A Moving Experience: Exhibition infrastructures and the portability of art

Nushelle de Silva, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, nushelle@mit.edu

Art historians are increasingly making aspects of travel central to their scholarship, from the logistics of moving antiquities in the Renaissance to the manner in which tariff regulations have shaped ideas about the function of art. This panel seeks to expand this scholarship, which focuses largely on works moving between collections, to include works of art that travel with repetitive frequency for temporary museum exhibitions. Exhibitions have been amply scrutinised for how the objects they showcase are mediated by the museums that possess them, the curators who select them for display, the designers who craft the spatial experience of the exhibition, and the audiences who view them. Missing, however, is an analysis of how movement itself shapes how exhibitions emotionally move the public. This includes the roles of conservators and registrars, logistics such as transport and insurance, barriers to circulation such as customs regulations or tariffs, objects that lend themselves to more frequent circulation, such as replicas and duplicates, and even instances when artists creatively perform these roles to probe their value. This panel engages with how these practices have changed over time and varied across regions, how they affect museums of differing sizes and scope, and the niceties of collaboration and negotiation between institutions and individuals. This expanded view of the exhibition aims to nuance our understanding of the exhibition ‘event’ and use the migratory turn in art history to productively illuminate the politics of how museums circulate rather than sequester cultural objects.

Speakers & Abstracts

The Lady and the Unicorn at Sea: Loaning tapestry masterpieces in the post-war era (1946–48)

Iñigo Salto Santamaría (Technische Universität Berlin)

The retrospective exhibition La tapisserie française, du Moyen Âge à nos jours presented an extensive array of tapestries from different French museum collections at the Parisian Musée national d’art moderne in the summer of 1946. Masterpieces such as the Angers Apocalypse and the Dame à la licorne series, among others, were integrated into a nationalistic narrative that argued for a chronological continuity from the Middle Ages to the present, aiming to promote contemporary French tapestry artists. This Parisian show soon evolved into a ground-breaking loan exhibition that travelled through Western Europe and North America between 1946 and 1948, involving more than 100 medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo tapestries from the Louvre, the Cluny Museum and other French institutions. The organisers of the travelling exhibition's first stop in Freiburg resorted to photographic reproductions to showcase 14th–19th-century examples next to contemporary originals. In contrast, a significant number of the masterpieces displayed in Paris were transported to the different shows in Amsterdam, Brussels, London, New York, Chicago and Montréal. This paper will present the political and logistic context of this ambitious cultural enterprise, mainly focusing on the old tapestries’ unprecedented loan. By analysing the transport measures, the insurance policies and the organisation process of La tapisserie française, the paper will explore the diplomatic role that these tapestries played in the post-war era, as well as the decisive influence this circulation had on their subsequent permanent museum display.

Local Displacements and the Disruption of Social Borders: Le Musée Précaire Albinet by Thomas Hirschhorn

Beatriz Martínez Sosa (University of Pau, France)

Blockbuster exhibitions in Europe and the United States would be unthinkable without the temporary exchanges between major art institutions. Loans allow the integration of artworks within diverse discourses, reshaping their meanings and increasing their scope with audiences. But what is at stake when the borrower is not an art institution but an artist? What are the social implications when the shift does not involve several hours of international travel but only a change of neighbourhood? I intend to reflect on these questions and the consequences of these specific conditions by analysing Le Musée Précaire Albinet, an exhibition organised by Thomas Hirschhorn in 2004. Here, he created a temporary museum in Aubervilliers, a north-eastern suburb of Paris with a mostly immigrant population. Hirschhorn borrowed original artworks from the Musée national d’art moderne and the Fonds national d’art contemporain (FNAC). Local volunteers got involved to undertake the regular tasks in the museum’s administration (security, installation, mediation) and many events took place during the 12 weeks the museum lasted. With its incorporation in a marginalised public space, Hirschhorn’s museum encouraged a public discussion on diversity and integration, not as badges of institutional mediation but as actual engagements. Rather than the instrumentalisation of artworks for political purposes, by taking the exhibition as an art form, Hirschhorn set an apparatus that questioned the roles of the artist and the institutions regarding local communities. That is to say, a truly political art.

Eternity on the Move

Fernando Domínguez Rubio (UC San Diego)

Most artworks do not move. Moreover, they are not supposed to be moved at all. And yet, they move. All the time. In 2016 alone, 117,287 artworks were borrowed and 23,984 loaned in US, Canadian and Mexican museums. Every year, around 200,000 artworks travel to be sold in auction houses. There is also an untold number of artworks zipping around the system of biennales and triennials that has come to dominate the contemporary art market since the 1990s. The explosion of art galleries worldwide has led to a phenomenal multiplication of short-term exhibitions that keep artworks on the move within and between cities. At the same time, museums have experienced a vertiginous increase in the internal circulation of artworks driven by the growth of temporary exhibitions and the acceleration of rotations in their permanent collections. Governing the frantic movement of art within these internal and external circuits of circulation and exchange has become one of the most critical tasks in any museum today. This short presentation will provide a detailed account of the invisible infrastructures, agents and forms of labour through which art moves at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In so doing, this presentation will not only shed light on the oft-neglected infrastructures that make art circulation possible today, but it will also show why understanding how artworks move is key to understanding the uneven geographies through which art is imagined and narrated today.

An Ecosystemic Approach to Art and Sustainability

Seulkee Kang (Arizona State University)

Promoting alternatives to material culture and overproduction in the Anthropocene epoch generated the idea of interchangeability of value, which granted leeway to a linear process of a production chain. However, a question of the aftermath of art still remains. Destructing institutional frameworks, and dominant narratives of art markets and museums, Jewyo Rhii, embeds the concept of anti-museum and brings paradigm shifts in production and management of art. Looking at Love Your Depot (2019), a multimedia installation art which embodies three stages – Storage, Lab and Team Depot – Rhii grapples with art in the periphery, and presents both online and offline platforms to manifest the recreation of the art storage system and lifecycle management. This paper therefore examines how Rhii’s process-based work presents an ecosystemic approach to critically engage with the notion of a lifecycle of an artwork, which contributes to interdisciplinary collaboration and practice of a self-sustainable model of production, circulation and conservation of art responding to the environmental crisis in the post-pandemic world. Tracing historiography and conceptual frameworks of sustainable art, this paper investigates the impact of socioeconomic systems in the arts and questions power dynamics in contemporary art practices.






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