Magazine article Art Monthly

Museum Show Part 1 & Part 2

Magazine article Art Monthly

Museum Show Part 1 & Part 2

Article excerpt

Arnolfi ni Bristol 24 September to 19 November & 9 December to 19 February

A phantasmagoria of 40 micro to macro artist museums is presented inside and outside the Arnolfini, itself acting as a mother museum, housing and linking together the overarching exhibition and events. 'Museum Show' is about resisting values of taste that have become disconnected from art as human experience and the inherent problems of giving this idea form.

Two strategies are evident in the show: the politicisation of the production of art, and collecting as the expression of a sensibility. This sensibility is encountered on various levels, from mimicry of existing power structures and taste through to parody, satire, pantomime; and, finally, it is presented as a metaphor for a culture. Although literary and theatrical terms best describe this approach there are points in the show where, as Walter Benjamin has suggested, the concept of disinterest from Kant's analysis of the beautiful overlaps with the pleasure and compulsion of collecting.

One inherent problem with this grand overthrow of canonical bourgeois taste is that, as a new power structure evolves, what may well emerge is a new connoisseurship of an anti-aesthetic become banal. Included in the exhibition is the Art and Religion Room from Meshac Gaba's extensive Museum of Contemporary African Art, which Gaba has described as a museum without walls that re-evaluates material culture. Objects here are neither ethnographical, authentic, nor from a 'Dark Continent', they are objects encountered today: a spoon, cards, a rear-view mirror, kitsch icons, Warrior eau de toilette, fortune cookies and a reproduction of Brancusi's The Kiss.

The display takes the shape of a cross, reminiscent of subterranean Ethiopian churches. Here the cross is formed from open-plan DIY shelving that allows all other surrounding objects to confuse and visually interfere with the collection. Where no interference occurs, the objects form surprisingly intense formal connections, where a casual free-flow of associations--as the eye flickers from one object to another--is communicated and received by the viewer. Other criteria operate here, though, and the fluid nature of the objects must be also be performative.

After the Freud Museum, 1994, a collection of objects in a series of modular boxes, was originally a response by Susan Hiller to Freud's collection of ethnographic sculptures in his study. Freud used these objects as an archaeology of the mind, where strata represent layers of thoughts and 'prehistory' corresponds to infantile drives. Hiller has said of her work that she wishes it to maintain a sense of doubt and possibility, remaining open to multiple readings. The free play of associations, through shape, pattern and emotional catharsis, can be felt when glancing at and musing over the collection. For example, vials of mythic water from the rivers Lethe and Mnemosyne in antique bottles--corked, sealed and labelled--might be interpreted, through TS Eliot's objective correlatives, as objects that embody 'death's dream kingdom'. However, Hiller says her objects work more as 'misunderstandings, crises and ambivalences' that resist or complicate the acceptance of Freud's ideas. I am reminded of Freud's analysand Dora, who effectively rejected the intellectual weight of his interpretation of her illness. It is this resistance to the accepted canons of taste and interpretation that is of importance to the Arnolfini show.


Portable museums figured prominently throughout part 1 of the show. Marcel Duchamp's Boite-en-Valise, 1935-40, is a point of departure for artist museums, producing responses that range from cute parody to satirical understatement. Walid Raad's The Atlas Group (1989-2004), 2008, consists, he says, of artworks 'made possible by the Lebanese wars of the past few decades'. He casually describes, in the manner of Gulliver, that when the work was exhibited in Beirut he was 'surprised that the artworks had shrunk to 1/100th of their size'. …

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