In 1968, the Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers created an installation in his house that he entitled the Musée de l'Art Moderne, Départment des Aigles, or Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles. This was a fictive entity in that the museum had neither a permanent building nor a collection; nonetheless, it was elaborated by Broodthaers in about a dozen further installations. Evidence of the museum's existence (apart from its title) ultimately encompassed specially created objects, films, and art reproductions as well as ephemera such as wall labels and signage.
Subsequently, Broodthaer added other 'wings' to his museum department, including a Financial Section (through which he attempted to sell the museum itself, stating that this was necessary "on account of bankruptcy") . The Financial Section was also the sponsor of a series of gold ingots stamped with the museum's symbol, an eagle; these ingots were sold at twice the market price of the gold they contained.
At right: One of the gold bars created by Broodthaers through the Finance Section of his Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles (1970-71).
Broodthaers's museum belongs in a lineage of institutional critiques that are deeply inspired by the work of Marcel Duchamp (especially his Readymades) and that proceed by assuming the general form and authority of key art world institutions such as the museum, the gallery, and the nonprofit organization. More recent entities of this kind include the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the Museum of Forgery, the Museum of the Double, and many others. With the advent of the web, which interposes a compelling facade between the visitor and any actual building or place, such fictive entities have exploded in number and kind, with quasi-scientific institutions (the Institute for the Study of Perpetual E.motion, the Institute of Militronics and Advanced Time Interventionality) and corporations (the International Coropration of Lost Structures, RTMark) entering the mix. At times, it can be difficult to discern the difference between what is merely an elaborate project title, and a genuine effort to exploit the structural affordances of contemporary institutional forms.
1. moma.org page on the Department of Eagles