What makes a good ex­hi­bi­tion?

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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.

Suresh Menon is a writer based in In­dia. In his youth he set out to change the world but later de­cided to leave it as it is.

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