I had attended two exhibitions and events that deeply moved me: “Considerate Creations” at Taipei Artist Village, and “Relations #2 Backstage – Representation,” which is part of “Weekend Seminars: The Seven Relations in Exhibition-Making and Beyond” hosted by the Taipei Contemporary Art Center.
From the perspective of artists who are also art administrators, “Considerate Creations” curator Lee Yi-Hua invited five artists that doubled as art administrators to turn their on site labor, thoughts, and production into an exhibition. TCAC’s “Relation #2 Backstage – Representation” invited two speakers. Zoe Butt, curator at Vietnam’s Sàn Art, discussed the backstage experience of curating exhibitions and assisting artists with their work, as well as how Sàn Art established a “talking partnership,” raised questions, and set up benign “criticisms” of the environment through residency programs. The other speaker at “Relation #2 Backstage – Representation,” Chiang Yang-Huei, shared his curating experience of cooperating with the public sector, and thoughts about the public nature of exhibitions.
What he shared reminded me of my experience interviewing a senior art administrator at Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts in 2013. Museum staff Wu Huei-Fang had her own dedications to art administration, exhibit affairs, and curating exhibitions. At the time, I had a thought, can the labor, thoughts, experiences, systems, and relations between exhibitions planning and institutions that support/constitute exhibitions have a chance to become an overt platform of communication, using exhibitions to educate the public, and even pass down thoughts and experiences to those aspiring to be an art administrator and curator.
An Exhibition that Puts “Backstage” on the Stage
My ideas received some response when I first entered the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo in 2015. MOT’s 20th anniversary exhibition “Twentieth Anniversary Special MOT Collection” was just in its 3rd phase, “Collection Becoming.” For this exhibition, the museum turned the governance and thoughts of the museum collection over the past 20 years into the central theme, putting the “backstage” on stage (including buying, preservation, and exhibition) on display on stage.
“Collection Becoming” consists of 14 exhibition areas. Its theme can be roughly divided into three directions:
1. Outside of Exhibitions;
2. Collection and Origin;
3. Techniques of the Era Displayed and Reflections on Issues.
The first exhibition area of “Outside of Exhibitions,” ‘Origin – Behind the Paintings’ which showcased the canvas labels on the backs of three Roy Lichtenstein, Ad Reinhardt, and Shimamoto Shozo oil paintings. The labels are records of the paintings’ origins. From the moment viewers enter the exhibition, the core message the exhibit displays is “behind,” which is translated as turning the records and labels, which are previously unseen yet crucial to the preservation and transportation of paintings, into the focal point of the exhibitions, presenting how artwork is handled before and after an exhibition, or outside the exhibition venue.
The “Forest of Prints” in the second part, “Collection and Origin” displays MOT’s most important and numerous print pieces (40% of the museum’s collection). This part also features the small exhibitions areas “First Time the Artist Visits Campus,” “Commissioned Work and New Collection,” “How to Get a New Collection – Reservation,” and “How to Get a New Collection – Gift,” which individually introduces details of the connection formed between artists, artworks, and museums.
“Technique Transformation” in the third “Techniques of the Era Displayed and Reflections on Issues” part reflects upon how institutions should face the possibility that display mediums for certain works may be eliminated in the future, such as Nam June Paik’s “TV Clock” or Jeff Koons’ “New Hoover Convertible, New Shelton Wet/Dry 5 Gallon.” How should museums handle the transformation of mediums? These technical issues, usually only discussed in forums or museum office meetings, are brought into the exhibitions for the audience to contemplate. Also, the last area of the exhibition, “Records and Memories” display precious things that the museum hopes won’t be forgotten, and continue to pass them on to others.
The ideas behind “Collection Becoming” amount to more than reproduction of the backstage, but a reflection of production relations and complex work orientations during the process of exhibition planning and collection management, sorting out the museum’s own context and identity in the torrent of time. MOT was founded in 1995, the year of the Great Hanshin earthquake and Tokyo subway sarin attack. The social unrest and economic crash that followed continues to influence Japanese culture, causing key influences to this day.
Look, look, then look again, because nothing replaces looking
In the exhibitions of the first two phases of “Twentieth Anniversary Special MOT Collection”: “Chronicle 1995-” and “Contacts,” “Chronicles 1995-” Combed through the year 1995 from a societal and cultural perspective, providing a sort of birds’ eye viewpoint in tracing the 20 years since the museum’s opening. “Contacts” connected works of different generations, creative fields, and techniques. creating a unique window for dialogue in the museum space.
The three-part exhibition of MOT’s 20th anniversary exhibition “Twentieth Anniversary Special MOT Collection” seem to lay out the entire museum, and use a magnifying glass to look at every detail, getting a birds’ eye view of the entire landscape while focusing on one’s own era.
In the ‘Prologue’ of “A Brief History of Curating,” when Hans Ulrieh Obrist asked former director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Anne d’Harnoncourt,
“Nowadays museums are more popular but less experimental. In this situation, what kind of advice will you give a young curator that just starting out?”,
Harnoncourt answered with Gilbert & George’s famous quote about art:
“…Look, look, look, then look again, because nothing replaces looking… I mean to be with art. Gilbert & George said it well.’to be with art is all we ask’.”
Gilbert & George’s idea of “being with art” hopes to let art directly communicate with its audience and create an intimate, clear, unconditional connection with the public, allowing art to influence people and society. In today’s dialogue-filled society, viewing an being with art through different forms of exhibitions can be transformed on some level into possibilities for new ideas that rethink the connection between different interpretations and the conversation between artworks, exhibitions, and production.