Art All art is about memory. Actually let me clarify this grandiose statement, because everything in life is about memory. Walking down the street is “about memory” since we’re creating a memory of walking down the street for ourself and others, especially if we trip over a flagstone or absentmindedly walk into a bollard. It’s clearer to say that all art is about the representation of memory. All of it. From Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings which records the process of the period in which he made the painting to the representations of horses in the Chauvet caves of Southern France in which the painter attempts to capture their memory of the movement of the beasts to Michael Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree in which we’re confronted with a beaker of water sat on top of a glass shelf which represents our memory of what an oak tree looks like.
This notion is at the heart of Tate Liverpool’s new exhibition, An Imagined Museum: works from the Centre Pompidou, Tate and MMK collections which pulls together sixty works dating from 1945 onwards as a kind of “imaginary museum” within a supposed scenario, inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, that the works are on the edge of vanishing, disappearing from humanity’s cultural assets so that they’ll then only exist the memories of those lucky enough to see them. The show culminates in a two day performance event on 20-21st February when the objects will actually be removed from the space to be replaced by volunteers who’ll then be called upon to represent the works, and describe their memories of them to visitors.
When a friend first described the idea of the exhibition to me, it’s fair to say my reaction was emotional. There may have been tears. I remembered the scene from the film version of Bradbury’s book in which members of the commune are shown speaking the words of the texts they’ve been tasked with memorising, a library of human beings walking in and out of each, their own brains vulnerable recording devices containing the single surviving copy of these great works of literature. I thought about what it would be like to see a live version of that within a gallery space and how tenuous and fragile the task will be when it’s about a person’s perceptions of an object and the impossible responsibility of having to do it justice.
In the event, if the exhibition doesn’t quite live up to the version that existed in my head, which I imagined, it’s because the works selected are not necessarily from artists for which I’m a huge fan. We’ve discussed Warhol at length before, and although there’s plenty of conceptual art which I find appealing (and Felix Gonzales-Torres returns to Tate here with a similar idea to his clocks but with bulbs this time) I find myself mired in practicality when confronted with plenty of the work here, notably Marcel Duchamp or something like Edward Krasinski’s Ostrich egg. The concept for the exhibition could equally have been applied to any group of objects and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wished there were more representational works.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of good surprises many of which key into the notional of art as memory. Rachel Whiteread’s resin imprint of a bath. Allan McCollum’s Plaster Surrogates, ceramic and plaster recreations of empty photo frames of the kind you’d find on sale in Rennies on Bold Street, potentially influenced by Paul Almasy’s also included famous photograph of the Louvre in during the Viche occupation in 1942 in which empty frames represented artworks removed and secured from Nazi plunder. Lawrence Werner’s STONES FOUND AND BROKEN SOMETIME IN THE FUTURE which writes that statement across a wall in English and German with the idea that a sculpture is created from it within the visitor’s own memory.
Although Chris Marker’s La Jetee also makes an appearance, the highlight of the exhibition is undoubtedly Dan Graham’s Present Continuous Pasts which I’m unable to talk about without spoiling the very thing that makes it an unforgettable experience and one of the most exciting pieces of contemporary art I’ve ever seen. Which is odd considering it’s as old as I am, produced in 1974, something which is odd only if you appreciate what it contains. Watch this video and read this explanation if you want to spoil the mystery but know that I spend a good ten minutes inside the room it contains walking about, experimenting, giggling and think of the Star Trek episode it reminded me of. If I didn’t work weekends, it’s this piece I’d certainly volunteer to replace in February.
Fittingly, Tate Liverpool hasn’t produced a traditional catalogue for An Imagined Museum which means that for the most part it will only exist in the memory of visitors, those chosen to be able to describe specific works and whatever material is distributed in the media. There is however a permanent record: the artist Dora Garcia has been commissioned to produce a newspaper, given away free in the space, which provides an inventory of the works on display along with texts rumination on the themes of the show and the fragile nature of artworks. Which does do the same job as a catalogue, I suppose, but feels more ephemeral because it will presumably end distribution when the show closes or at least continues its tour to the other venues. After that then.
Exhibition runs from 20 November 2015 – 14 February 2016. Free for Tate Members. Adult £8.80 (without donation £8). Concession £6.60 (without donation £6) (press day attended).