The Death of Museum
by Stephen Slaughter
Excerpt from “Shut up and Play the Hits”,
Chuck Klosterman’s on screen interview of James Murphy;
“This is the end of LCD Soundsystem, and it’s ending in a strangely controlled manner. It’s like, there was a record, there was an announcement, there’s a last show, everybody’s aware that it’s ending…
…When you start a band, do you imagine how it will end?”
…Eyes open wide, cue “Dance Yrself Clean.”
This is a question I should have asked Artist and Curator/Curator and Artist Loraine Wible, regarding the closing of Museum Gallery/Gallery Museum. The beginning of the end for the “institution,” was Saturday October 6th, and after three years, their first two in Over-The-Rhine and now Brighton, “The Mystery of the Closing Gallery”, their culminating show represents, in effect, the group’s swan song.
“When you start a band…”
The “band”; think guerrillas not guitars; Nicki Davis, Suzy Irwin, Reid Radcliffe, Chris Reeves and Matt Wiseman with Loraine Wible as their front woman and founder, came together in 2009 after graduating from University of Cincinnati’s renowned College of Design Architecture Art and Planning, with a mission or purpose… plan, maybe? … to engage the void of the Cincinnati’s (remember to fill in an inappropriate word here) art scene. In their words: “Museum Gallery/Gallery Museum is an artistic space dedicated to exploring the layers of fake and real in which we exist daily. With a touch of humor (or tongue firmly planted in cheek), we are presenting limitless possible meanings and infinite layers of detachment inextricably linked to our existences, knowing very well that we will probably never find our way through.” And after 40 odd shows that lampooned the larger institutions of the city, poked fun, illuminated and maybe even cast shadows on the notion of what a gallery is, who artists are and what a show could hope to achieve, all the while remaining as narcissistically self referential as possible, the party has come to a close.
“… do you imagine how it will end?”
“The Mystery of the Closing Gallery”, MG/GM’s final show, was to me like a game of Clue, a ‘who done it’ of sorts. The corpse was the “institution” itself, chalked out, taped off and decomposing in front of our eyes, and the art was the clues. Each installation represents a point in time and offers a mythical account of the deceased and their passing.
CASE #1 MG/GM: “The Tony Wiseman Quintuplets on Bass”- As you entered the space, you’re confronted with the sound of music emanating from a concealed room, nestled in what would be the gallery’s storefront display window. Unseen, unknown, unrehearsed and unfortunately unclear as to their roll in the mystery, a band rocked out behind closed doors. Entertainment, maybe, murders, I don’t know, but their performance serve to activate the space and add a certain je ne sais quoi to the event, and it was appreciated.
CASE #2 Suzy Irwin: “Speculative Gallery Closing Reasons”- A piece composed of eight, 9 x 11, mixed media on bristol portraits, with text offering possible cause of death scenarios. One portrait was a photo collage of three liquor bottles stating; “we drank too much, obviously.” Another, a composition of yellow stars, glued to bristol that read; “it was in the stars (that’s an x-shape; it means stop)”. The piece was humorous, and although intentionally misleading in verse, it was strikingly revealing and candid in its craft, attitude and effort.
CASE #6 Reid Radcliffe: “Untitled”- Radcliff contributed a series of kitty get-well cards with hand written warnings of impending doom if certain behavior was not curtailed. The cards together read as a prequel to a narrative that typically begins with someone dying in act one. Like Irwin’s, Radcliff’s piece was low in craft, medium in concept, but high in humor.
CASE #7 Matt Wiseman: “Starducts”- This piece imagines the future of the space, post-mortem, by offering a sensual experience of what I believe may have been, or should have been, (I didn’t smell it) the aroma of coffee wafting through a collection of grills, grates, and registers installed, like portraits, in a wall. The idea is, once evacuated, the space will serve as a beachhead for gentrification: a Starbucks, making Museum Gallery the Maginot Line. “Sorry coffee, but you only smell real good.” This work, like a parable foretelling an apocalyptic future, is again high on humor and low on craft, but in concert with the other pieces in the gallery has the effect of sharpening the show’s curatorial point.
CASE #12 Chris Reeves: “Putting the Gallery to Bed”- “Why is MG/GM Closing? Because it’s time to put the Gallery to Bed.” A bed in the middle of the gallery with an effigy of MG/GM tenderly tucked in. Poignant and pedagogical, maybe, but powerful, no. More than just the centerpiece to the room, it functions as a benchmark to the prowess of the work and reveals a subtext as provocative as the mystery the show’s title distracts us from: what’s art?
CASE #11 Loraine Wible: “Whatever Happened to Those Guys?”- Serving as both point and counterpoint to the show’s theme, this 18-minute mockumentary purports, through the testimonial of those involved, the stories of the “institution’s” emergence and departure. Wible walks a tight rope, or should I say does a sort of jig, between truth and fiction, legend and myth, comedy and tragedy. Each person’s account seems at first plausible until contradictions arise, and as each story is told, the narrative slowly goes from questionable to absurd, casting doubt on the whole affair. Like all of the other work in the room, the video was as comical as it was noncommittal, leaving me to finally question whether each piece was responsible for describing, in time and space, a condition of the gallery, why wasn’t the “art” as “serious” as the curatorial agenda they were designed to explicate?
…Cue Dance Yrself Clean.
“I didn’t start a band, I made a record. And then people started asking us to play, and it seemed like a cool opportunity to go to London and play this cool gig. I mean, we always called ourselves the LCD Soundsystem cover band. The best LCD Soundsystem cover band in the world. Because we were doing essentially what a cover band does. There was a record made, and then we would listen to it… In fact, I was very adamant about, I would never tour. I would never do that bullshit, like go away for a really long time and do the stuff everybody else does. Because I didn’t want too, it seemed stupid. So there was no conception of like, we’re starting a band, will it end?”
The solution to “The Mystery of the Closing Gallery” could be, as Murphy’s band, Wible’s gallery never existed to begin with. Just like Murphy’s desire to not to do what bands do because he thought it “stupid,” Wible and crew didn’t do what galleries do for similar reasons. Which explains why the “art” wasn’t as “serious” as the curatorial agenda. The art was the curatorial agenda, and the curatorial agenda was a critical interrogation of the space of art. Museum Gallery/Gallery Museum’s project responds to the deification of both the artifact, and the artist by reevaluating the status of artistic production and dismantling the authority of the artist. Their shows challenged the conventional relationship between a space for art, and the art itself and offer models, however absurd, of alternative associations. So, unlike the closing of most galleries in most cities their demise is not just the shuttering of doors or the vanquishing of an institution or the reassignment of 1200 square feet of art space; if the gallery never existed, its dematerialization is of no consequence, MG/GM’s departure can be considered the death of art in the city itself, and we should all mourn. Goodbye Museum Gallery/Gallery Museum: rest in peace.