Index: Incident in a Museum VI is a unique, large-scale painting by the British collective, Art & Language. Created in 1986 over three inserted and intersecting canvases, the work presents a museum gallery, here based on the internal architecture of the Whitney Museum, New York. The heavy, stone floors and coffered ceilings of the Whitney are instantly recognizable, but sheathed in an unnatural, highly gestural palette of blue and white. Upon the wall of the museum is a painting, one of the collective's own, installed in some imaginary retrospective; the attendant irony being that as a British assembly, Art & Language would never be granted such an exhibition. In Index: Incident in a Museum VI each canvas carries the image of the gallery, the smallest of the three appearing as a scaled reproduction of the whole scene, like a cabinet picture or playful trompe-l'oeil. In using this disorientating device, the collective brings into focus the spectator's act of viewing within the institutional setting. It is a radical critique, examining the museum as a location in which 'modernism is interpreted and represented, and falsified' (C. Harrison, Art & Language: Incidents in a Museum, London, 1986, p. 5).
Using paint, high-art's own-medium, the collective seeks to reveal the politics of art. In Index: Incident in a Museum VI, this is achieved through the insertion of Lenin's iconic bust into the space of the Western museum. The painting is in fact one of the collective's own early paintings entitled Portrait of V.I. Lenin in the Style of Jackson Pollock. As intimated by the title, the work conflates with calculated irony the photographic Socialist Realist image of the Soviet leader with the Western Abstract Expressionist's hand poured drips. Like Duchamp's mustachioed Mona Lisa, Art & Language subvert the icon: 'in presenting Lenin obscured by over-articulate, mock-passionate painterly gesture, these pictures question Abstract Expressionism's much vaunted social and spiritual yearnings; and in faking what the group considers to be an already faked level of authenticity suggest the levels of duplicity that modernism (and the critical edifice built around it) may conceal' (H. Cotter, 'Museum Talk: Art & Language' Art in America, 76, June, 1988, p. 142-147).