of usership what could they be used for?

Drawing on the benefits of ultramarine light the Light Therapy Room was conceived to increase communication and social interaction. It was open for classes, meetings, workshops and individual use.

Initiators: Paulina Cornejo / Ahmet Ögüt / Apolonia Šušteršič / WochenKlausur

A1-03: The Room of Propaganda, Legitimation and Belief

The first of the three analysis rooms gives insight into the evolution, ideology and legitimation of Arte Útil. How can we define Arte Útil, why has it been legitimated in the museum and what does it mean to believer in art as potential to create social change?

The central pulpit could be used to present arguments or have a debate. Recorded interviews talked you through the elements and principles of Arte Útil.

Initiators: Tania Bruguera / Eduardo Costa / Charles Esche / Jeanne van Heeswijk / Pino Poggi / Stephen Wright

A1-04: A-Legal

A-legal is a term that refers to behaviour and actions that do not adhere to the letter of the law meaning rules are bent or side stepped to achieve a desired outcome. A common strategy within Arte Útil case studies is working a-legally as this allows for opportunities or results where the law has failed its citizens.

In the centre of the space a table setting was developed for programmed activities by Núria Güell, IRWIN and Rebecca Gomperts

Initiators: Sean Dockray, Núria Güell, Rebecca Gomperts, IRWIN, Ruben Santiago and WochenKlausur.

A1-05: Room of Controversies

The Room of Controversies, the second of the analysis rooms, aims to tackle some of the central questions and problems raised by the term, connotations and practice of Arte Útil. The program for the Room of Controversies was structured around four public sessions: Arte Útil, Gentrification and Misuse, Arte Útil, Activism and Sincerity, Arte Útil, Social Design and Instrumentalisation and Arte Útil, 2.0 Culture and Disobedience.

In the space benches were arranged using the configuration of a parliament whereby users were facing across from one another. Controversial case studies could be brought into this room from the archive. Users could suggest their own discussions, doubts and questions.

Initiators: Azra Aksamija, Electronic Disturbance Theatre 2.0, Jalila Essaïdi, IRWIN, the Dorchester Project and Institute of Human Activities.

A1-06: Archive Room

This is the central room of the Museum of Arte Útil, housing physical copies of the case studies. The Arte Útil archive was open and unfinished. The case studies were compiled over  two years.

Users were invited to take placards, speak to the researchers or use the computer stations to propose new Arte Útil case studies. Additionally users could also play a game developed by Bureau d’Etudes.

A1-07: Space Hijack

Space Hijack is a strategy to reclaim, take over, occupy and use public space as it becomes steadily more reduced, controlled and privatised.

During the course of the Museum of Arte Útil several artists occupied the space as a working atelier. These artists developed initiatives in the city.

Initiators: Lara Almarcegui, NSW Builders Labourers Federation and Victoria Street Resident Action Group, Liz Christy, Santiago Cirugeda, Núria Güell, Memetro, Bonnie Ora Sherk and WochenKlausur.

A1-08: Open Access

Open Access is a mode of operating where availability to information, material or knowledge is exercised as an equal right. The strategy spans different educational platforms, and media based tactics.

In this space (digital) tools and tactics were available that oriented towards equality of differences.

Initiators: Joseph Beuys, Missdata, Daniel Godi­nez Nivon, Critical Art Ensemble, John Ruskin and Yao Jui-Chung + Lost Society Document.

A1-09: Legislative Change

Legislative Change shows arts ability to enforce or mobilise concrete policy and legal resolutions for the area in which it is campaigning. In many respects this is where case studies reveal most explicitly art’s potential for operating in the real, by being the means with which legal change is brought about. In Legislative Change art practice, politics and activism work together.

In this space users could identify some of the problems present within the city. They could suggest what laws should be changed, start a campaign or book the space to highlight issues. During the exhibition a Legislative Theatre created a so called ‘anti-model’ with important issues and difficulties for the participants around immigration, integration and women rights.

Initiators: Augusto Boal, Jeanne van Heeswijk, Djambawa Marawili Artists from the Yirrkala region, Provo and Laurie Jo Reynolds.

A1-10: Reforming Capital

In what different ways might we engage with production, economic exchange and debt.

In this space sellers and buyers proposed a new way to function in economic terms without using the current capitalist system.
The Honest Shop provided products that were all homemade and brought in by local suppliers. Customers were invited to buy goods in the shop for an ‘honest’ price, there are guideline price tags attached to the items by the producer but customers are expected to pay what they consider an honest, suitable price for the item. On paying for and taking this item they must make a note in the sales ledger of what they bought and for how much so the suppliers can get honest feedback on their produce. Additionally workshops on free food were given by Jeannette Petrik.

Initiators: Claudia Fernández, Carla Fernandez, Nuria Guell, Grizedale Arts, Rolling Jubilee, Jeannette Petrik, WochenKlausur and Pivot Creative.

Towards a Lexicon of Usership

Towards a Lexicon of Usership

A lexicon of terms was been written by theorist Stephen Wright for the Museum of Arte Útil and can serve as a textual tool kit. The lexicon includes terms that Wright feels should be ‘retired’ alongside what he refers to as ‘emergent concepts’ and ‘modes of usership.’ Stephen Wright is a writer and professor at the European School of Visual Arts.

Toward a Lexicon of Usership was edited by Nick Aikens and Stephen Wright and designed by Collective Works.

Digital edition

A digital edition of this publication is available via this link:


Digital infrastructure and Campaign

The central room in the Arte Útil Museum housed physical copies of all case studies. These case studies were gathered in a database. For every project the initiator, location, goal, beneficial outcome, form of maintenance and kind of user were gathered. Together with Buurmen a web environment was developed. All case studies could be found on this platform. Additionally a small engine was build; it took the data of a single case study and automatically generate A3 size printable pdf’s. By doing so the gab between the virtual and physical environment was bridged.

The campaign was used to communicate what Arte Útil actually is. It additionally tried to feature case studies from the archive. Simple lines were generated by taking the goals and beneficial outcomes of case studies that have an active role in the exhibition. Poster, banners, flags, adds, stickers and flyers would feature these lines. The archive numbers would always connect them to the physical and virtual archive.


Commissioned by:
Van Abbemuseum and Tania Bruguera through Constructlab
Constructlab (Alexander Römer)
External production: