Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which books will burn. Tate Liverpool asks us to think about this in relation to ‘An Imagined Museum’. If all of the works in the exhibition were to disappear, how would we remember them, would we even be able to remember them. Tate selects important works from its own archive, the Pompidou and MMK collections and tells us that these are works to know by heart.
To a certain extent we do this with all art, when we go to an exhibition some of the art will connect with us and we will remember it for a long time, other work however, we may only notice on subsequent visits whilst some work we may make no effort to remember. The purpose of the exhibition is to really become familiar with the work, going beyond a passing glance and becoming at one with the work.
It is important to say that this is not necessarily the best art in the world as that would struggle to be possible and definitely would not be at Tate Liverpool. Instead it is an artistic experiment of knowing the work in the exhibition off by heart with the idea that in February the work will disappear and can only be remembered by people who have seen the artwork in the form of performance such as dance and speeches. Hence creating ‘an imagined museum’.
One of the most important things to consider in this experiment is subjectivity. In a gallery although individual feelings are subjective, the works themselves are objective as they are physically the same for every viewer. This experiment places the individual feelings (subjectivity) at the forefront. This then creates a reliance on other people’s experience of the work.
Can art exist without art itself? In a sense it does already, for example looking at a photograph of a piece of art on the internet or reading a book about a particular work. We are still experiencing it, but not as the artist intended. it could also be said that the aura of the art is lost, as this can only be experienced through the original piece.
The exhibition brings together many popular artists such as Andy Warhol, Barbara Kruger and Martin Parr, and places them next to not quite as well known artists but interesting works. The first artwork on display is a large screen print that looks suspiciously like Warhol’s Flowers but is actually by contemporary artist Sturtevant. This piece summaries the whole ethos of the exhibition, it is Warhol’s Flowers reimagined without the original work. Somebody who is familiar with Warhol’s work may notice that the obvious clue that the work is not by Warhol himself is the use of colours. For example, the use of a salmon-y shade of orange on one of the flowers. This is far too pale for Warhol’s palette as he preferred to use more vibrant colours in his work. Ironically this painting is opposite a real Warhol Brillo box and next to a row of Campbell’s Beef Noodle soup cans.
The second room is just as interesting, in particular bringing together two fantastic works by Duchamp, created using his alter-ego name of Rose Sélavy. Fresh Window (1964) a pun of French window is a blacked out glass window frame, working along the same lines as his ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’ work, he alludes to themes of death and sexuality. The second work, ‘Why Not Sneeze?’ (1964) features a small bird cage filled with sugar cube sized pieces of marble, with the title of the piece reflected from the base of the cage using a mirror. Once again this alludes to sexuality, with Duchamp’s association of sneezing.
On the ground floor is the ‘Matisse In Focus’ exhibition which is also tied into to the work to know by heart theme. It features the iconic ‘Snail’ from the Tate Modern. Matisse started using cut-outs when his health began to deteriorate and he could no longer paint, it is now considered to be his most popular work. The exhibition also shows Matisse’s earlier paintings, of particular interest is the painted nude that is very similar to the style of the blue nude cut-outs that Matisse would create later in his career.
‘An Imagined Museum’ is a fascinating exhibition that challenges conventions and tries to push the boundaries of art beyond the gallery. It runs from 20 November 2015 – 14 February 2016 at Tate Liverpool.
Image: ‘The Snail’ (1953) by Henri Matisse/Tate