Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Telephone Library in an Art Museum – a vast improvement on pebbles

I recently visited the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris for their current, quite wonderful, exhibition of the work of Kees van Dongen. After my visit, I wondered around the museum and came across the installation piece by Christian Boltanski entitled Les Abonnés du téléphone. This is essentially a collection of telephone directories from all over the world (actually not all over the world, since many countries are missing) which the visitor can consult at leisure, since there is a desk and chairs as well as table lamps. It is to all intents and purposes a telephone library. I actually consulted some of the directories, to look for persons I may know. It was engaging and thought provoking. Why were some countries not represented? What had happened to some of the people I knew? The exhibit succeeded in starting a train of thought. Hence, it exercised my brain to some degree – certainly much more than the horror show I last wrote about. For me, it was better, too, than the mandatory Brillo Boxes or soup cans that every museum of modern art must possess.

Moreover, there is no one place I know of in London or New York or Paris, or indeed any of the major cities, where I can consult telephone directories from all over the world, or at least many places in the world. So this collection, imperfect though it is, could serve a purpose, especially as the entrance to the permanent collection of the museum (of which this is part) is free.

But, once the idea of “surfing” telephone directories settles in, I could as well do it from the comfort of my home, by switching on my computer, and the table lamp, and sitting on a comfortable chair and visiting or some such.

Beautiful it is not and does not pretend to be, but….is it art?

By the standard set by Marcel Duchamp’s Urinal, it certainly is.

What do you say?


operadaki fantom said...

So,are you planning to visit Istanbul Modern when you come to Turkey? It is a very nice one with both new exhibitions and old examples of Turkish modern art...

S.Z. said...

Well, now that you have alerted me to it, I will definitely visit it on my trip. Thanks

Susannah said...

I’m in the Duchamp school of thinking. The ‘work of art’ you describe provoked memories, internal reflection and posed questions. It also crucially had an ‘author’. If in the unlikely case you happened upon a pile of international phone directories, say in a pile of rubbish somewhere, you might have had a similar experience but this to me would not have been art. In this I consider art to be a deliberate communication – in this case, according to your experience, an invitation to reflect on the technological changes in information dissemination and the whereabouts of old friends.
I recently saw a piece of work on a gallery wall which amused & intrigued me. It was a knitted panel, into which the words “I WILL NOT FEEL CRAFT SHAME” were knitted. I considered it to be art.
The previous ‘Outrage…’ post caused me to consider whether an artist necessarily needed craft skills. If Picasso could hold two pieces of junk together with a rusty nail he was happy to do so…