‘Take Me (I’m Yours),’ the star-studded group show currently on view at The Jewish Museum in New York, is the third iteration of an exhibition held at London’s Serpentine Galleries in 1995, co-curated by its Artistic Director, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and artist Christian Boltanski. Now showcasing 42 artists in a museum, compared to the original’s twelve in a gallery, and with the involvement of in-house Director of Special Exhibitions Jens Hoffmann and Associate Curator Kelly Taxter, a curious, multi-faceted genealogy of ‘Take Me’ arises. A crux question, around which many others the exhibition provokes can be situated, may posit: What does it mean to re-stage an exhibition held in 1995, 21 years later?
The first iteration of ‘Take Me’ took place in the mid-90s. Three years later, Nicolas Bourriaud, the prophet of relational aesthetics – the phenomenon to which the exhibition’s concept and works subscribed – had his treatise published. At that time, Obrist and Boltanski, much as now, sought to organize an exhibition that would emphasize art more as an experience than as a staid visually-oriented encounter between viewer and work. As Bourriaud would articulate years later, the emphasis on ‘experience’ wouldn’t only involve the consideration of relationships between a person and an artwork object, but also between people, a development ripe with social and political implications, to say nothing of further opening up what art could be. Of course, Bourriaud wasn’t coming up with these ideas out of thin air. In fact, Gonzalez-Torres’ seminal process/candy portrait works of the early to mid-90s have been cited as an important inspiration for ‘Take Me’ by its curators.
True to its name, ‘Take Me (I’m Yours)’ features works and experiences that emphasize and encourage not just touching, but taking. Approaching the exhibition space, the viewer will encounter a wall text not only introducing the exhibition, but also enthusiastically calling on visitors to grab things and take them home. The availability of plastic bags below, marked with the title of the exhibition, only adds to the slight weirdness. One of the first works likely to be encountered will be Hans-Peter Feldmann’s ‘The Prettiest Woman,’ a wall completely covered with small, vintage photographs of young women, available for the taking. Opposite it, the visitor may be startled by a stack of posters displaying the line of American presidents from George Washington at the top to Hillary Clinton at the bottom, followed by, in big letters, ‘HILLARY 16.’ The following space showcases a pertinent work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, ‘Untitled (USA Today),’ laid out across one side of the room: it is a seemingly innocent invitation to partake of candy, but if probed reveals its concern with the amount of AIDS-related deaths that took place in 1990, and the contingency they all had and have with ours within the larger society.
Within the next two rooms, the largest of the entire exhibition space, agendas become even more diversified, overwhelming. In one of the more pointed works, Christian Boltanski’s ‘Dispersion’ invites the visitor to sift through and take from a pile of used clothing. Ideas of the consideration and understanding of circulation both materially and immaterially abound. What if any of the clothes had bedbugs? Nearby, another overarching dimension of ‘Take Me’ becomes clearer in Andrea Bowers’ ‘Political Ribbons,’ wherein powerful statements of political import are printed on and ‘contained’ within such trite, flimsy, even useless things. Further into the exhibition, Gilbert & George, Lawrence Weiner, and Luis Camnitzer echo how the ‘Political Ribbons’ explore the power carried by text when printed onto mobile ‘things,’ and Dana Awartani and others invite visitors to engage in arts and crafts, constructing things with aural, cultural, and political meanings.
Although there were many works not available for the experience, interaction, or taking of, ‘Take Me (I’m Yours)’ provided for an overall overwhelming experience, consisting of roughly 40 distinct works or experiences each of which had their own agenda, and involving almost as many things to be collected. At times I felt like a naïve customer who’d been fooled into getting lost in a store filled with cheap, useless trinkets, barely cognizant of the potentials surrounding me for meaning and significance. Similar observations have been made, but perhaps this is what the organizers intended. After all, our thoughts come back, in the end, not only to the aura, power, and agency of things, but also to the inevitable relationships people have with them.