Tag Archives: history

Elif Batuman’s Diary: Pamuk’s Museum

2 Jun

Reposted from: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n11/elif-batuman/diary

London Review of Books, Vol. 34 No. 11 · 7 June 2012
pages 38-39 | 4470 words

In 2010, I moved from California, where I had lived for 11 years, to Turkey, where I had never stayed longer than a month or two. I had been offered a job as writer in residence at a private university in the forest on the northern edge of Istanbul. When I got there, I found out that the university had no writer in residence programme. It didn’t even have a writing programme. There was just me. The two living beings I saw with the most regularity were a campus groundsman, who always seemed to be standing in the bushes when I left the house, and an obese one-eyed black cat, who used to come in through my bedroom window. It had one green eye and one empty socket, and the minute it saw me with its single eye, it would start running from room to room, uttering piercing meows and crashing into the furniture. There was a lot of furniture, which had come with the apartment.

It wasn’t long before I heard that Orhan Pamuk was in town, building a museum. The museum was said to be full of stuff that had ‘belonged’ to the protagonists of his last novel, The Museum of Innocence. If you knocked on the door, he would let you in and show you the heroine’s old shoes. I hadn’t read The Museum of Innocence, and my general attitude to a novel-themed museum was one of mistrust. I place a high importance on the material self-reliance of a printed page. Kafka refused to put a picture of an insect on the cover of Metamorphosis. That’s what it is to believe in literature.

And yet, a year and a half later, I was wandering the twisted streets of Cihangir and Çukurcuma, looking for the Museum of Innocence. A press opening had been announced, with events scheduled from 9.30 in the morning till 11 at night – 13 and a half hours of innocence. I have a weak spot for endurance-style literary events. The day before the opening, I stopped by the campus bookstore and bought a copy of the novel, planning to skim the first hundred pages. I stayed up past two. The next day I took the metro to Taksim and walked down Siraselviler Avenue to Cihangir. Fifteen years ago, when Pamuk first bought a building here, Cihangir had been a working-class area dotted with small workshops specialising in the manufacture of plastic tubs and children’s footballs. Today the proletarian teahouses and barbershops are outnumbered by vegan-friendly cafés and the showrooms of increasingly ironic antiquarians. On Çukurcuma Street, I passed a bathtub with feet and a bench inscribed with the words DIRE STRAITS. Nearby, a cat had made itself comfortable in some kind of venerable stone urn – only its satisfied head was sticking out.

The morning press conference, held at a restaurant near the museum, was so packed I couldn’t get in the door. Standing on tiptoe outside the banqueting hall, I counted ten television crews. One of the cameramen, a burly felonious-looking type with a shaved head, winked at me. I retreated into the shadowy corridor, where I stared at an old wall and listened to Pamuk who, between fielding questions from the press (‘The man in love – he is a little bit sick?’), was telling the story of the museum.

The inspiration for the Museum of Innocence came to Pamuk in 1982, while he was having dinner with the last prince of the Ottoman dynasty. Exiled after the formation of the Turkish republic, the prince ended up in Alexandria and worked for decades at the Antoniadis Palace museum, first as a ticket collector and then as director. Now, back in Istanbul after a fifty-year exile, he needed a job. The guests discussed the delicate subject of employment for the straitened septuagenarian prince of a defunct empire. Someone said the Ihlamur Palace museum might need a guide: who better than the prince, who had lived there as a child?

Pamuk was immediately taken by the idea of a man who outlives his era and becomes the guide to his own house-museum. He imagined how the prince would greet visitors – ‘Ladies and gentlemen! Seventy years ago, in this room, I sat with my aide-de-camp and studied mathematics!’ – before crossing the velvet cordon to sit once more at his childhood desk, demonstrating how he had held the pencil and ruler.

Ten years later, Pamuk came up with an insane plan: to write a novel in the form of a museum catalogue, while simultaneously building the museum to which it referred. The plot of the novel would be fairly straightforward: over many years, an unhappy lover contrives to steal a large number of objects belonging to his unattainable beloved, after whose untimely death he proceeds to buy her family’s house and turn it into a museum.

You might think that Pamuk’s first step, as a writer, would have been to start writing. In fact, his first step was to contact a real-estate agent. He needed to buy a house for his future heroine, Füsun. During the 1990s, Pamuk visited hundreds of properties, trying to imagine Füsun and her parents living in them. It was beyond his means to purchase a whole building in Nişantaşi, the posh neighbourhood inhabited by Kemal, the hero of the novel. He could afford a single floor in a stone building in the old Ottoman commercial centre of Galata, but then the remodelling would be difficult. The beautiful rundown wooden houses near the old city walls were the right price, but those were in religious neighbourhoods, and this was a novel about the secular middle classes. In 1998, Pamuk finally bought a three-storey wooden house in Çukurcuma. Füsun, the petulant beauty, was thus neither a Nişantaşi socialite nor the scion of Galata bankers, but an aspiring actress living with her seamstress mother and schoolteacher father. The heroine’s socioeconomic position and much of her character were determined by real estate.

For the next ten years, writing and shopping proceeded in a dialectical relationship. Pamuk would buy objects that caught his eye, and wait for the novel to ‘swallow’ them, demanding, in the process, the purchase of further objects. Occasionally an object refused to be swallowed, as happened with some carriage lanterns and an old gas meter. Pamuk published The Museum of Innocence in 2008. It resembles less a museum catalogue than a 600-page audio guide. A ticket printed in the back of each copy grants one free entry to the museum. By that point he had already acquired nearly all of Füsun’s belongings, so the museum could, in theory, have opened the next day. But Pamuk was worried about the example of Edouard Dujardin, the French writer sometimes credited with pioneering, in a largely forgotten text called Les Lauriers sont coupés, the stream of consciousness. Pamuk didn’t want to be Dujardin. He wanted to be Joyce. It wasn’t enough just to build the world’s first synergetic novel-museum. The museum had to be a thing of beauty. He hired a team of artists and curators and worked full time in the museum for several months, taking naps on Kemal’s bed in the attic.

I left the press conference in a dreamy frame of mind, and headed to one of the local vegan-friendly cafés, to drink coffee and finish The Museum of Innocence. As has often been observed, it’s nice to read realist novels in their original locations. One character was talking about a brothel in a seven-storey Greek building on Siraselviler, the street I had taken from the metro to Cihangir. In the novel, the police raided the brothel, ‘sealing off only one floor, obliging the girls there to take their admirers to another one that was, nonetheless, adorned with the same furniture and mirrors’. I thought it was a pretty good model for a brothel to have seven identical floors.

When I left the café, a young man who looked like he might be a vegan was getting onto a Vespa, accompanied by a tiny grey monkey. The monkey had a tremendously detailed, worried little face. ‘Up, Hasan!’ the young man said, starting the engine, and the monkey hopped onto the handlebars. They drove away. I walked back down to Çukurcuma. The bathtub was still there, but the cat wasn’t. I turned a corner and the museum came into view, its narrow wooden façade painted the deep red of a pre-revolutionary fez. Eighty-three exhibits, most inside glass vitrines, correspond to the book’s 83 chapters. Many of the displayed objects look just like the novel said they would: the prosthetic hand belonging to Kemal’s father’s employee; the white sock and tennis shoe worn by Füsun to her rendezvous with Kemal on the day of his engagement to another woman; the quince grater stolen by Kemal from Füsun’s mother shortly after the 1980 coup. At the press conference, a French-sounding journalist had asked Pamuk why the novel didn’t devote more pages to the 1980 coup. Pamuk replied: ‘I expressed what I had to say about the 1980 coup through Füsun’s mother’s quince grater, which appears in Box 66.’

Other boxes contained material interpretations of things that, in the book, had no material. In Chapter 29, Kemal goes to bed each night hoping to forget Füsun, but always wakes ‘to the same pain, as if a black lamp were burning eternally inside me’. Box 29 contains a sculpture called Black Light Machine which, incorporating parts from a toy steamboat, a 19th-century pasta machine and several clocks, represents this eternally burning black lamp of unforgettable love.

Some items mentioned in the novel as forming part of Kemal’s collection – an Alaska Frigo bar, a Thermos of tea, a plate of stuffed vine leaves – leave you uncertain as to whether you’re dealing with unreliable narration, magical realism, or perhaps a highly sophisticated system of refrigeration. All these items appear in the museum, and so does the half-eaten ice-cream cone that Füsun tossed on the ground in Istinye, modelled in plastic by expert food replicators who do a lot of work for Turkish soap operas. Contemplating a glass of polymer-based rakı with ice, I wondered whether a museum could be said to be magical realist, or unreliably narrated. I decided to ask Pamuk: he said only that he wanted the museum to be ‘a place where time is frozen’.

The most elaborate visual representation of frozen time is Box 68, 4213 Cigarette Stubs. It contains all the cigarette stubs discarded by Füsun and collected by Kemal between 1976 and 1984, mounted in rows and columns on a floor-to-ceiling panel. From a distance, it looks like a giant cuneiform text. Up close, you can see that many of the filters are stained with lipstick or sour-cherry ice cream, Füsun’s favourite. To complete the display, Pamuk’s assistants emptied out several hundred boxes of Samsun regulars (Füsun’s brand), replaced the tobacco with chemically treated paper, set the cigarettes on fire, and put them in a vacuum machine. ‘The vacuum smoked these cigarettes, not us,’ Pamuk says, specifying that no anti-smoking laws were violated in the construction of the display, which is, indeed, a testimony to the unhealthiness of smoking, as well as a contribution to the anthropology of lost gestures.

4213 Cigarette Stubs was designed by Kiymet Daştan, an Istanbul sculptor and jewellery designer, who also built the Black Light Machine. Kiymet turned out to be a friend of a friend of mine. My friend – a conceptual artist whose works in progress include a monument to time made out of her own hair – arranged a meeting for us, which ended up taking place on the deck of a Bosphorus ferry. I asked whether the stains on the filters were real. ‘Yes,’ Kiymet said, in a small voice nearly drowned out by the wind. ‘I ate a lot of ice cream.’ She also had to redo six or seven hundred cigarettes, because Pamuk said she was wearing too much lipstick, much more than Füsun. Pamuk spent last summer captioning each stub, by hand, with the date of its retrieval by Kemal. Under some samples, he wrote scraps of recorded conversation (‘Are you looking at the clock?’).

Though it isn’t as technically impressive as Box 68, I was just as struck by Box 1, The Happiest Moment of My Life. It contains a single gold butterfly earring suspended in front of a tulle curtain, which trembles by some mechanical or magical-realist means. The composition represents a moment during the couple’s brief physical relationship when one of Füsun’s butterfly-shaped earrings is knocked loose and, ‘for all we knew, hovered in midair before falling of its own accord’. The quivering earring seems to afford a glimpse not just of the time of Eros, but of the Eros of time – the way it can hover before your eyes, golden and tremulous. Kemal spends the next eight years working and working to get Füsun back in bed. The museum does the same thing: labouring to re-create, through thousands of hours of cigarette-squashing and clock-dismantling, an effortless instant. Replicas of the earring may be purchased in the museum shop.

The museum logo is a butterfly and, in the scene with the butterfly earring, Füsun is 18 and the narrator is 30. I don’t usually care for Nabokov references and I’m not crazy about butterflies, but I found The Museum of Innocence to be one of the few books I’ve read that alludes to Lolita successfully. It made me realise why Lolita is a novel about paedophilia. Lolita has to be impossibly young, because the brevity of youth is a metonym for the brevity of life, and the monstrousness of Humbert’s passion is the monstrousness of facelifts, or of Lenin’s tomb, or of the wedding cake in Great Expectations. ‘Exhibit number two,’ Humbert says early in Lolita, ‘is a pocket diary bound in black imitation leather, with a golden year, 1947, en escalier, in its upper left-hand corner.’ Although Lolita is narrated from a prison and not a museum, the profusion of birdcages in the Museum of Innocence tips you off to a figurative equivalence. Humbert, Kemal and the last Ottoman prince share a family resemblance to the ape credited by Nabokov with inspiring Lolita: the one ‘in the Jardin des Plantes who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal’, showing the bars of its cage.

There are differences, of course, between a caged animal and a deposed pasha. Humbert is bombastically exasperated by his prison, despising the furniture, plotting to murder Lolita’s mother, drugging Lolita – basically rattling the bars and throwing garbage at the visitors. Kemal, by contrast, peaceably eats dinner in front of the TV with Füsun and her parents for eight years. When Füsun is out, he sits alone with her parents, complimenting the mother on her stuffed zucchini, telling the father how telephones ring in America, never once attempting to slip anyone any barbiturates. ‘I tasted pleasures I’d never known before,’ he writes of the 1593 evenings spent in this fashion. To me there’s something deeply Turkish and hilarious about this. When he gets a chance to spirit Füsun away to Paris, he has his father’s chauffeur drive them in the 1956 Chevrolet, and he brings Füsun’s mother along.

Unlike most novels treating the theme of lovers kept apart by society, The Museum of Innocence is narrated without anger. Kemal seems to like everyone in the story, from Füsun’s goofy husband to her conventional mother. The vulgar is so intertwined with the sublime that Kemal, unlike Humbert, has no thought of detaching Füsun from the ‘objects that had made her who she was’. The type of bric-à-brac that seems like an aesthetic rupture in Lolita’s mother’s front hall – ‘door chimes, a white-eyed wooden thingumabob of commercial Mexican origin, and that banal darling of the arty middle class, Van Gogh’s Arlésienne’ – is meaningful and appropriate in Füsun’s mother’s buffet: ‘the never-used coffee cups, the old clock … the little glass vase with the spiralling floral pattern whose likeness one could see displayed on the buffet of any middle-class family in the city’. Pamuk’s museum restores a specialness to objects of mass production, transmuting quantity into quality. A middle-class fake is more magical than a priceless painting, precisely because it’s everywhere at once.

Late in the novel, no matter where in the world his Byronic gloom takes him, Kemal can’t stop running into Füsun’s mother’s saltshaker. Cairo, Barcelona, New Delhi, Rome: ‘To contemplate how this saltshaker had spread to the farthest reaches of the globe suggested a great mystery, as great as the way migratory birds communicate among themselves, always taking the same routes every year.’ You can imagine Marxist criticism deploring the displacement of birds by saltshakers, condemning the globalisation that enables you to travel halfway around the world only to find the same napkin dispenser sitting on the table. But you can imagine another Marxist criticism glimpsing here some version of the truth that Fredric Jameson said was essentially impossible to convey in the novel: ‘Never has the world been so completely humanised as in industrial times; never has so much of the individual’s environment been the result, not of blind natural forces, but of human history itself.’

Every few years, Pamuk writes, ‘another wave of saltshakers’ washes in, replacing the old generation. People ‘forget the objects with which they had lived so intimately, never even acknowledging their emotional attachment to them’. Unlike the Mona Lisa, which is always and only in the Louvre, the saltshakers are everywhere for a few years, and then they’re gone, shifting the dimension of rarity from space to time. As rarities, some of them are salvaged by collectors. Pamuk believes that the appearance of collectors is one of the inevitable historical stages of modernisation. But collectors are cranky, capricious types, liable to lavish all their attention on postcards and bottle caps while ignoring all kinds of other things – toothbrushes, for example. Pamuk was astounded by the difficulty of getting hold of 1970s toothbrushes: how could they all have vanished from the face of the earth? After he mentioned the problem in an interview, a reader sent him a large collection of old toothbrushes that would otherwise have been lost to posterity.

The evening of the opening, Pamuk hosted a cocktail reception for 385 people on the terrace of a nearby restaurant. Waiters passed among the guests, distributing cloudy glasses of raki that looked exactly like the plastic replicas in the museum. I met Pamuk’s editor, who made my head explode by relating that, since he hadn’t ended up writing the novel in the form of a museum catalogue, Pamuk had recently decided to write the catalogue as a separate book. (The English translation, The Innocence of Objects, will be published later this year.) Borges could have written a four-page story about the madman who builds a museum while writing a novel about building the museum, but Pamuk wrote the novel, built the museum, and then wrote a book-length catalogue about it.

Pamuk himself arrived, betraying no signs of fatigue from the large-scale strains of his artistic process. His editor reminded him to address the guests: ‘Tell them about the food,’ she suggested. Pamuk took the microphone. ‘Ladies and gentlemen!’ he said. ‘I know you are all worried about the food. Well, don’t worry. There is enough food.’ The dishes being served, he said, were all the kinds of thing that Füsun’s family would have eaten in the 1970s. ‘Do you think that means fondue?’ I overheard an American diplomat ask. The party lasted a long time. I met a typesetter described as the world’s best decipherer of Pamuk’s handwriting. Ara Güler, the master photographer of Istanbul, sat under a tree surrounded by admirers; the museum contains some cityscapes from his personal archives.

The waiter brought round a tray with Füsun’s favourite stuffed vine leaves. I wondered whether Füsun wore less lipstick than I do. Füsun’s face is one thing you never do see in the museum. Pamuk calls it a ‘tactical error’ for writers to show their characters’ faces, on book jackets or elsewhere. I wondered why it was OK to show all Füsun’s personal effects when it was not OK to show her person. It occurred to me that the novel, though fiction, isn’t uniformly fictional. Endings are fake, because nothing in real life ever ends; characters are composites, because real people are either too close to you or too far. But the furniture and clothes: that stuff must almost all be real. There’s no way Balzac invented all that furniture. All those soaring ambitions and human destinies are just a pretext for telling the truth about the sofas and the clocks.

As Nabokov himself once established with entomological diagrams, Kafka had no clear picture of what his insect looked like. On the other hand, he probably had a clear picture of the framed magazine picture on Gregor’s wall (‘a lady fitted out with a fur hat and fur boa who sat upright, raising a heavy fur muff that covered the whole of her lower arm towards the viewer’) and the ‘cool, leather sofa’ and the cigarettes and the textile samples. No matter how you showed the insect, it would be a lie. But physical things, the mass-produced brothers and sisters, have a certain truth. Like Orthodox icons, they are ‘images not made by hands’: symbols that are also somehow identical to the things they represent. When you watch a film adaptation of a novel, you always have to stop and ask yourself what are the odds that Eugene Onegin happened to look exactly like Ralph Fiennes, and yet a teapot from the right historical period is a real part of the world that created the character and plot. If you had enough of the textile samples and magazine pictures and sofas, maybe you could re-create the insect.

When Kemal visits the Proust Museum in Illiers-Combray, and sees ‘the portraits of those who had served as models’ for Proust’s work, he leaves ‘none the wiser about his novels, though possessing a clearer idea of the world in which the author had lived.’ The portraits are a red herring. The real ‘models’ aren’t the people in the portraits, but the world around the people: not only the furniture but the psycho-sexual furniture too. All those saltshakers and cigarettes, manmade yet inhuman, coming and going in waves, stand for the rules we live by: in the case of The Museum of Innocence, sexual ethics. That’s the mass-produced object that we’re all conditioned by. We all have the same one sitting on our dining table.

I left the party close to midnight and made my way back up Siraselviler Avenue, wondering which building had contained the brothel with seven identical floors. I thought about how much I preferred The Museum of Innocence to Pamuk’s memoir,Istanbul: Memories and the City. At the press conference a German journalist had asked whether ‘Füsun’ was intentionally reminiscent of hüzün, a word used by Pamuk to designate Istanbul’s unique and shameful post-imperial melancholy. ‘Westerners coming to the city often fail to notice’ Istanbul’s hüzün, which ‘stands at a great metaphysical distance’ from the more individualistic melancholy of Burton: this metaphysical remove mirrors ‘the distance Istanbullus feel from the centres of the West’.

When I first read Istanbul, ten years ago in California, I didn’t see why disused fountains should fill anyone not responsible for their maintenance with ‘shame and melancholy’, or why anyone should experience living in Istanbul as ‘the melancholy and desolation of sharing [the city’s] shameful fate’. I knew many Turks of my parents’ generation who were brought up to view the fall of the Ottoman Empire as a great personal humiliation, one the West was constantly sneering at. But this didn’t make me any more sympathetic to what I saw as the romanticisation of hüzün. Frankly, I’m still unsympathetic. I think pride and shame should be based on what you do, not who you are. For Istanbul to have its own special shameful melancholy, imperceptible to everyone except Istanbullus and maybe Claude Lévi-Strauss, sounds to me like an invitation for a bunch of self-important lugubrious dudes to sit around doing nothing and feeling like they’re fulfilling their Hegelian role (if only Hegel applied to the East).

In response to the question about hüzün and Füsun, Pamuk said that he had writtenIstanbul right in the middle of working on The Museum of Innocence. Resonances would be unavoidable. That was when I realised that my exasperation with Istanbul was directly proportional to my admiration for The Museum of Innocence, and that, to my mind, it was less a matter of ‘resonances’ than of balancing the books. It was as if, in the year he took off from the novel to write the memoir, Pamuk had poured all the rancour from his heart. (‘Until the age of 45,’ he writes in Istanbul, ‘it was my habit, whenever I was drifting in that sweet cloud between sleep and wakefulness, to cheer myself by imagining I was killing people.’) When Kemal feels shame, it isn’t geographic or metaphysical. It’s the reasonable and understandable shame of a man who chooses to spend eight years collecting his married ex-lover’s cigarette stubs. The replacement of hüzün (melancholy) by füsun (magic) mirrors the central truth of the novel: ‘If the objects that bring us shame are displayed in a museum,’ Kemal realises, ‘they are immediately transformed into possessions in which to take pride.’ The Museum of Innocence is a machine that processes shame into pride. By the last sentence of the novel, the conversion is complete: ‘Let everyone know, I lived a very happy life.’

TRACK: A contemporary city conversation

12 May
Ahmet Öğüt, “The Castle of Vooruit,” 2012.*
a contemporary city conversation
12 May–16 September 2012S.M.A.K.
B-9000  Ghent, Belgium

T +32 9 240 76 60


Curated by Philippe Van Cauteren and Mirjam VaradinisTRACK is a unique art experience in the public and semi public space of the city of Ghent. It offers surprising, enriching, and unexpected encounters with the city, its history, and its inhabitants and incites to reflect upon urban realities and the contemporary human condition in a broader sense. Thirty five international artists were invited to conceive new art works that are strongly rooted in the urban fabric of Ghent but link the local context with issues of global significance.

The two curators Philippe Van Cauteren and Mirjam Varadinis took the time to select exemplary locations in the wider city centre of Ghent and invited artists who have an affinity with the thematical context of those places. The selected artists used the local reality as a fertile source of inspiration and the results of their in-depth explorations are not simply traditional works of art, but artistic projects in all different media that embrace the social, economic, cultural, and political conditions of the city and the times we live in. Their works call for participation, interact with the different communities in various ways, and leave permanent traces.

TRACK is conceived as a universe of parallel narrations, occurences and (hi)stories. It consists of six clusters that offer a historical, cultural, architectural, and mental cross-section of Ghent and the idea of a city today. Each cluster has its own distinct atmosphere and touches upon a specific issue like mobility, religion, migration, economy, language, science, and city changes.

TRACK invites the audience to explore the exhibition in various ways. Visitors do not have to follow a given linear trail but are free to choose their own personal TRACK through the clusters and the city. Each visitor thus creates a different kind of narration, based on his or her background and the way they are approaching the exhibition. This free and multi-layered perception corresponds to our globalised world and the idea of plural realities happening at the same time.

TRACK is welcoming everybody to visit the exhibition and to be inspired by the visionary potential of art.

TRACK was initiated by S.M.A.K. It continues the tradition established by the large-scale exhibition projects Chambres d’Amis (1986) and Over the Edges (2000), which installed contemporary art in the context of the city and entered into direct dialogue with the public.

Participating artists
Adelita Husni-Bey, Ahmet Öğüt, Alexandra Bachzetsis, Alon Levin, Bart Lodewijks, Benjamin Verdonck, Christina Hemauer & Roman Keller, Christoph Büchel, Cyprien Gaillard, Danh Vo, Emilio Lopez-Menchero, Erik van Lieshout, Erwan Mahéo, Javier Téllez, John Bock, Lara Almarcegui, Lawrence Weiner, Leo Copers, Lonnie van Brummelen & Siebren de Haan, Mark Manders, Massimo Bartolini, Mekhitar Garabedian, Michaël Borremans, Michaël Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset, Mike Bouchet, Mircea Cantor, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Pawel Althamer, Peter Buggenhout, Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Pilvi Takala, Simona Denicolai & Ivo Provoost, Superflex, Susanne Kriemann, Sven Augustijnen, Tadashi Kawamata, Tazu Rous, Tercerunquinto, Teresa Margolles, Tobias Putrih, Yorgos Sapountzis

Read the TRACK Manifesto at www.track.be.

Media relations
Ms. Els Wuyts
T +32 92 240 76 47

*Image above:
Ahmet Öğüt, The Castle of Vooruit, 2012. Copyright S.M.A.K.



16 Feb

Metropolis M No. 1 out now


Metropolis M is totally new: more news, more current events and tips, more attention to the pressing questions in the world of art and design, and more reviews in every issue about the most important exhibitions of the preceding months. All of this in a brand-new design by the Rotterdam design studio, 75B.Future Museum: Public or Private?
What does the future hold for public museums in times of budget cuts? The call for support from private collectors rings loud, but they are increasingly choosing to show their collections in private museums they build themselves. Metropolis M looks at three different positions, from the public Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the private and public collaboration of the Deichtorhallen and the Sammlung Falckenberg in Hamburg, and the completely private Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania. The differences are striking.

Seth Siegelaub’s Textiles Collection
This famous promoter of conceptual art is stepping forward with his extensive and eclectic collection of textiles. A conversation in association with his first textiles exhibition at Raven Row in London.

Interview: Patrick Van Caeckenbergh
Belgian artist Patrick Van Caeckenbergh talks about his obsession for collecting, the literary figures who inspire him and his exhibition at Museum M in Leuven.

Mexico is the land of an exceptionally successful generation of young artists who have swarmed out over the globe. Moosje Goosen takes stock by way of a major exhibition in Paris.

Sarah van Sonsbeeck
A portrait of a talented Dutch artist engaged in visualizing silence and making us aware of how we miss it. 

Column: Tirdad Zolghadr
Metropolis M columnist Tirdad Zolghadr looks at historical combinations of adventurousness and barbarism, as a refreshing option for an encounter with our art institutions. 

And further (Dutch only):
Performance artists Matthew Lutz-Kinoy and Snejanka Mihaylova; an interview with Defne Ayas, the new director of Witte de With in Rotterdam; Ann Demeester on elitist language; reviews of the Mercosul Biennial; Morgan Fisher in Mönchengladbach, Okwui Enwezor’s Meeting Points in Brussels, Valéry Proust Museumin Oostende, Morgan Betz in Amsterdam and much more.

Metropolis M @ ARCOmadrid
Metropolis M reports live from the art fair ARCOmadrid, from 15–19 February. Find daily updates onmetropolism.com and special columns by Han Nefkens, Lars Bang Larsen, Darío Corbeira, Fulya Erdemci and the Metropolis M editors. 

Metropolis M Books
We proudly present our first independent book publication, Yew, Wow, Totally, Pointful, an in-depth conversation between artist Melvin Moti and the art critic and researcher, Vivian Sky Rehberg. The publication is available through our online store.

Metropolis M is a bimonthly, bilingual magazine on contemporary art (NL/EN) based in the Netherlands. Metropolis M is available at shops and museums across Europe and can be purchased at our online store

Opening of the Providence Postcard Project

25 Jan

A love letter to, and ongoing exploration of, the city of Providence

Lower Lobby Gallery | Granoff Center for the Creative Arts | 154 Angell Street | Providence, Rhode Island

Opening reception: January 27, 2012 – 5:30pm

1000 postcards – 100 photographs – 22 neighborhoods. “The Postcard Project,” by artist Betsey Biggs, explores the familiar souvenir medium of postcards as a source of reflection by the residents of Providence on what meanings the city holds. Beginning this week, the project will be distributing pre-addressed, postage-paid postcards featuring photographs taken by Biggs during her visits to the neighborhoods of Providence. Local residents and members of the general public are invited to pick up postcards at Providence Community Library locations throughout the city, write to the Postcard Project, and share their own stories about the many places of Providence.

Biggs has designed the project to explore the many layers of both memories and imaginative associations that particular places in Providence hold for its residents. By using a combination of person-to-person engagement and postal circulation, the project spotlights the ideas of exchange and correspondence and their roles in the production of historical narratives. In the artist’s own words, “Cultural heritage is a palimpsest of recollections, associations, and stories; I have a particular interest in canonizing the personal, ephemeral, inconsequential stories that are often left out of heritage practices, and hope to create something beautiful out of these evanescent materials.”

Starting January 27, the images and stories of the returned postcards will be on display in the lower lobby gallery of the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts on Brown University’s campus, 154 Angell Street. Join us for the opening party to meet the artist, pick up a postcard and share your own stories on January 27 from 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm.

This commission has been realized as part of the Urban Cultural Heritage and Creative Practice international research collaborative organized by Ian Alden Russell, Curator, David Winton Bell Gallery in collaboration with Prof. Sue Alcock, the Joukowsky Institute of Archaeology; Prof. Steven Lubar, the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage; Prof. Rebecca Schneider, the Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies.

“Repo History”

5 Dec

REPOhistory existed from 1989-2000

REPOhistory began in Manhattan in 1989 as a study group of artists, scholars, teachers, and writers focused on the relationship of history to contemporary society. It grew into a forum for developing public art projects based on history and a platform for creating them. For the past ten years REPOhistory’s goal has been “To retrieve and relocate absent historical narratives at specific locations in the New York City area through counter-monuments, actions, and events”. The work is informed by a multicultural re-reading of history which focuses on issues of race, gender, class and sexuality. We choose to create public art because we wanted to expand the audience for art by going outside the confines of the museum and gallery structure. By choosing to create work with strong, alternative social commentary we are drawing on a tradition in art that is often ignored; the legacy of the Berlin Dadaists, Russian Constructivists, the New York Photo League and contemporary organizations like Political Art Documentation/Distribution (PAD/D), Group Material and Grand Fury.

Through 6 major public projects and many smaller events, REPOhistory has continued to pursue this goal as an artist/scholar cooperative, along the way adding to its goals “to raise questions about the construction of history, to provide multiple viewpoints that encourage viewers to think critically, to explore how histories and their interpretations affect us today, and to engage with specific communities in order to facilitate their efforts to construct their own public histories”.

We believe that the arts are important to all aspects of society. The relationship between art, culture and society is often confused, vague and ambiguous. In the USA it has sparked the “Cultural Wars” of the 1980s and the early 1990s. Even today there are many members of the US Congress and Senate who want to abolish the National Endowment for the Art and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The arts will always be controversial. Societies change and the arts can be a powerful way of expressing these changes. However, the arts are essential for helping individuals find their place within society and for shaping a collective cultural identity.

Current Members Neill Bogan, Jim Costanzo, Tom Klem, Janet Koenig, Lisa Maya Knauer, Cynthia Liesenfeld, Chris Neville, Jayne Pagnucco, Leela Ramotar, Greg Sholette & George Spencer

Lapsed Members Ayishe Abraham, Todd Ayoung, Stephanie Basch, Betty-Sue Hertz, Carin Kuoni, Kara Lynch, Alan Michelson, Mark O’Brien, Lise Prown, Megan Pugh, Tess Timoney, Sarah Vogwill, Dan Wiley & Jody Wright

Steering Committee Neill Bogan, Jim Costanzo, Tom Klem, Lisa Maya Knauer & Cynthia Liesenfeld

REPOweb Jim Costanzo, creative director, Cynthia Liesenfeld, WebMistress
web developers: Sharon Denning, Russet Lederman, David Sansone with additional help from John Manick

With much sorrow we mourn the passing of our friend and colleague Ed Eisenberg.

Check out their work here: http://www.repohistory.org/work.html

“The Howling Mob Society”

5 Dec

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A Howling Mob Approach to History

The Howling Mob Society (HMS) is a collaboration of artists, activists and historians committed to unearthing stories neglected by mainstream history. HMS brings increased visibility to the radical history of Pittsburgh, PA through grassroots artistic practice. Our current focus is The Great Railroad Strike of 1877, a national uprising that saw some of its most dramatic moments in Pittsburgh.

Looking out over the burning Strip District from the safety of his office in Pittsburgh’s Union Station, Thomas Alexander Scott must have been humbled. Only days before, as president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Scott famously suggested that impoverished and striking railroad workers be given “a rifle diet for a few days and see how they like that kind of bread.” Now, with the local Pittsburgh militia all but mutinied and the State Militia rapidly retreating, he must have wondered if his hard-line stance had backfired…

We’re imagining here what the events of July 21st and 22nd, 1877 must have looked like to one of that era’s most prominent robber barons. This approach follows a tradition of reporting history from the point of view of a powerful, moneyed elite. It is the last you’ll see of that perspective here. While the mainstream media—both past and present—frame events in terms of their effect on national economic interests, the Howling Mob investigates history through the experiences of common, working people.

“The I-75 Project” by Norm Magnusson

5 Dec

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I just happened upon a rather intriguing public art intervention project by artist Norm Magnusson. The “I-75 Project” found Magnusson installing industry grade public historical markers along Interstate 75. While the form and aesthetic of the markers are consistent with traditional, institutional, “authorized” markers, the texts Magnusson has written for the markers exploit this familiarity with historical authorization to give voice to critical perspectives on culture in the United States. The moments recorded are neither “important”, “singular” or “historical”. Rather they are an acknowledge of the monumental that arises out of an accumulation of moments of everyday, overlooked and omitted cultural experience.

Read more about the project here: http://www.aldrichart.org/exhibitions/past/magnusson.php

Magnusson’s project is most reminiscent of the approaches of Repo History to a collaborative and meaningful engagement between history and contemporary art. Read more about Repo History here: https://urbanheritages.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/repo-history/

It is also reminiscent of the work of Shaun Slifer and his Howling Mob Society project in Pittsburgh. Read a post about his project here: https://urbanheritages.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/the-howling-mob-society/