Fariba Hajamadi

Galerie Laage-Salomon

For about ten years now, Fariba Hajamadi has been assembling an “archive” on museums and historical monuments located in places to which she has recently traveled. Hajamadi is primarily interested in the ways in which the West has represented other cultures and histories, and in particular how artworks have been catalogued and exhibited both in their countries of origin and in foreign institutions. The artist notes: “1 found myself taking on the role of the observer or tourist, photographing the sites of historical monuments as well as museums in these various countries. What interested me was how these institutions, much like photographs, function as representations of history and how their context is subject to different readings; in effect, how they create an artificial memory.”

The work in Hajamadi’s latest exhibition was particularly successful as a critique of the museum as institution. Hajamadi chose to focus on the vitrine, the ultimate symbol of the museological approach to art presentation. In the process of protecting the objects they contain from climatic shifts, fingerprints, and vandalism, display cases confer an aura on the items they contain, and, when placed in a museum lend these objects the status of a work of art.

For five of the works in this show, Hajamadi photographed vitrines at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs at the Louvre in Paris, some of which contained statuettes still in their packaging, while others simply held an empty cardboard box with a small card bearing the following note: “For security reasons [a veiled allusion to repairs at the Grand Louvre] the works in certain display cases have been temporarily stored.” Hajamadi was interested in pinpointing the stages prior to actual display—those periods when museums are under reconstruction, when work is being hung or installed, when pieces are being prepared for shipping or have just returned from other locations. Her evocation of these latent moments calls attention to the constantly shifting nature of the museum, to what occurs within its hidden spaces. By suggesting fissures in an otherwise seamless approach, Hajamadi’s photographs invite personal interpretations, even fictions. She subtly guided the viewer’s response by replacing the statues in the original documentary images with new works: in Rapt, 1995, she replaced the original piece of bric-a-brac with Rodin’s Kiss; in Hathi 1 and Hathi 2 (both 1995), she replaced the original work with two Indian elephants. By enveloping each sculpture in paper and bubble-wrap while leaving a portion of it visible, Hajamadi lent an erotic dimension to each work.

Another series of photographs, “Under Cover,” (1995), depicts the interior of a painting gallery under repair. The paintings have not been taken down, but are protected by sheets of newspaper, except for one corner of each where a fragment of an alternate history is allowed to emerge. The headlines of the newspapers, juxtaposed as they are with the uncovered portions of the paintings, suggest that meaning has been suspended, interrupted, or even canceled. In an ironic twist on the notion that names and descriptions are all one needs to understand a work of art, the small labels accompany- ing the paintings, with their descriptive, almost scientific inscriptions, were barely legible in the foreground of each photograph. Hajamadi’s work portrays the museum as a generic place: one couldn’t help thinking that perhaps she refrained from indicating the names of the institutions she photographed simply because, in the end, it hardly matters.

Jérôme Sans

Translated from the French by Jeanine Herman.