Contemporary artists explore the secret life of museums and their collections in "Spies in the House of Art".
Installation Dates: February 7 – August 26, 2012
Installation Location: Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall for Modern Photography
About the show: Since the 1980s, a number of contemporary artists working in photography, film, and video have taken as their subject the art museum and how we view specific works from the canon of art history. Spies in the House of Art: Photography, Film, and Video on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from February 7 through August 26, 2012, draws largely from the Museum’s collection to focus on artists from the last three decades who explore the secret lives of museums. This installation in the Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall for Modern Photography features 17 works, half of which have never been shown before at the Metropolitan.
Among the highlights of this presentation are Francesca Woodman’s Blueprint for a Temple and Rosalind Nashashibi and Lucy Skaer’s Flash in the Metropolitan, a 16mm film shot after-hours in the Museum’s galleries. Also included are photographs and videos by contemporary artists Lutz Bacher, Lothar Baumgarten, Sophie Calle, Tim Davis, Andrea Fraser, Candida Höfer, Louise Lawler, John Pilson, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, and Thomas Struth, as well as two works from the mid-20th century by Diane Arbus and Joseph Cornell and a print by Peter Nagy. A complement of a dozen photographs from the medium’s beginnings to the early 1970s by Eugène Atget, René Magritte, Edward Steichen, and Dan Weiner, among others, will be shown nearby in the RoBert Wood Johnson Jr. Gallery.
Spies in the House of Art: Photography, Film, and Video explores the complex relationship between artists and museums: how artists are inspired by the collections that museums display and are challenged by the authority that museums represent. The title plays on Anaïs Nin’s 1954 novel “A Spy in the House of Love,” and an artful balance of detachment and engagement, watchfulness and desire informs many of the works on display.
The centerpiece of the installation is the 16mm film Flash in the Metropolitan (2006) by the London-based artists Rosalind Nashashibi and Lucy Skaer. Using a strobe light, Nashibishi flashed brief illumination on sculpture and objects in the Metropolitan’s darkenEd Galleries of Greek and Roman art, Ancient Near Eastern art, and the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, as well as the Medieval Sculpture Hall. As a result, the works of art—often devotional in their original function—become uncannily enlivened and animated, like actors in a mysterious new ritual.
Cindy Sherman and Francesca Woodman both imaginatively project the female form into the often male canon of art history. In Sherman’s renowned History Portraits series of photographs (1988-90), the artist imitated famous paintings of men and women from the Renaissance to the early 19th century. While on a yearlong fellowship in Rome, Sherman scoured local flea markets for costumes and props to make her self-portrait as a satiated Italian monk, featured in this installation. By aping the grand scale of Old Master paintings, Sherman showed how photography could compete against the grandiose Neo-Expressionist canvases of the 1980s, while making a stand for women artists working in a medium that was marginalized at the time.