Friday, March 16, 2012

Creative Process Journal: The Metaphor of the Museum

Joseph Beuys Felt Suit at the MOMA
Photo by Ingrid Mida
In contemporary art, context plays a role in defining what is considered art. One of the most well known examples of how this works are Marcel Duchamp's readymades, including the urinal, bottle-rack, bicycle wheel and snow shovels, which were presented as artworks. These mass-produced objects, displayed in the context of a gallery, challenged the notion of "aura" and prestige associated with objects of art. Since Duchamp there have been an array of artists who have used context to define their work such as Joseph Beuys did with the Felt Suit.  Others, like artists Sophie Calle,  Fred Wilson and Cornelia Parker,  have explored the metaphor of the museum as inspiration for their work.

The Birthday Ceremony by Sophie Calle 1991 
Sophie Calle played with the notion of the museum vitrine in her work The Birthday Ceremony 1991. In fifteen medical-style vitrines, Calle assembled an inventory of items received as birthday presents between 1980 and 1993. Each year on her birthday she had a birthday party, archiving her presents and exhibiting them in this display.

In Fred Wilson's The Museum: Mixed Metaphors (1993), the artist placed a man's suit amongst a group of traditional African robes and sculptures inside the Seattle Art Museum. This installation included a cheeky parody of the museum labelling system which read "Certain elements of dress were used to designate one's rank in Afica's status conscious capitals. A grey suit with conservatively patterned tie denotes a businessman or member of government. Costumes such as this are designed and tailored in Africa and worn throughout the continent." (Putnam 135)

In 1995, Cornelia Parker and Tilda Swinton presented a performance piece called The Mayse at the Serpentine Gallery in London. In this work, Tilda Swinton lay asleep in a glass display case during gallery hours. In the surrounding gallery space, Parker presented a collection of borrowed items from various museums that were related to people from history, such as the brain of Charles Babbage (1760-1871).

I am fascinated by the concept of the museum as a metaphor and as a place of artistic intervention. If I could, I would mount my own intervention into the museums in Toronto. Their staid, conservative programming needs some shaking up in my view and I believe they would benefit from seeing outside the box so to speak. But that is unlikely to happen in time for the unfolding of this particular project. I suppose a girl can dream....

Putnam, James. Art and Artifact: The Museum as Medium. London: Thames and Hudson, 2009.
Tate Gallery Web link

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