|Winter 2004 I received an invitation from Angel Kalenberg
(director of the Museum of Modern Art in Montevideo, Uruguay) to participate
in a debate and series of talks on ‘new technologies and new
art forms’ during the yearly ARCO conference in Madrid. Kalenberg
had specified my subject with the following long line: “From
the Unimaginable Museum to the Virtual Museum Stopping Over at the
Imaginary Museum”. I was quite familiar with the notion 'imaginary
museum' as it has been coined by Andre Malraux in the forties of the
last century, but I had to inquire with Angel Kalenberg what he meant
by ‘the unimaginable museum’. He told me that he took
the word ‘unimaginable’ from the book of the French art
historian George Duthuit “Le musee inimaginable” published
in 1956, in which the ‘imaginary museum’ idea of Andre
Malraux is criticized. I managed to find a copy of Duthuit’s
book and read and viewed again some of Malraux’s original works
together with some critical essays and biographies and started to
compare the 'imaginary museum' concept of half a century ago (often
wrongly translated in English as 'museum without walls') with the
'virtual museum' idea of our times.
Modern travel and photography form the technical basis of some of
the book projects of Andre Malraux in which he presents his readers
with a wide overview of art objects from all over the world putting
together what had been kept separate, making comparable - by the process
of photography - what otherwise stands out as distinct in size, material
and color. The dematerialization of an art object through photography
gives it at the same time a new ‘material’ form: the single
photographic print and slide. These serve not only the reproduction
in a book and projection for a lecture, where a fixed order of images
and text is established, but also support a process of perusing and
constant rearrangements. A flexibility that –eventually –
did lead to the breaking of the canon of art history specialists.
What was at first only known from hear say, textual description and
drawing, what needed a long period of costly travels to be seen and
experienced, became over the last three centuries more and more available
through an ever improving and expanding industry of graphic reproductions
and material replicas.
Still the hunger for originals, the feverish quest for unique treasures,
the glory and financial gain to bring them “home”, remained,
be it that the booty of war and conquest would soon pass from the
hands of soldiers and raiders to those of scientists and museum curators.
What often started in contempt of another culture might end in an
almost religious esthetical admiration. Some of such original objects
might be well preserved in material sense, but their immaterial quality
- as a device in a believe system and religious ceremony – did
Dematerialization and desecration of artworks through
reproduction and replication does not only take away from the original
artwork, but also generates opportunities for new context and meaning.
It allows us to make museums in our minds on the basis of what we
choose to retain from the landscapes of images we cross in our lives,
combining the experience of the ‘real museum’ with the
flood of images of print and electronic media; “a metamorphosis
that daily, and inexorably, changes the present into the past”.
The ideas of Malraux (1901-1976) for an imaginary museum –
as they developed from the thirties onwards - are certainly not
unique in its time, there were several people working in a similar
way in the arts, or expressing the same ideas in adjacent fields
of knowledge, like: Abby Warburg (1866-1929) with his associative
iconographic atlases; Paul Otlet (1868-1944) with his project for
a world conscience facilitated by international documentation systems
and educational institutions like the Mundaneum; Alfred Salmony
(1890-1958) who first put Malraux on track by showing him possible
comparisons between Asiatic and European art on the basis of photographs;
Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) with his idea of reactivating photographic
reproductions of art – that had lost the aura of the original
- by creating new contexts.
The following series of visual scrolls, are the basis for a lecture
which does not have yet a fixed text. The scrolls function as visual
notes that trigger my narrative which may differ according to circumstances.
Over time such narrated scrolls get less spontaneous and may result
in a fixed text.
The concept was for a series of 7 scrolls. Four have been realized,
three more are in the pipe-line.
museums in our minds – concepts and realities
1 the imaginary museum idea
2 the museum of lootings and the looting of museums
3 grand tour and detour - in fact or effect
4 ordering the museum to make sense of the world
5 duplicating or the copy that is better than the original
6 recaptionizing the museum - revanchism or relativism
7 the museumification of almost everything
Tjebbe van Tijen 25/2/2005
* Andre Malraux/Museum without walls 1965/1967