By Alex May
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Works To Know By Heart: An Imagined Museum

This article is over 6 years, 5 months old
Issue 408

The year is 2666 and art galleries are empty. The government has decided what they contained was subversive (and the cash from the sale of the artworks would help the economy). A group of people meet to view grainy photos of the lost works so they can survive at least in the memories of people who can share them with others.

This is the premise of An Imagined Museum, which is inspired by Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel about a book-burning government. In 2015 we don’t have to rely on the photos; we can see the works in all their glory, or banality, depending on our perspectives.
Anything which helps viewers of art in galleries appreciate the works, rather than glancing and moving on, is good. When the exhibition ends the works will be replaced by people — you can volunteer — who will describe in words, dance and song the artworks no longer there.

Will the works in this “Imagined Museum” be art or pale, crude impressions? Such themes of originality and copying are raised with Andy Warhol’s 100 Campbell’s Soup Cans, apparently just copies of the labels. Close by, Elaine Sturtevant’s “Warhol Flowers” copy Warhol’s work as she did that of many other artists.

But art in capitalist society is a valuable commodity so such ideas can be seen as subversive. Happily for the speculators, Sturtevant’s works became valuable too.

Marcel Duchamp said artworks are only completed when viewed by someone. In the Imagined Museum we not only complete them — we become the artworks. But what is art for, if we agree monetary value should not be its purpose? We seem to have a basic need to transform reality. Even in times of scarcity, famine and fear people create art as a form of survival or to sustain hope for a better world.

Carlos Cruz-Diez’s “Physichromie No 506” exemplifies this: aspects of colour are revealed only as the viewer moves around in front of the work. Bridget Riley’s wonderfully shimmering “Fall” becomes, in the grainy image available 50 years hence, merely some lines in a square.

I was surprised to see an image from “The Last Resort” in the exhibition. Martin Parr photographed New Brighton, where I live, in the 1970s. The woman staring out at us from the counter of a burger bar recalls Edouard Manet’s painting “Bar at the Folies-Bergeres”. The space for the memorised images was taken on my visit by a group of dancers from John Moore’s University. The superbly intricate, undulating routine evoked a weird machine.

The clever premise of the exhibition made me appreciate the sometimes eclectic selection of exhibits.

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