The Phantom of the Museum
This journal has a separate space reserved for reflections on exhibitions, and that is not this column. The fact that we are making an exception – even if it’s not the first time – has good reasons. Namely, the manner of creating an artwork where the objectified form of art is the exhibition itself. Installation, environment, transformed space, to put it in the terminology used for the description of contemporary art phenomena. In this case, however, we can hardly settle for this. The exhibition is a relatively new development of the long-long history of art. As a matter of fact, it is a crisis symptom. The museum is somewhat (not much) older, especially if we count its history from its predecessor, the Kunst- und Wunderkammer, which accumulated an eclectic range of all kinds of curiosities, including natural history oddities, objects of material or rarity value, first rate works of art. The taxonomic archetype of Tamás Komoróczky’s installations is probably not even the exhibition, but a more ancient, temporary form of work that is linked to an occasion, a time and a space: the occasional decorations of triumph processions, the ‘castra doloris’ of grand funerals meant to last for a few days. Obviously, we are dealing with the elevation of the temporal to the absolute: in the form of occasional sets and temporary exhibitions, but within the conservative framework of the museum. This seemingly regular and appropriate situation has an immanent tension, and this is what Komoróczky discovered and redoubled, with a gesture that we can call provocative without exaggeration, or to use a trendy expression, critical of the institution. The reason for the tension is that the harmony and balance of the bidirectional process is illusory. The contemporary artist is striving to domesticate the museum, and the museum aims to take in contemporary art, turn it into museum pieces. The result is that both transform according to the intentions of the other. What makes Komoróczky’s case unique is that the museum is not just the framework of the art here (a temporary refuge if you like), but also its theme, in a material as well as in an intellectual sense. It is a challenge. A challenge as a given space, a challenge as a fortress to be taken, a repository of art history, the keeper of the canon, the public chamber of secrets. A repudiated foster parent. In this battle, the Trojan horse of contemporary art is the art form, the installation, which, by its mutable and adaptive nature, eliminates the status of the artwork interpreted as a closed microcosm, and establishes the occasional assemblage, the quodlibet, and together with these, the spirit of blasphemy as an accepted art form. This wayward spirit, then, wanders the museum as an actual ghost. As a kind of poltergeist, it turns the hierarchies of traditional and historical values upside down, it rummages the warehouse and wipes the racks clean. Whatever it finds – a skull, a skeleton, an urn, lethal weapons unearthed as grave-goods –, it rearranges in its own way and places in show cases and vitrines, complete with labels. In the meantime, it brazenly mingles the outworn, methodically categorizing procedures of positivist historical science with the clichés of the cult of the genius from the romantic world view, and regards documents as tools of independent poetics. It takes advantage of its own elusiveness, and unscrupulously dresses in the loosely hanging disguises of the Hegelian ’world spirit’, ’folk spirits’, ’spirit of the time’. It frightens from behind a curtain, shaking its windblown veil as a demon of the death cult of bygone ages. Wow, it says, as it looks at its own erect penis – fabricated from a fluorescent tube. It is a game we are dealing with, of the best kind, a jigsaw puzzle. The final goal is of course a complex fiction assembled from objects, finds, facts and concepts, a letter soup from which significant word fragments rise, just like remains floating at the site of a shipwreck. The bodies of the letters wrapped in glittery black velvet(!) have the shape of the jargon of scientific discourse, and we have to admit that the poem posted in English, the English commentaries to the pictures and the German text of the video make them the ghosts of globalization: ghosts, spirits, demons, Geistes, Fantoms. Unholy Ghosts, as the sign above the four-member vocal group of pumpkin lamps strung on a single neon tube informs the visitor, in the otherwise cozy zombie bar, which – just like the museum of dead objects – enables convenient passage for the spirit between the worlds of the living and the dead.