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“The Artist’s Museum”

ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
100 Northern Avenue
November 16, 2016–March 26, 2017

View of “The Artist’s Museum,” 2016.

For the information-rich group exhibition “The Artist’s Museum,” various artists have arranged the work of others, mostly using video and still photography in order to capture and reorient their frequently modernist objects of interest. Carol Bove’s collection of brass, wood, and stone items paired with photographs recall René Magritte’s painting La traversée difficile (The Difficult Crossing), 1926, while Pierre Leguillon’s La grande evasion (The Great Escape), 2012, originally made for the Musée de la danse in Rennes, consists of mounted photographs sourced online. Many artists display their collections as overlapping three-dimensional arrangements that cover tables and floors, suggesting everything from the curator’s exhibition maquette to an Amazon wish list.

Anna Craycroft’s piece The Earth Is a Magnet, 2016, comprises two rooms of Berenice Abbott’s scientific photographs from 1920 to 1968 (a subject of local interest, since some of the pictures here were part of MIT’s Physical Science Study Committee in the 1950s) intermingling with the work of current artists such as Katherine Hubbard and A. L. Steiner. Christian Marclay’s video-in-the-round, Shake Rattle and Roll (Fluxmix), 2004, orchestrates, quite literally, historical Fluxus objects that resound musically in response to the artist’s handling.

The ability to hear (rather than see) Marclay’s piece all at once makes it exceptional in a show that otherwise demands much of the viewer’s capacity to draw latent connections among the works on display. But this is not another birth of the reader. No longer the cobbled-together images of postmodernist appropriation, these pieces perform a near-didactic role for the viewer and suggest the possibility that, if read correctly and historically, they might yield something not at all arbitrary, something nested within a set of actual conditions that produce a newly complex set of subjective categories.

Melissa Ragain