View of Manitoba Museum of Find Arts, via MMOFA
A Tara McDowell reviews Manitoba Museum of Find arts @ Will Brown Gallery for Artforum:
The collection grew organically over the years, mostly through gifts from artists, and is accretive, idiosyncratic, and mnemonic in the way that the pinboard aesthetic of a personal archive is, even one on the cubicle wall. Here, Henry Hopkins’s Rolodexes share space with Stephen Kornhauser’s glass jar of cotton balls used to clean the museum’s Jean Arp sculpture, a pot holder printed with a mushroom cloud, and all manner of moose-themed collectibles (a favorite of Mayo’s). Ephemera for MMoFA exhibitions featuring George Herms, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Sol LeWitt, and many others appear throughout the gallery, which also features an extensive gift shop. One notable event was the Bruce Conner look-alike contest and bake sale, the judges for which, the flyer tells us, have seen Conner many times.
Stephen Kornhauser’s glass jar of cotton balls used to clean the museum’s Jean Arp sculpture
McDowell goes over the exhibit's details like a pro, but misses a significant point, which is obscured by her own description. "Finds art" is art, right? A symbolic leap from "found object" without proper submersion? Arthoodication advances!
The museum’s collection and ephemera are now on view at Will Brown gallery, a new exhibition space operating in the vein of Philadelphia’s Triple Candie, if the venture’s first three projects are any indication."Ephemera" by definition refers to collectable items not intended to be preserved for more than a short time. But this is quite the opposite. These artsy objects belong in a museum's growing collection under the denomination "finds art." As such, McDowell's assumption rests on a paradox. How can it be solved? One quick fix is to simply assume collection/autonomy, i.e., "the collection grew organically over the years," as if "collection" is, like in physical processes, caused by a non-human self-producing entity.
Or, "collection" and "ephemera" rest on an art/axiom:
found art = conceptual art = art
Since the conceptual revolution, information substitutes representation (as this blurb of an interview with Seth Siegelaub in 1969 proves):
When art does not any longer depends upon its physical presence, when it has become an abstraction, it is not distorted and altered by representation in books and catalogs. It becomes PRIMARY information... when information if PRIMARY, the catalog can become the exhibition.1Fast-forward about 50 years. Conceptual art is very much collected and publicized by a global market which digests & produces representation. So, McDowell mentions these historic factlets (in blue above) to buttress the very category she assumes, an problematic sign of systemic redundancy. She takes the elevation of objecthood-to-arthood for granted. That is to say:
You know art when you see it. You see art it when it's exhibited in the white cube.
How about problematizing "how" art happens? Unless "how" is cut off as a banal concern, politically speaking. Art questions, concepts, are processed by the art system via institutional infrastructure (i.e., Artforum's "critic's pick" section, a reputable website with experts in the field).
What's the strategy? Curators and critics enthuse the public into consuming art. Art is culture. Culture is good for you. But culture, as Donna Haraway suggests, can be a logic of "domination of a necessary but dangerous instinctual nature."2 Unfortunately, artists (the other vested party in this game), are too concerned mimicking & negotiating with what's already sanctioned out there in their Weltanschauung (incidentally, a systemic organism digesting symbols in the same redundant manner).
The jar exhibits a categorical problem. How to explain its uncanny passage from objecthood-to-arthood unless it undergoes a process of arthoodication? Is it really about a magic-friction-factor? Is it proximity, or q-entanglement, whereby the cotton balls and Jean Arp's museum sculpture become a part of the same phenomenon?).3
The same goes for this artsy glow-in-the-dark-MMOFA-key chain:
glow in the dark MMOFA key chain
Or this artsy tree-bark piece with carved initials,
tree bark with carved initials
)Art criticism is an arthoodication publicity machine(
The public (including many critics & art experts) regard arthood as an intrinsic property of, well, art/objects. Culture is associated to an aesthetics of pleasure which partakes of a global consensus. All the while, arthoodication remains concealed.
Where is the magic if people realize that what makes art art is a market strategy?4
In spite of these problems, McDowell ploughs ahead to an unresolved conclusion (the same that plagued Conceptual Art's project of art emancipation):5
Mayo’s intention was to show artists not included in that “other museum.” “I’m not official,” she once said, “I’m unofficial. Unofficially, they let me indulge myself.” Not only does this unofficial endeavor inflect current calls to occupy museums and problematize standard definitions of institutional critique in one fell swoop, but it also demonstrates the importance and affect of alternative archives, particularly when so closely aligned with institutional ones."Unofficial endeavor,"? "Institutional critique"? Not so fast. The critic unproblematically echoes Alberta Mayo's wishful thinking that she is "unofficial," as the latter figures as director of a museum that houses her own "accretive, idiosyncratic, and mnemonic" collection; gets exhibited at a gallery and figures in a critics' pick @ Artforum!
Are you kidding me? The "institutional critique" that McDowell refers to is a travesty, a pseudo-institutional apparatus stubbornly concealing (and disconnecting) arthood from arthoodication.
1 Alexander Alberro, Conceptual Art and The Politics of Publicity, p. 155. 2Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, p. 22. 3 What makes Manzoni's Merda d'artista art? Manzoni's shit, his celebrity name, or both? Check Manitoba Museum's name dropping:
Highlights include: mirror submitted by Bruce Conner for the first ever Bruce Conner Look Alike Contest and Bake Sale; atomic bomb hotpad; glass jar of cotton balls used to clean Jean Arp sculpture; glow in the dark MMOFA key chain; pencil used by Sol Lewitt to make MMOFA wall drawing; tree bark with carved initials; Henry Hopkins' rolodexes; fake butter; fake teeth; small flocked moose; burnt package for Henry Hopkins (never opened); mature discretion sign; Clyfford Still drawing; diploma; Lynn Hershman's "game"; 4th Annual Chloe Footstar Potluck Memorial Picnic Announcement; special members gift; fashion advertisement photographed in Rauschenberg retrospective with Tyrone Brue, security guard, signed by Tyrone.4 This is the description for a piece @ a recent show at a relatively known gallery in New York City:
Appropriated street organ with cart, 3.5x5x4. Wood, wire, melamine, epoxy, wheels. The instrument may have been used to calm down mental patients at Kings Park Psychiatric Hospital during the 1940’s (Kings Park closed in the early 1990’s). Given to the artist by an Italian ex-patient & low-rank member of the Profaci Family with whom the artist established a friendship.5 The major paradox of Conceptual Art (as other forms, such as Earth Art, Performance etc, to come out of the early 1960's) is that its project of artistic autonomy & emancipation mimicked the instrumental logic of the market. In liberal economics, "FOR SALE" is seen as a sign of socio-political independence. Did you ever wonder how come the art market is the most unregulated of all markets? See Lucy Lippard's "Postface," in Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, p. 263.