Museum to Scale 1/7
An initiative by Ronny Van de Velde, developed by the artist Wesley Meuris
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
12 October 2013 - 2 February 2014
Review by Marianne Van Boxelaere
Before travelling to the Baker Museum in Florida and Kunsthal Rotterdam, Museum to Scale 1/7 is first hosted in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels. The project consists of a sequence of meticulously undersized exhibition rooms behind glass partitions. Each space has a code referring to its role in the museum’s functionalist infrastructure; ‘meeting room curators’, ‘handling and packaging’ and ‘workshop area’. This presentation format is a continuation of Meuris’ ‘Zoological Classification System’, which he developed in 2004, and is now being further elaborated in ‘Collection Rooms - Constants and Variables (R-03. Q66.4896)’. Each case presents original work by contemporary artists such as Marie-Jo Lafontaine, Luc Tuymans, Hans Op de Beeck, Ann Veronica Janssens and a number of historic rooms including work by Victor Servranckx, Jozef Peeters and René Magritte.
The concept of ‘Museum to Scale’ can be categorised as inherently postmodern in the sense that Meuris uses the museum both as a subject and an object of the exhibition. While each artist has created a specific scenography for a scaled white cube, the overall stage setting of the exhibition certainly hasn’t been neglected, as we can tell from the accurately adjusted lighting.
The ‘Museum to Scale’ concept is not a maquette for an actual building, but rather a contemporary version of the Wunderkammern, or the forerunners of the modern museum. These cabinets of curiosities are a hot topic in 2013. For example, the Fine Art Department at the University of Leeds has established a Wunderkammer course, in which students are encouraged to roam freely among disciplines. Cabinet magazine juxtaposes wildly differing subjects to reveal unexpected connections, and in the permanent ‘Chamber of Marvels’ at the Pinacothèque in Paris, works of art are arranged according to theme - Rothko sharing a space with Rembrandt, African masks with Monet.
In the same hybrid way Wesley Meuris decided to randomly alter the content and representation of the different exhibition boxes in both rooms. For instance, Antwerp-based artist duo Carla Arocha and Stéphane Schraenen’s case (2013) is constructed from mirrored pieces that exist undeniably as solid objects. However, their reflecting surfaces suggest a kind of denial of their material existence as their entire surface is inevitably impregnated with an image of what lies outside; not of the thing itself, but of the environment in which it is placed. On the other side, Cel Crabeels video work ‘Landing’ (2008) presents video and sound recordings that the artist made during a journey in Iceland. Desolate volcanic landscapes take on abstract and aesthetic qualities, all while appearing unearthly in their spatial elaboration.
A fine experiment with illumination can be found in Nadia Naveau’s box, consisting of a sculpture from the series ‘Salon de plaisir’ (2007) based on a black and white photograph of the ‘Salon de Sculpture’ in 19th-century Paris and on the kitsch sculptures of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Amid a criss-cross of decorative elements and glazed matter, one becomes only gradually aware of the sensuality that connects the postures with the more earthy elements.
The website makes it possible to navigate an artistic course, put together an exhibition, appropriate images and eventually distribute them via social networks.
Should this enthusiasm for crossing disciplines, styles, periods and media surprise us’ Not at all. For we are well acquainted with that universal wunderkammer known as the internet. In letting our minds wander, the internet has shown us that the old systems for categorising knowledge make not nearly as much sense now as they used to do. All of which leaves the traditional art museum, with its rigidly defined curatorial departments, looking increasingly out of step with the times.