Take Me (Im Yours)
JEWISH MUSEUM | SEPTEMBER 16, 2016 – FEBRUARY 5, 2017
Take Me (I’m Yours) presents the work of over forty artists, all of whom challenge the time-honored relationship of distance and deference established between art-object and viewer.
Pedestals, roped-off areas, museum guards, and “Do Not Touch” signs have traditionally conditioned museum-goers to maintain a respectful and purely observational role in the practice of art-viewing. This show, jointly curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Jens Hoffmann, and Kelly Taxter, upends these often strictly enforced guidelines by encouraging viewers to touch, engage, and take away all works in the show. Effectively transforming passive viewer into active participant, this innovative environment calls into question the museum context as sacred space, the art-object as individually handcrafted relic, and the art market as vehicle for distribution.
When breaking down metaphorical walls between viewer and art object, the museum context loses some of its former mystique and prestige as the caretaker of precious objects, yet still retains its vital Duchampian ability to denote any object as art object. Since artworks no longer require evidence of the artist’s hand for their categorization as such, they can be produced off-site and in large quantities.
Authenticity is verified by the artist’s sanction, which, in Take Me (I’m Yours), took the form of collaboration and official loan agreements: detailing the parameters of the works, their presentation, documentation, and life after exhibition. The production and execution of these works varied greatly: from an intern who glued shredded money to 100 postcards designed by Daniel Spoerri, to a curatorial assistant who ordered 10,000 gold Mylar emergency blankets from China with a specialized label for Daniel Joseph Martinez, to a hired performer who passed out pieces of paper saying “Be Quiet” to all approaching visitors for James Lee Byars. While nearly all the works were physically produced off-site by a third party manufacturer, they were conceived of in the mind and presence of the artist.
Available for free, this novel form of art object no longer relies on the art market for distribution, thus forfeiting its value as a highly commodifiable object. However, the democratization of usually unattainable items serves to propagate the artists’ ideas while creating a jovial, playful, child-in-a-toyshop environment wherein adults ranging from art-world aficionados to your average passerby scavenge the museum for original works by a compendium of canonical artists.
From the red, white, and blue candies of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, whose work served as inspiration for this exhibit, to the color-blocked pins of Alex Israel’s silhouette, which suggest an interest in Hollywood iconography, to Andrea Bowers’s brightly colored ribbons sporting radical leftist messages, the works on view reflect a wide range of styles and ideologies, while adhering to the distributable form necessitated by exhibition parameters. Thus, the artists’ and curators’ visions enter into a sort of codependent creative union.
The work also extends beyond the physical confines of the gallery or museum space, pervading areas of life unaccustomed to artistic intervention. Stepping off the elevator, viewers encounter fortune cookies created by Rachel Rose and Ian Cheng. These profess either truisms—“You’ll never know what it feels like to be your mom”—or humorous, though fabricated, quotes from icons like Michelle Obama, “Videogames are good for kids, actually,” and Albert Einstein, “It’s always better with a coefficient of fabulous.” Such cookies are available to take, cherish, or snack on when continuing through the exhibit.
The internet artist aaajiao, one of the few artists in Take Me (I’m Yours) to utilize intangible materials as a means of communication and dissemination, places the physical iteration of his piece within the gallery space, while its network reaches into the personal lives and computers of the viewers. When prompted to interact with a QR code, viewers subsequently receive a message from the artist’s automated system, aptly named Email Trek—a Star-Trek-like voyage into the unexplored corners of cyberspace. Similarly, Kelly Akashi placed her sound piece, Cavelike, on the Jewish Museum website for online users to stumble upon when perusing the site, transforming their homes, offices, bedrooms, morning walks, or the like with sounds of the Southwest.
The collective General Sisters took a more utilitarian and politicized approach by placing toilet paper in the museum’s bathrooms reading “I am not illegal,” a comment on the global refugee crisis, appropriately titled No One is Disposable. Irony strikes when the toilet paper is flushed into obscurity.
Lastly, two artworks were placed in the museum bookstore: one, a red leather bookmark declaring “THEY SAY I’M HARD TO READ,” by Amalia Ulman to be given away with every purchase, and the other by Maria Eichhorn, consisting of the bibliography each curator compiled when conducting research for the exhibit. In this way, unorthodox locations furthered the viewers’ engagement with Take Me (I’m Yours), broadening its scope and reaching non-art sites, non-art functions, and non-art disciplines.
“The best definition of art,” wrote Obrist in Ways of Curating (Penguin, 2014) is “that which expands the definition”—a perspective aptly embodied by Take Me (I’m Yours). As the museum context is opened up to reveal ever-evolving means of presentation, engagement, and distribution, the title of “art” coalesces around a concept previously antithetical to its definition.
ContributorHannah Sage Kay
Hannah Sage Kay is a contributor to the Brooklyn Rail.