Strolling around New York’s upper east side on one cold autumn day, I found myself accidentally visiting a really interesting exhibition in Jewish Museum (5th ave and 92nd st). The title of the exhibition is Take Me (I’m Yours), it was opened on September 16, 2016, and will be available for public until February 7, 2017. This show is co-curated by Kelly Taxter (Associate Curator, Jewish Museum), Jens Hoffman (Director of Special Exhibitions and Public Programs, Jewish Museum) and Hans Ulrich Obrist (Artistic Director, Serpentine Gallery London). Unlike any other museum exhibition that holds to things, this unique exhibition is giving away for free more than 400,000 art pieces from 42 contemporary artists for all the visitors.
When I first visited the exhibition, I was not fully aware that the visitors are encouraged to take objects from this exhibition. As an exhibition regular visitor, I am used to the idea that visitors are prohibited to touch the artwork and have to stand on the right distance from an object to avoid damage of the object. In the conventional museum I also used to the idea of an artwork that is ‘guarded’ by a line or covered in a sealed glass box, that there is an intentional distance that has to be maintained between the artwork and the visitors.
I was entering the first room of the exhibition and realize that the other visitors was holding a plastic bags with the title of the exhibition printed on it, and actually putting things inside the bag. After that, I came back to the entrance of the exhibition and found there is a big orange panel on the right side of the entrance that I skipped when I first entered. This wall panel contains new plastic bags hanged for the visitors to take (similar as the one anyone can find in a supermarket), an exhibition introduction where all the artists concepts are available, and a dispenser of gallery guide that reminded me with a paper towel dispenser in toilets (at the time I visit the dispenser is empty and not refilled yet).
Plastic bag and gallery guide panel
As I entered the first room, I encountered a work by Hans-Peter Feldman, a big wall full of small vintage black and white photographs of women in a different style that can be chosen by the visitors (The Prettiest Women, 2016). From this work, I personally took five photos. I can see that other visitors also look closely at those photos and carefully pick them up from the wall and throw them in their shopping bag. In the same room, there are posters by Jonathan Horowitz that he made in reaction to the dynamics of election in the U.S. (Hillary 16, 2016). He put all the photos of all U.S. president with Hillary Clinton’s photo printed after Barrack Obama’s photo, ‘HILLARY 16’ is printed beside the photo. Horowitz offer an imaginary unprecedented event where the U.S. have their first female president (Horowitz made this work before knowing the result of the election), even though when finally this event will have to remain imaginary for now, visitors still enthusiastically took these posters home.
The second room was really popular, especially among children, because there are hundreds of candies specially wrapped with blue, red and white cellophane arranged on the floor. This work is the remake version of a famous work by Felix Gonzales-Torres called “UNTITLED” (USA Today) in 1990. Yoko Ono’s installation “Air Dispensers” is also a remake of its original from 1971, where she installed a 25cents capsule dispenser with capsules containing nothing than air in it.
Felix Gonzales-Torres, “UNTITLED” (USA TODAY), 1990
In the third room, visitors will find a pile of second-hand clothes in the middle of the room, an installation by Christian Boltanski. The artist even put custom-made brown paper bags for the visitors to take these clothes as his act to grant each item the opportunity to come back to life. In the last room, I find an empty stainless-steel boxes because there is nothing left from Rirkrit Tiravanija’s piece, a t-shirt printed with an aphorism that he often use in his work “Freedom Can Not Be Simulated”. Another works that I did not get a chance to see is the work of Daniel Joseph Martinez, an emergency blanket kit that he urges the visitors to give to refugees in need, and the work of Andrea Bowers, colorful ribbons containing political messages. Other items that are still available like magnet rings by Koo Jeong A, plaster cast from coffee takeout lids by Uri Aran, a temporary tattoo and a stencil paper by Lawrence Weiner are among other things that I put in my ‘shopping’ bag.
The original idea of this exhibition was actually coming from the exhibition with the same title in 1995 that took place in Serpentine Gallery, London. Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and artist Christian Boltanski, that exhibition included twelve artists (several of them are also participating in this New York version), that explored concepts of value and participation in the arts in an exhibition. Recreated 20 years later in Jewish Museum, New York, Taxter and Hoffman are using this concept to tell the idea of ‘community’ and ‘sharing’ from the perspective of a Jewish cultural institution.
In order to make this free ‘sharing’ process possible, the Jewish Museum raised a fundraising project from a month before the opening by using kickstarter.com as a portal that enables anybody to take part to donate. Various kind of ‘package’ offered in this Kickstarter fundraising, from the cheapest $10 keychain to the most expensive package of a private tour with the exhibition’s curator in the price of $5000. According to the statement in the Take Me (I’m Yours)’s Kickstarter website, themes of community, giving, and sharing are especially suited to the democratic ideas of this exhibition. Through this campaign the Jewish Museum ask anyone to support their mission; to make art available to anyone who comes to the exhibition.
It can be seen that the museum uses the commodification of the contemporary art world to be able to share artworks to the people who normally could not afford it. One of their fundraising package is ‘selling’ the name of the famous curator Hans Ulrich Obrist by offering people to join his Brutally Early Club, a series of early morning, salon-style breakfast meetings virtually via Google Hangout, through packages like ‘Brutally Early (I’m Yours)’ for $500 and ‘Brutally Early (I’m Yours Again)’ for $750. (they finally gather more than $30,000 from the Kickstarter fundraiser). Looking at this fact, it is strange that I still can found artwork that is out-of-stock and not replenish like the promise made in this fundraising.
At the end of my visit to this exhibition, I have a full bag of objects I choose from this exhibition. I started to think how I can redisplay these things in my own room, how this work can re-exist in my own private space. I wonder if I keep this thing for years, would they still have the ‘aura’ or will they be sitting still at some corner in my room with dust on them, or will they have a higher value in the art world in the future. The works from this exhibition now re-exist in the houses of visitors who take them, as they now have their new home, the meaning also changed depends on how these objects then displayed in other places. What once seen as art in the museum can be seen as merely a second-hand shirt, candies or politically provocative poster in other places.
Outside the museum, Horowitz poster could be seen as an act of disappointment of the Democrat lost in the 2016 election rather than a piece of art. Boltanski’s secondhand clothes could be sitting inside someone’s wardrobe waiting to be worn rather than part of a conceptual installation. Weiner’s stencil papers probably will be used in some random subway station downtown and could be seen as a random sentence by anyone who passes them. Alex Israel’s self-portrait pin maybe will be used to replace a missing button or will stay inside a drawer inside someone’s room forever, stripped from their original concept. They exist as a work of art inside the museum’s authority, but they will bear new meaning and uncontrollable interpretation outside of the museum, this is what makes this exhibition really interesting. Moreover, this exhibition makes the visitors becoming the part of the work, act as a curator for themselves, as they choose which artwork will become part of their own personal ‘museum’.
Jonathan Horowitz, “Hillary 16, 2016
The work of Christian Boltanski, Dispersion 1993-2016, in the middle of the room
My ‘shopping bag’ at the end of the visit