With The Imaginary Museum, the Munich Kunstverein
brings together an emerging group of visual artists and a site-specific installation of Antique plaster casts from Munichs Museum für Abgüsse Klassischer Bildwerke (Museum of Casts of Classical Sculpture).
The exhibition features ambitious installation works by Mark Leckey (UK, * 1964, Turner prize winner, 2008), Oliver Laric (AT, *1981), and James Richards (UK, *1983), as well as video works and photo series by Eric Bell & Kristoffer Frick (CA, *1985; DE, *1985), Sean Snyder (USA, *1972), Becky Beasley (UK, *1975), Simon Martin (UK, *1965), and Ed Atkins (UK, *1982), and a performance by Jimmy Robert (GP, *1975) on September 9th, for the finissage of the show.
Accompanying the exhibition is a lively program organized in cooperation with the Munich Werkstattkino (Fraunhoferstr. 9, Munich) which features film programs curated by Simon Marin and Ed Atkins (screening on 14 July, 6 pm) as well as by James Richards (screening on 21 July, 6pm).
The display of statues reconstructs an installation photograph taken in 1932 in one of the current Kunstverein spaces then used by the plaster cast collection to display copies of Archaic Greek statues.
Probably unintentionally, the photographer joined two forms of reproduction casting and photography that were difficult to combine in the context of the Modernist program of the 20th century. The anachronistic reputation of these collections, together with the worthlessness of their material, has marginalised the plaster copy from critical thinking. Upon closer inspection, however, this installation photograph provides us with an opportunity to challenge Walter Benjamins statement that grants photography a monopoly in the age of mechanical reproduction: The photograph depicts the plaster cast collection as a pre-Modernist example of bypassing a direct relation between object and authorship. As such, the installation-shot reproduces copies of Greek statues that still manage to maintain their aura of originality, also because they are collected, institutionalised and displayed. The Imaginary Museum explores this layering of representation by reproducing the installation shot as a site-specific display: this time with more recent copies, as the original collection of plaster casts has been destroyed during and after World War II.
The questions that arise through such a continuous appropriation of aura engage a young generation of visual artists as well especially when they embrace institutional patterns of collecting, display, and research in order to incorporate eclectic source materials into their aesthetic production. Yet, the historical status of plaster cast collections remains contradictory, argues art historian Sven Lüticken, and therefore interesting. In his text The Imaginary Museum of Plaster Casts, published specially to accompany the exhibition, Lütticken re-evaluates the critical influence of plaster cast collections on the activities of contemporary artists vis-à-vis the referencing and reproduction of visual sources. To illustrate his argument, Lütticken discusses André Malraux´s book Le Musée imaginaire (translated into English as The Museum Without Walls). In the early 1930s, this French politician and writer predicted that the real museum of originals would be increasingly supplanted by the imaginary museum of photography.
Considering museum collections today, this tendency is no longer limited to a single medium, but has instead extended to sculpture, but also to the Internet and publishing. Today, there is nothing remarkable about collecting works of art that were produced as editions. And after seeing the installation views on the Internet, one can already claim to have seen the exhibition.
The contemporary works of art selected for the exhibition The Imaginary Museum expand upon this line of thinking. The selected works draw on those of other authors in the media of film, the Internet, literature, and design (Becky Beasly, James Richards, Simon Martin, Eric Bell & Kristoffer Frick). Others expose the institutional and political systems that control originality and value, i.e. those of collecting and display (Mark Lecky, Sean Snyder, Ed Atkins), or redistribute the political symbols of national identity (Oliver Laric). The direct relationships between these works and the plaster casts, however, can only really be examined when both pre- and post-Modernist attitudes towards representation physically converge. The Imaginary Museum, then, should be seen as an initial attempt to examine the relevance of plaster cast collections in a contemporary context.