Filed under: Art World, Museums | Tags: Art History, Art World, Museums, New York, Theory
I learned via the MoMA blog that the Modern Museum made an interesting, if unprecedented acquisition into its collection today. It acquired @, the (at) symbol–not just an @, or an object, but the universal @. Some day I hope understand the legal logistics of that transaction and contract, but today, I am just in awe of the implications this has for collecting museums, and the definition of the museum itself.
Canonically, museums are inseparable from their collecting habit, by which I mean the process of owning and/or adding to their collection of objects. The identity of the Louvre is inextricable from that of the Mona Lisa now, for example, but more on the relationship between objects and their spaces later. Where non-collecting museums toed this boundary of museological identity, MoMA has just blasted a hole in it by starting to collect non-objects.
This action seems to be a two-fold commentary on the nature of collecting (object-fetish) and of the predominance of new media in art. It seems also to be a continuation of many recognized museological themes, such as declaring ownernship over something that has existed in the public domain (antiquities), collecting non-physical (conceptual, performance, some installation) art, and locating within the museum something that physically does not fit in the museum (architecture, ethnography), but breaks with these trends by combining them, and by incorporating the element of non-presence. Conceptual art, architecture, ethnography, are tied to a physical space, but @ is not. It floats between us all in the contingency of its use, and everywhere on the web.
The acquisition of @ itself is rather significant as well. It is a symbol with simultaneously limited and indefinite scope. It is a highly malleable icon that also happens to be recognized universally, and cross-culturally. In its own existence, it has served as prefix, transition, indicator, but infrequently as a thing-in-itself. In some way, the acquisition of @ is its existential liberation.
While I ponder this some more, I’m excerpting part of MoMA’s post after the cut. Please see MoMA’s original post for details and the history of @. For more on punctuation, please also see Punctuation: Art, Politics, and Play, by Jennifer Brody (Duke University Press, 2008).
“The acquisition of @ takes one more step. It relies on the assumption that physical possession of an object as a requirement for an acquisition is no longer necessary, and therefore it sets curators free to tag the world and acknowledge things that ‘cannot be had’—because they are too big (buildings, Boeing 747’s, satellites), or because they are in the air and belong to everybody and to no one, like the @—as art objects befitting MoMA’s collection. The same criteria of quality, relevance, and overall excellence shared by all objects in MoMA’s collection also apply to these entities.”
Courtesy of Inside/Out, MoMA Blog. Cited from http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2010/03/22/at-moma/
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