What makes a good exhibition?
Do you remember that art exhibition in London where the artist (I use the term loosely) displayed her bed, with the covers off and items of clothing strewn about, called it My Bed and passed it off as a breakthrough? It was back in 1998, so I don’t expect anyone under the age of 25 to remember. “These are patches of autobiography,” explained the artist.
Wasn’t it Marcel Duchamp who said art for him was what he decided art was and exhibited a urinal at one of Paris’s major shows, thus kicking off the modern era and ensuring we can never look at a urinal or an art exhibition in the same way again?
Editors have the same privilege as artists – they can say that news is what they decide it is. Geologists, by contrast, don’t. They can’t cut a branch from a tree and call it a “rock”. Not unless they have a million years to spare, but by then everybody would have lost interest.
Anyway, inspired by Duchamp and the bed artist, I have been contemplating setting up an exhibition myself. It will consist of unwanted gifts I have received. This is how the useless can be converted into art.
I mean, why would anyone give me a cube that opens from all sides and can be laid out flat on a table? What causes an otherwise sane person to walk into a shop and tell the salesperson that the one thing he would like to give a friend is a cube that flattens out?
Then there is the pen that writes underwater. Excellent for writing, “Help, I am drowning,” messages, I suppose, and occasionally writing in your diary while in the swimming pool (assuming that you have a diary that can be written in underwater), but what else? I’d rather have a pen
Why would anyone give me a cube that opens from all sides and can be laid flat on a table?
with a favourite flavour for chewing on while thinking, or a pen that uses no ink and can never be lost. This last point is important, as I can never find a pen when I need one. My father had the same problem, so I presume it has something to do with my DNA.
Alongside the pen, I would like to exhibit someone who retired from my office last week. No, he wasn’t a gift to me, but I can’t resist. Asked what he now intended doing with himself, he replied, “I know I shall be spending most of my time searching for my pen, for my keys, and for my glasses.”
That doesn’t complete the exhibition, of course. But it’s a start. Also, don’t forget this is not just about what I was gifted, but equally about what I couldn’t re-gift.