Critics’ Picks

View of “The Science of Imaginary Solutions,” 2016.

London

“The Science of Imaginary Solutions”

Breese | Little
249 - 253 Cambridge Heath Road London
June 10–September 17

The institution of the museum has relied on object-led narratives since its establishment, employing a show-and-tell apparatus in order to bolster citizenship and project ideology. “The Science of Imaginary Solutions,” a wide-ranging group exhibition, queries the foundation of this knowledge. By monopolizing on the line that rests between factual and fictional narratives, this presentation disrupts the notion of the past as static, homogeneous, and reliable, as it offers up a series of objects that form an incomplete history from today to the eighth millennium BCE. Fittingly, the title is derived from the absurdist playwright Alfred Jarry’s nonsensical philosophy of “imaginary solutions.”

Historical artifacts (a Neolithic stone basin and pestle; brooches from the first to sixth centuries AD) and works from sixteen modern and contemporary artists are given equal weight. Stephen Thompson’s Antiquities of Britain, 1872, and Albert Renger-Patzsch’s prints from 1925 to 1939 chart the shift in perceiving photography as not just pure documentary but also an art form. Pieces by Barry Flanagan, Lucio Fontana, and Yayoi Kusama represent the expansive diversity of artistic positions in the postwar period. Marcel Broodthaers’s Les Animaux de la ferme (The Farm Animals), 1974, stands out due to his engagement with institutional critique and interest in parodying the museum. The politics of craft and design informs Ian Hamilton Finlay’s and Katie Schwab’s respective uses of slate and ceramics. Other contemporary artists, such as Ruth Ewan and Andy Holden, take social history as their subject, presenting a shifting analysis of how art objects operate in our understanding of material culture. By subverting the archival impulse and creating an element of museological fantasy, this unusual and interesting show also tests the limits of what an exhibition should look and feel like in the twenty-first century.