Today, The Museum of Everything came to an end (or at least a temporary retirement) with a roundtable discussion about what such a project means in relation to the larger world of museums as well as what to do with all of the material created and pinned up in the room since Monday.
The discussion, which included Frances Fowles, a curator at the National Gallery, as well as Andrew Patrizio, a History of Art professor who also does curating work, initially focused on the difficulties of traditional modes of curation. Getting an exhibition into a gallery is often a process of negotiation and compromise which rarely results in anyone getting their original vision. Adapting to unexpected inclusions and exclusions and somehow incorporating them into the narrative of the exhibition is a constant pressure, not to mention institutional regulations and the costs and risks of transporting delicate originals.
The rules of the Museum of Everything seemed to circumvent these curatorial hurdles. Participants could pin up reproductions of objects they wanted to include in the museum, or simply name the object on a card. This led to a discussion on the ethics of presenting reproductions in a museum setting, and if there are certain times when a reproduction is more appropriate than getting the original.
The aesthetic of the museum project itself, using file cards and text primarily, borrowed a lot from Conceptual Art in the 60s and 70s. Richard Williams mentioned that there was a point where the index card became a sort of cliche. Many community arts projects do share this kind of conceptual aesthetic. Is this the only way for participatory art going forward? Or is there room for Baroque participatory art, impressionist participatory art, and so on?
A big issue in participatory art and display practices is the trouble of getting people to participate in something that is often portrayed as a hierarchical institution with strict rules and regulations. As academics (many of the people coming into the museum were, because it was in the Art History building) I think we’re sometimes trained to desire structure and regulations. We ask professors endlessly for clarity on “what they’re looking for” in an assignment, we like to follow a particular working and writing process in producing our research papers, we know the rules for quoting, citing, and so on. A lot of people were a bit timid upon first entering the museum. Some took away cards to return later because they needed to think about what to do. Even if they eventually made a card, the question was always the same. “I can put it ANYWHERE?”
The clusters of particular themes on the walls only grew more pronounced since I first noticed them on Monday. Politics, brands, and film titles were separate from more poetic and meditative interventions. Even if there was no structure imposed, the visitors made up their own. Is there something about the word “Museum” that implies order, organization, classification, over simple collecting or juxtaposition?
The question remained, what do we do with all this now that it’s done? Catalog the position of each card exactingly? Throw them all in a shoebox to collect dust somewhere? Just throw them out? The consensus was to revisit the museum during finals week, and have a group rehang, in which visitors can hang the cards from this week and add their own. Personally, I think this is a really cool idea and will revisit it on this blog when the time comes. Overall, the value of the discussion was in examining how a project like The Museum of Everything (or the similar Atelier Public 2 currently on at the GoMA) forces us to reconsider curating as something only done in the privileged halls of an institution. For students and the general public it can be a beneficial way to encounter and interact with old information in new ways.