Critics’ Picks

The Empty Museum. Installation view.

The Empty Museum. Installation view.

New York

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov

44-19 Purves Street
January 11–April 11, 2004

Rather than sidestep the white-cube debate in their latest installation—a melon-colored “museum” gallery at SculptureCenter—Ilya and Emilia Kabakov engage it, pointing to the significance of the viewer's role within this contested space. The Empty Museum comprises a rectangular room, its walls ringed in green and gold molding. Four high-backed black velveteen benches occupy the center of the space, and track lighting illuminates spots on the empty walls where art is conspicuously missing. Bach’s famous 1717 organ piece Passacaglia fills the windowless chamber, endowing it with a funereal earnestness and recalling the fact that churches, not galleries, were once the primary venues for Western art (both musical and visual). Yet the music’s dissonant presence in this contemporary setting makes the new space strange. Released from the restraints of a purely visual agenda, we are left to consider our location; the room is empty but not unoccupied. The question, then, becomes: How are we to understand the social meanings of such a place, and of those things that normally appear in it? The answer, the artists intimate, is for each of us to decide.