The Permanent Collection as Larval Specter: Recent Artist Interventions in the Museum Space

By Stephanie Peto.

Published by The International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In his chapter “On the Uses and Disadvantages of Living among Specters,” from Nudities, Giorgio Agamben examines the state of outmoded spaces, which employ signs and signatures to tell somewhat indecipherable stories about their once-great pasts. Although Agamben focuses on cities, specifically Venice in his chapter, I will apply this concept to the museum as an institution and a house for a collection. The inanimate nature of a museum’s gallery spaces and permanent collection combined with the compulsory complacency of its stewards tends to result in a house for dead art objects. This paper will examine two recent exhibitions designed by contemporary artists Jan Fabre and Robert Gober that intervened in the permanent collections of their respective institutions, thus revealing the collections' spectral natures. Using the framework of Giorgio Agamben’s chapter, I will demonstrate the contemporary artist’s use of pre-existing collections to alter viewer perception in a way that is relevant to the artist and denotes the passage of time through a markedly different frame of reference. Jan Fabre and Robert Gober employ aesthetic languages in their own work that interact harmoniously with the permanent collections in which they have held exhibitions. By juxtaposing their contemporary work against relics of the past, Fabre and Gober demonstrate how their aesthetic influences have changed over time.

Keywords: Giorgio Agamben, Manfredo Tafuri. Jan Fabre. Robert Gober, The Angel and the Metamorphosis, The Meat Wagon, Larval Specter

The International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp.1-10. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 337.510KB).

Stephanie Peto

Jersey City, New Jersey, USA

Stephanie Peterson is a recent graduate from the art history master’s program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where she taught art history survey and modern art as a teaching assistant. While at the University of Massachusetts she focused on the work of Belgian Surrealists. Her research interests include: religious symbolism in modern art, post-war antecedents of Surrealism, cross-cultural appropriation, and artist intervention in the museum space.