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 by artist, curator, cultural critic, and disability theorist Joseph Grigely. Add a comment below or
respond to someone else’s comment.


You may respond in any way you like, but if you need a starting
point, here are some questions:

• How would you define this term exhibitions prosthetics in
your won words?

• How are exhibition making and disability theory connected?
• What are some examples of what Grigely calls exhibition

prosthetics that you have seen at an exhibition?
• How did these examples help or effect your experience of

the exhibition?
• Is there a certain project that piques your interest? Why?
• How does Grigely characterize the role of the caption? What

is its role in our understanding of art and in disability theory?

Some Stories Various Questions

One of my favorite museum installations is a small
display that can be found in the Henry Ford Museum
at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. The
installation consists of an oak pedestal and a glass
vitrine. The vitrine holds a glass chemistry test tube
that is sealed with a cork. Beside it is a small label
which states:

It is alleged that Henry Ford asked Thomas
A. Edison’s son, Charles, to collect an exhaled
breath from the lungs of Ford’s dying hero and
friend. This test tube was found at Ford’s Fair
Lane mansion, along with Edison’s hat and
shoes, after Clara Ford’s death in 1950.

This modest installation is titled Edison’s Last
Breath?-Not Edison’s Last Breath, stop, but Edison’s
Last Breath, question mark. As the label says, it is
merely “alleged” that Henry Ford asked Edison’s
son to collect one final sighing breath from the


Exhibition Prosthetics

lungs of the great American inventor. What is
compelling to me is not whether the story is true
or not, but that the story exists as it does, narrated
within the vitrine. If exhibitions involve “showing,

they also involve a process by which the act of
showing is subsumed by the act of telling-of
constructing narratives that elide distinctions
between words and images, or between artifacts
and artifictions.

The question is – does it matter? Does it matter
how museums narrate, describe, and otherwise
footnote the objects they display? Or as Philippe
Parreno stated in a recent text-based work: “What
do you believe, your eyes or my words?”

This situation is not a new one. It has been
discussed previously by literary scholars in the
field of textual criticism & bibliography, and is
also the premise behind a book I published in the
1990s, Texualterity: Art, Theory, and Textual Criticism.
Textual criticism is a literary practice that explores
how texts relate to each other, how they derive
(or “filiate”) from each other, and how they are
disseminated in culture. The discipline especially
tries to define the parameters of what constitutes
boundaries: where does a poem begin & end?
A question like this asks us to consider how the
same poem published in different contexts is both
materially and ontologically different. We could
just as well take the same question and apply it t


an artwork: where does an artwork begin & end?
Or, where does an exhibition begin & end? Is an
exhibition just about the materialization of specific


Some Stories Various Questions

works of art, or is it also – and if so, in what ways
– about the various conventions that go into the
making of exhibitions, which include press releases,
announcement cards, checklists, catalogues, and
digital-based media?

Conventions like these are representations.
We engage in different kinds of representations
both because of the implausibility of re-presenting,
and also because representation is a means by
which we further, through the use of language and
images, and through a process that is both other-
wise and otherhow, the reach of the real. It is for
this reason that the relationship between publica-
tion practices and exhibition practices deserves
closer scrutiny. Both can be described as modes
of dissemination-a process by which the various
arts are brought to an audience of readers, viewers,
and listeners. I use the critical term “exhibition
prosthetics” to describe an array of these conven-
tions, particularly (but not exclusively) in relation
to exhibition practices. Perhaps out of habit, we
seem decidedly inured to the experience of conven-
tions like these. They are a part of the machinery
of exhibiting-we read titles, labels, and catalogues
because their authority establishes for the artwork
a sense of place. In this respect, moving closer to
the artwork involves moving away from the art-
work-to look closer at fringes and margins and
representations, and ask what seems to me a very
fundamental question: to what extent are these
various exhibition conventions actually part of the
art – and not merely an extension of it?


Exhibition Prosthetics

I want to start with an example of a human
prosthesis: an arm. A prosthesis is an attachment.
an extension. The OED notes that the first modern
usage of the prosthesis as a medical term occurred
in 1706; it is defined as. “That part of surgery which
consists in supplying deficiencies. as by artificial
limbs. teeth. or by other means.” That is. a prosthe-
sis remediates-it fills. it extends. it supplements.
But it does not do this without also becoming a part
of. not apart from. the body that it fills. extends.
and supplements. As the literary critic David Wills
wrote: the “prosthesis is inevitably about belonging.”

“Belonging” seems to me the perfect word
to describe the complexity of this relationship.
The prosthesis originates from a desire to make
whole. while acknowledging that the task is an
impossible one; that is. that the prosthesis creates
some degree of semblance. some degree of verisi-
militude. but can never become what has been lost.


” c.




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Some Stories Various Questions

It remains forever displaced in the process of being
placed .

Not far from my home in Chicago is a building
that I think about often. It is located at the corner
of Racine and Adams Street. Every morning I walk
past it while taking my dog for a walk. For several
years, it was what we call a “mixed use” loft build-
ing – part business, part residence. (Although,
as I write this, the business part is being converted
to a Montessori school.) The main entrance is at
the front of the building; there is a stairway with
six steps that lead to the lift. People who use wheel-
chairs cannot access the building from this point
of entry. They must go around to the side of the
building, where a specially designated wheelchair
lift has been installed in the car park. This location
separates and isolates users from the pedestrian
flow of the sidewalk. The lift was installed while the
building was being retrofitted. The very process of
“retrofitting” reminds us of that change to a build-
ing, like change to a text, that involves a process
of hyphenation. It is in a situation like this that


Exhibition Prosthetics

the prosthesis is an attachment, and the point of
attachment becomes pronounced, awkward, and
never quite belongs in the way that we would like
it to-the clunky hyphen syndrome.

If buildings are bodies – and I think they are
– so too is our social topography. Urban and rural
spaces alike have labels that identify, mark, and
otherwise caption our experience of this topogra-
phy. Consider as an example a road sign from Lake
Placid, New York, which states: “deaf child area.”
Signs like these are not uncommon in the US. Their
purpose is to make evident through language and
the convention of yellow diamond-shaped hazard
signs that which is otherwise not self-evident. One
cannot “see” the deafness of a deaf person, and
so the prosthesis here operates in a way that simul-
taneously stands and stands in for that which
is absent.


u -~



S .•

Some Stories Various Questions

It could be said that by definition the prosthesis
aspires for seamlessness, to incorporate itself into
a whole, so that it is indivisible from the whole.
Human prostheses are today incredibly elaborate
– they work both as a visual and functional surro-
gate to the original. Sometimes they operate as
a fashion “accessory” – as is the case with the new
“Immaculate Prosthetic Limb.”

A prosthesis like this could, without any irony
whatsoever, be described as sublime. However,
they weren’t always like this. In the past their role
involved functioning as a visual replica as a means
to incorporate the body’s corporeality. About


years ago, I had a deaf classmate named Roger
who had one arm, and the other was a passive or
“cosmetic” prosthesis. It was my first year of college.
I was learning sign language, and Roger was in


Exhibition Prosthetics

my class. On the first day, the teacher tried to teach
us to sign “Good morning.” So we all said, “Good
morning” back to her – except Roger, who signed
“good morning” with his right hand only. The
teacher was nice; she didn’t realize Roger had only
one arm, so she said, “it’s important to follow my
signs carefully, and if I use two hands you must also
use two hands.” So she did it again, she signed
“Good morning.” Roger, perplexed, but compelled
to make people happy, responded in the only way he
could: with his right hand he removed his prosthe-
sis, and then, with one hand holding the other hand,
signed back – with a smile – “Good morning.”

All three of these examples: the wheelchair
lift, the deaf child sign, and Roger involve disability
because the prosthesis is historically and etymo-
logically discussed as an extension of the human
body. The body is both a reality and a metaphor
– a metaphor for other bodies. Books are bodies,
exhibitions are bodies, buildings are bodies -what
is it that makes a body “complete”? What makes
a body of an exhibition “whole”?

In Mieke Bal’s book Double Exposures, she
explains, “The discourse around which museums
exist, and which defines their primary function,
is exposition” (Double Exposures, 2). Exposition
involves the doubling of both showing and telling.
Which is what I am doing right now: showing and
telling about the practice of showing and telling.

And so it would seem that the relationship
between a body and its prosthesis is a dialogic
relationship, each “informing” the other, each


Some Stories Various Questions

supplementing the other. The French critic Gerard
Genette has spoken of verbal appendages. such as
titles and captions. as paratexts: that which is along-
side the main text. But alongside is not enough;
there is movement between the body and its exten-
sions. a movement that is peritextual in design.
a movement that involves the peregrinations of
a shifting ground.

What I find particularly engaging about Edison’s
Last Breath? is how the label is contained within the
vitrine. neatly positioned beside the test tube con-
taining perhaps Edison’s last breath. Like Piero
Manzoni’s famous cans of Merda d’artista. it is not
the contents of the test tube or the can that matter
as much as how they are labeled. because we con-
struct meaning on the basis of our beliefs about
those labels.
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Some Stories Various Questions

This in turn makes a museum like Sir John
Soane’s Museum so compelling: Soane’s Museum has
no labels on the walls, which is precisely as Soane
intended. Instead of labels, Soane prepared three
guidebooks for the museum, and the guidebooks
modulate the movement of visitors to the museum.

This modus operandi continued in the exhibition
Hans Ulrich Obrist curated at Soane’s Museum in
1999. The exhibition consisted of work by a number
of contemporary artists, among them Cerith Wyn
Evans, Steve McQueen, and Douglas Gordon. Rather
than labeling the art, Cerith initiated the design of
a foldout brochure that operated like Soane’s guide-
books – a supplement to the exhibition that was also
part of the exhibition.

Among archivists, checklists and similar printed
materials are described as “ephemera.” The word
derives from the Greek ephemeron meaning that
which lasts very briefly. One could argue that ephem-
era consist of the incarnation of the ephemeral-
it is the sort of unexceptional everyday stuff that
typically gets thrown away. Yet, while exhibitions
themselves are temporal- a typical gallery show
last four weeks – it is the ephemera that outlive and
outlast the exhibition. At the Museum of Modern
Art in New York, ephemera are not catalogued like
books, but rather are compressed into vertical files-
folders organized by artist. These vertical files/artist
files are labeled: “The folder may include announce-
ments, clippings, press releases, brochures, reviews,
invitations, small exhibition catalogs, and other
ephemeral material.” This material is important in


Exhibition Prosthetics

terms of how we read art- how we work our way
to it and through it. This subject has not escaped
the notice of critical and curatorial scrutiny.
In 1993 the Cleveland Museum of Art published
The Visitor’s Voice: Visitor Studies in the Renaissance-
Baroque Galleries of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 1990-
1993. It might sound like an arcane publication
– it is – but it is also a very minute study of how
museum visitors respond to the specific ways visual
information is presented in the form of wall labels,
brochures, and interpretative texts. In the case of
wall labels, the study explored variation in content,
writing style, length, fonts, and placement. In
1994 Trevor Fairbrother curated an exhibition at
the Boston Museum of Fine Art called “The Label
Show: Contemporary Art and the Museum.” It
was an engaging show; works that normally had
one label had two or more, and the labels were
also signed by the individuals who wrote them-
a very important contrast to the ways museums
typically aspire to present themselves as disinter-
ested authorities.

A very intriguing study could likewise be
made of titles and press releases. Sometimes they
quote an exhibition; sometimes they counterpoint
an exhibition; sometimes they are the exhibition
itself-or a part of it. Felix Gonzalez-Torres (in
his press release for “Untitled (Vultures)” at And-
rea Rosen Gallery in 1995) and Seth Price (in his
press release for “Grey Flags” at Alogon Gallery
in Chicago in 2008) created press material that was
fundamentally as much art as anything else in


• • • •
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Andrea Rosen Gallery


130 Prince SI New York 1001


Untitled (Vultures) 1995
September 8 – October 14

“Our role as anist is more controversial now because there are those, claiming the absolute authority of
religion, who detest much of our work as much as they detest most of our politics. Instead of rationally
debating subjects like abortion or gay nghts, they condemn as immoral those who favor choices and
tolerance. They disown their own dark side and magnify everyone else’s until, at the extreme, dOOlors arc
murdered in the name of protecting life. I wonder, who is this God they invoke, who is so petty and
mean? Is God really against gun comrol and fooj stamps for poor children?”

excerpt from “The Artist as CII/zen” by Barbra Srrefsand
delivered February 3, 1995 01 John F Kennedy School ofGovernmenl at Harvard UnH’ersity.

“Behold the son ofGocil Coward l And if the ::old
Heels oftJle divine feet trampled on my shoulders,
I’d call you coward stili’ That fly·specked forehead!
Socrates, Jesus: righteous both! Stupid Savio~r
Respect me, Accursed forever in nights of blood’

”Oh make him go away, with his tonsils tied
TightJy in a scarf of shame, sweet as sugar
On a rotten tooth, sucking my boredom, satisfied·
Like a bitch who’s just been jtunped by horny doggies
Licks a piece of entrail dangling from her side

“Forget your Iilthy charities, you hypocnte~
I hate the look in }’OUI nUUl)’ rag..dolJ eyes!
Whining for papa like a snol·nosed kid,
An idiot waiting for music from on high!
Savior, your statuary gUI is full of shit l ”

‘7J’f! Sav,or Bumped Upon His Heovy BUll”
Arthur Rimballd
from his book A Season ill Hell
c. JB7J

tel: 212941 0203

I \’,1jrk nIl da, a monk
and ot night wander about like an alleycst
looking for love .. J’1I propose
to the Church that I be made 0 saint.
In fact I respond to mystification
mth mildness. t Walch the l)1lch-mob
as tJlfOUgh a camero-eye.
With the calm courage of a scientist,
I watch myself being massacred.
I seem to feel hate and yet I write
verses full of painstaking love.
r study treachery as a fatal phenomenon,
almost as if I were not its object.
I pity the young fascists,
and the old ones, whom I consider fonns
of the most horrible evil, r oppose
only with the violence of reason.
Passive as a bird that sees all, III Oight,
and carnes in its herut,
rising in the sky.
an unforgivrng conscience.

“J Work All Day”
Pier Paolo Pasolini

fax: 212941 03


Exhibition Prosthetics

the exhibition. Price, in particular, intended it this
way, just as Douglas Gordon once contributed the
title of an exhibition as a contribution to the exhibi-
tion. [“Retrace Your Steps: Remember Tomorrow,”
Sir John Soane’s Museum, 1999]. Art historians
typically speak of provenance as a form of owner-
ship. However, ownership is also about the authority,
and the authority of titles, captions, and so on is in
turn a part of the provenance of the work. Fairbroth-
er’s “Label Show” tried to draw out this subject, but
his was a singular, if not an iconoclastic effort. I am
surprised at times when critics and historians fail
to acknowledge the instability of titles and captions,
and how these changed and changing states reflect
the ways that works of art are unmade, remade,
and made over in the course of their transmission as
cultural objects. Jackson Pollock’s titles, for example,
were frequently re-titled by his critics and collectors.
Number 9 became Summertime; Number t 1950 became
Lavender Mist; Number 11, 1952 became Blue Poles;
Number 30, 1950 became Autumn Rhythm. This is all
very important because we don’t often consider the
extent to which artists are also authors of their own
press releases, announcement cards, and catalogues.
“Authorship” is typically an imbricated process
of overlapping authority; it is rarely, in the matter
of exhibition ephemera, simple or simplistic.

Starting in the early 1990s, a body of work
has developed around the prosthesis. For a show
at the Louisiana Museum in Denmark in 1997,
Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska com-
posed and published an “errata” to the exhibition


Some Stories Various Questions

catalogue that explores the relationship between
everyday objects and art objects. It was only a few
years earlier that Felix Gonzalez-Torres created
his singular and well-known poster projects. It is
important to put this in the context of the early
1990s. The stock market crash of 1987 ended the
megalomania of the 1980s and redirected aesthetic
practices towards something much more modest in
scale. And not all of these projects involved a physi-
cal materialization of a printed object: some were
performative, such as Andrea Fraser’s Museum High-
lights (1989) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art,
which involved turning the gallery docent tour into
a reflexively critical performance. Fraser’s work
was a prelude to the manifestation of art as a form
of institutional critique that developed in the early
1990s in work by Mark Dion, Fred Wilson, and
Renee Green, among others-a subject pursued in
the exhibition “What Happened to the Institutional
Critique” at American Fine Arts in New York in the
fall of 1993. Laurie Parsons did a relevant project
at the New Museum in 1992, which, like Fraser’s
performance, used certain immaterial exhibition
conventions in a new way. The New Museum Annual
Report, 1992-1994 describes Parsons’ project in the
following way:

“As her contribution to the exhibition [The Spatial
Drivel, artist Laurie Parsons developed the Security
and Admissions Project, in which all printed materi-
als were removed from the gallery and information
was given verbally instead by the Museum’s security




‘” ” ~

Some Stories Various Questions

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guards and admissions staff. The project facilitated
dialogue between visitors and staff focusing on the
interpersonal and social dimensions of the museum
experience and the open-ended nature of interpretation.”

One of the most compelling and lesser-known
examples of prosthetic art that I have encountered
took place during Documenta in Kassel, Germany in
1997. It was called Novaphorm Hotel. The project was
conceived by the German artists Lisa Junghanss and
Martin Eder. The hotel itself was essentially a Bed &
Breakfast that the two artists operated as an unofficial
part of Documenta. Junghanss and Eder rented two
flats in Kassel, renovated them, and advertised their
availability through the official Documenta Visitor’s
Services. Operating in the ambiguous territory of
quasi-official spaces, Novaphorm Hotel was “dissemi-
nated” among the public by way of various publications
related to hotel culture: postcards, door hangers,
business cards, and registration cards.


Exhibition Prosthetics

The publications were designed by a collabora-
tor, Peter Hankel. The pharmaceutical packaging
has a distinct, if not allusive purpose; the omnipres-
ent motto of Novaphorm is “wirkt zur gegewart” – it
“affects the present.” It affects the present because
Novaphorm is essentially an exploration of the rela-
tionship between individuals and social spaces,
and how a certain social situation will affect bodies
moving through it. Like a body under the influence
of bio- and psychopharmaceuticals, the body is not
itself: it defines itself in relation to exterior circum-
stances that ultimately construct it.

Novaphorm Hotel, like other collaborations
between Junghanss and Eder, was an installation
that was also a performance project where the
artists, as part of a social and monetary transac-
tion, served their guests by creating a “relaxation
space”: the breakfasts were sumptuous, and both
Junghanss and Eder were around to talk with
their guests, and guests were around to talk with
other guests – at nine in the morning over coffee
or two in the morning over beer. Novaphorm Hotel
had a very modest goal of occupying a distinct
social space between art and life that is in the end
both art and life.

It was during the same decade that Hans Ulrich
Obrist started organizing projects that redefined
the parameters of place by taking the exhibition
outside the gallery and the museum. His first exhi-
bition, entitled “The Kitchen Show,” took place in
1991 in the kitchen of his apartment in St. Gallen.
In the catalogue, Hans Ulrich explained: “[The]




‘” ‘” –

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‘” ‘” ..c


Some Stories Various Questions

starting point is the idea to present an exhibition
in an unspectacular space.” As his curatorial reuvre
grew, so did the definition of what constituted an
unspectacular space. In projects he did with the
museum in progress in Vienna, he turned the Aus-
trian daily newspaper Der Standard into a museum
through a series of interventions: artists were invited
to create projects that were published as part of the
regular editorial content of the paper.


Exhibition Prosthetics



ARC Musee d’ An Moderne de 10 Ville de Paris

In collaboration with Aligherio Boetti, he curated
a project of Boetti’s paintings of airplanes that
appeared in the inflight magazine of Austrian
Airlines in 1992, and the images were also made
into jigsaw puzzles that were given to children.
A related project is “Point d’ironie;’ a hybrid poster/
exhibition, which began in 1997 with the support


Some Stories Various Questions

of agnes b.: an artist is given free reign to design each
project. A hundred thousand copies are produced and
distributed free in museums, cafes, schools, cinemas,
and related venues. Projects like “Point d’ironie” work
in a way that realigns the conventions by which art is
disseminated. Such realignment was the modus oper-
andi of the “Migrateurs” exhibitions Hans Ulrich
curated at the Musee d’art moderne in Paris, where
artists were invited to use a variety of public locations
in the museum – the bookshop and the cafe among
them-for installations. In addition, each exhibition
was accompanied by a low-cost catalogue that, rather
than reiterating or quoting the exhibition, functioned
to inflect the exhibition. In this regard, Hans Ulrich’s
legacy from the 1990s was to remake curatorial prac-
tice a form of institutional criticism.

Hans Ulrich also created situations and opportu-
nities for artists to de- and re-materialize their work
in new situations outside of the museum – and to do
so as a mainstream way of working. His book Delta
X: Der Kurator als Katalysator, which was published in
1996, provides a microhistory of the emergence of
this practice. I count myself among the many artists
who benefited from the initial experience of working
with Hans Ulrich.

Since 1994 my work has explored the disjunction
between visual and auditory experience. This body
of work is inflected by my deafness -I am totally deaf,
and have been since I was ten years old. It’s not the
deafness that is important, so much as the implica-
tions of it, and the way it realigns the sensory world.
What does the world look like with the sound turned


Some Stories Various Questions

off? How might it be that language can be said to
caption human experience? Painters like Hogarth,
Gainsborough, and Canaletto frequently painted
people engaged in some kind of conversational
discourse, but the inhabitants of those paintings,
for all that they say, say nothing at all.

A recent project, involving photographs of
people singing from the New York Times, is called

. “Songs Without Words”. I removed the captions
from the photographs, and then reprinted them as a
series of captionless, voiceless images. It is a simple
gesture; a process of making that involves unmak-
ing. Exhibitions sometimes have a bad habit of saying
too much, and the labels and captions and wall texts
that characterize contemporary exhibition practices
have a way of doing exactly this. It was Susan Sontag
who told us that every photograph wants a caption.
While this may be true in the case of certain photo-
graphic genres and traditions, generally speaking, it
is not true of images, where a caption works in a way
that narrates, even chaperones, the image.

There’s another way of removing captions from
images. All you have to do is turn off the sound on
your TV. I first outlined this project while working
with Hans Ulrich on his “do it” exhibition – the
home version: Watch the news without sound. Watch
a concert without sound. Watch a sitcom without
sound. At first it seems contrived and awkward,
but after a while, the contrivance and awkwardness
start to get interesting because they remind us just
how ambiguous the body is when it doesn’t have
words to sustain it. This ambiguity is semantically


Exhibition Prosthetics

liberating. The photographs of people singing in
the New York Times also have this way of reminding
us that visual representations are not just about the
visual field, but about the auditory field as well.

Many of my conversations with hearing people
are inscribed on paper, and it is by using papers
like these that I construct wall pieces and installa-
tions. This has been an ongoing subject of my work
for the past fifteen years.


A recent wallwork is titled We’re Bantering
Drunkening About What’s Important in Life. The title
comes from one of the conversation papers within
the work. A large piece like this takes me three or
four months to complete; I generally make only two
a year. The colored papers are especially hard to
work with because their placement is decided by so
many factors: the shape and size of the paper, the


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Some Stories Various Questions

color of the paper, the actual words, and the way
they are written. Josef Albers astutely remarked
that you cannot put one color beside another with-
out also changing both. This is also true for verbal
narratives: you cannot put one word beside another
without also changing both. This is how relational
grammar operates, and how relational practices
involve not just the semantics of language, but more
generally, formal relations .

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Exhibition Prosthetics

During the 1990s, I did several projects in which
a publication served as the exhibition. Some of these
I did with Hans Ulrich, for example, “Point d’ironie.”
I did one project in London called “Barbican Conver-
sations,” which was organized by the Public Art
Development Trust in 1998. The basis of the project
was to utilize the Barbican Center as both a source
of conversational discourse and a place of dissemina-
tion. The Barbican is a complex architecturallaby-
rinth: it includes a cinema, performing stages
for both theatre and concerts, and numerous bars for
intermissions and pre-theatre periods. The bar breaks
are like coffee breaks; they function to enable critical
discourse that alternates between being relevant
and irrelevant, and being reverent and irreverent.

Throughout the Hall at the Barbican, there is
a substantial amount of printed information about
its programming in the form of brochures, broad-
sheets, and handbills. This is partly because there
is much public programming there. The “Barbican
Conversations” exhibition consisted primarily of
redistributing conversations collected in bars in the
form of information brochures – which were then
intermingled with information brochures in the
Hall. As a result, people did not go to the exhibition
so much as stumble upon it.

We printed three separate brochures: One was
a two-page spread, a simple design. The second one
involved what graphic designers call a roll fold. A roll
fold rolls open, and at each turn a new set of relations
is made present. The third involved a combination
of a roll fold and an accordion fold. Publication



” (fJ

Some Stories Various Questions

design is very underrated. Like exhibition design,
it involves the construction of visual paths, and
pushes the possibilities of the publication as an

Over the years there have been many other
publication projects. The goal of these being to
take art to people rather than make people go to
the art. This kind of thinking is quite antithetical

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to traditional American curatorial and exhibition
practices, where going to a museum is like going
to Church. A project like “Barbican Conversa-
tions” could not have been done in America. The
few times that I have done publication projects for


Exhibition Prosthetics

American museums, my experience has always
been tempered by various administrative challeng-
es during the process of realizing the publication.

One exception was a project at the Parrish
Museum of Art in Southampton, New York, curated
by Ingrid Schaffner and Melissa Friedman in 2001.
The exhibition involved inviting the artists to inter-
act with the museum and its archives. Among the
archives were several cyanotypes that were made
at the turn of the century by Alice Chase, the wife
of the painter William Merrit Chase. Many of her
images showed small groups of people, whose rela-
tionships and activities were hard to pin down-
a perfect captionless quotation of everyday life.
My project involved enlarging one of the cyano-
types from approximately 3 x 5 inches to 23 x 33
inches, which were then displayed, and distributed
throughout the museum’s gift shop.

Another prosthetic convention I find engaging
is the exhibition announcement. This could be-
and has been-the subject for an entire exhibition.
One of the challenges in announcement design is



Exhibition Prosthetics

to make something that does not simply reiterate or
quote the exhibition, but rather punctuates it. One
example is the announcement card I made for an
exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford.
The basic idea was to do a postcard-size image of
a well-known painting by the Hudson River School
painter, John Kensett. The image shows two people
talking on the shoreline, gesturing at large break-
ing waves-the auditory field of nature, and of
human commentary on that nature. On the verso,
I printed a conversational exchange I had with a
friend in NY-something disjunctive in relation to
the image. After the cards were sent out, several of
them were returned to the museum by their recipi-
ents. Most had a small note enclosed saying: “There
are notes on the card, perhaps someone sent it out
by mistake?”

Announcement cards, like catalogues and
posters, have the possibility of taking an exhibition
places the exhibition itself does not go.

My favorite publication project was produced
for the Berlin Biennale in 2001. Instead of creating
work within the traditional exhibition space, my
goal was to disperse it throughout the city of Berlin.
I printed four conversation papers, replicating not
only the “conversation,” but also the original colors
and textures of the papers (including inscriptions
on the verso). These papers were then deliberately
placed in various locations – sometimes one or two
at a time, sometimes two or three. They were left on
counters in bars, at tables in restaurants, dropped
in the street, and placed on the seats of buses.


Some Stories Various Questions

Exhibitions, like publications, involve the dis-
semination of work, and create situations in which
the work and an audience may meet. However, they
differ in one important way: the narratives of exhi-
bitions are inherently discursive. They are not like
the narratives of books where we move from word
to word, line to line, and page to page. In the space
of the museum or the gallery, our movements are
more unpredictable: from one painting to another,
from one room to another; our path is usually deter-
mined not by conventions, but by peregrinations.
An exhibition is unstable by definition-unstable,
incomplete, uncontained, and uncontainable.
Like film trailers that offer clips and previews of
upcoming films, contemporary exhibitions involve
the fragmentation of an entity and its dispersion
into a variety of representations. Our age is one of
fragmented narratives, a culture of bits and pieces
that in themselves become, like the ruins and frag-
ments in Sir John Soane’s Museum, a synecdoche
for the whole. As the global economy implodes and
exhibition practices reinvent themselves to take
into account radical shifts in our aesthetic econo-
my, we can assure ourselves that we have not seen
the end of this fragmentation.


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