New York

Dennis Adams, Malraux’s Shoes, 2012, HD video, black-and-white, sound, 42 minutes.

Dennis Adams, Malraux’s Shoes, 2012, HD video, black-and-white, sound, 42 minutes.

Dennis Adams

Kent Fine Art

Dennis Adams, Malraux’s Shoes, 2012, HD video, black-and-white, sound, 42 minutes.

For his forty-two-minute-long video Malraux’s Shoes, 2012, artist Dennis Adams disguises himself as André Malraux, a novelist, art historian, and politician who is known in part for his concept of the “museum without walls.” Malraux famously realized this museum in The Imaginary Museum of World Sculpture (1952–54), a three-volume cornucopia of reproductions of works of art from all cultures, a virtuoso demonstration of heterogeneity in art—deliriously varied and infinitely extendable. The museum-as-archive brings to mind T. S. Eliot’s line in The Waste Land (1922): “These fragments I have shored against my ruins”—for archives, after all, are a kind of ruin. They remind us that all we have left when time has done its dirty work are a few memories, and flawed ones at that, because reproductions are hardly adequate to the real thing.

Adams’s video, itself a reproduction, is based on the iconic photograph of Malraux that appears in The Imaginary Museum of World Sculpture, in which the Frenchman stands over an array of photographic plates like a god or caesar deciding their fate—whether they should survive, if only in the meager form of a photograph or in the amphitheater of the book, or disappear into oblivion. Like the photo, the video portrays the room from above—it shows no walls, focusing on the grid of images on the floor—but Adams-as-Malraux approaches the photographs arrayed around him with a very different attitude: He practically profanes them. At one point, he looks at the photo of a female figure, probably an ancient Indian goddess, naked from the waist up, and begins caressing her breasts, continuing to do so for a while before he turns to the male Buddha to his left, which he gives barely a casual glance. At another point, Adams drops cigarette ash on the ground; at another, he smashes a glass. All the while he rants hysterically about subjects ranging from art and politics to history.

In the press release, Adams celebrates Malraux’s text as both “a prescient manifesto of the digital age that enacts the displacement of the physical art object and the museum by photographic reproduction” and the “first instance of explicitly locating the creative act in the process of assembling, grouping, and displaying works of art.” The grab bag of “Tagging the Archive,” photographs from 2011–12 that accompanied the video here, exemplifies curation as art: We find images of retro book covers—such as Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book (1971) and Franz Erhard Walther’s Objekte, benutzen (1968)—and depictions of screen-printed political posters being produced and displayed, each work accompanied with bit of cryptic verbiage. Could these pictures serve as entries to an ever-changing, ever-evolving museum without walls? It is far from certain that Malraux would have seen book covers or posters as deserving of a place in his imaginary museum, which he reserved for art he deemed “eternal” or an “expression of highest values.” America, Malraux wrote, is “the first civilization capable of conquering the entire planet, but not of inventing its own temples.” Adams, speaking to our image-saturated age, argues that we don’t need them.

Donald Kuspit