Magazine article Artforum International

"The Keeper": New Museum of Contemporary Art

Magazine article Artforum International

"The Keeper": New Museum of Contemporary Art

Article excerpt

"The Keeper"

NEW MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART

A sprawling installation, the exhibition "The Keeper" at the New Museum in New York was really a collection of collections, covering three floors (plus the museum's lobby gallery) and comprising some four thousand objects--scrapbooks and drawings, toys and quilts, paintings and whittled carvings, snowflakes and butterflies--all arranged into discrete archives collated by some thirty artists, scholars, and tinkerers. These "keepers" included, for example, a famous novelist who preferred to chase butterflies, a French philosopher who coveted polished stones, a folk-music aficionado who saved string games, and a woman who set out to photograph every domestic interior in Poland. In principle, this was an exhibition of case studies, or even portraits, of these quirky individuals, valorizing those who preserve and quietly craft their quixotic art projects, destined to never fit in.

The show is a follow-up to curator Massimiliano Gioni's enormously persuasive mega-exhibitions at the 2010 Gwangju Biennale and the Fifty-Fifth Venice Biennale in 2013, and once again he argued for a view of culture that is all-inclusive, encyclopedic, iconophilic, canon- busting, and defiantly outside the mainstream. His keepers defy the art-world apartheid of privileged radicalism, the exclusionary system of controlled selectivity and feigned meritocracy that today so convincingly distorts our perceptions of creativity and its uses. This exhibition confirmed Gioni as an unapologetic romantic who favors loners, eccentric makers, and savers who often eschew any designation as artists, and who pursue protracted, sometimes lifelong projects. Exemplary of this type are Wilson Bentley, who devoted his time to photographing the ephemeral crystalline structures of more than five thousand snowflakes, and Levi Fisher Ames, the Midwestern Civil War veteran who barnstormed the country with hand-carved menageries of imaginary animals.

These mainly historical collections displayed two characteristics that might be regarded as crucial to our networked, twenty-first-century moment: a desire (and capacity) to capture and record the often overlooked or disregarded minutiae of daily life, and the tools necessary to collate and organize the overwhelming volume of images and information that results. While Gioni celebrates the gleaners and ragpickers, what determines their relevance to the present are the ways in which they distill meaning from their reorganized detritus, whether through the conceptual process of taxonomic classification, serial repetition, progressive sequencing, or sheer accumulation. …

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