The museum as muse: Artists reflect

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Since public museums came into being in the late 18th century, artists have looked upon them with a mixture of reverence, complicity, suspicion, and disdain. In The Museum as Muse, artists of many persuasions speak their minds about museums, their functions and spaces, their practices and politics, and their relationship to the art they contain. More than 60 artists are represented by a wide range of works: photographs of museum patrons by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Elliot Erwitt; "personal museums" and "cabinets of curiosities" by Charles Wilson Peale, Marcel Duchamp, and Claes Oldenburg; fantasies of the destruction or transformation of museums by Hubert Robert, Ed Ruscha, and Christo; and more, including works created especially for this project by contemporary artists, and an anthology of statements and writings by artists about museums. This volume was published to accompany an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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The Museum as Muse: Artists Reflect is the stunning catalog that accompanies an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art during the spring of 1999. The show takes an insightful look at the way different artists deal with the ideas, concepts, and criticisms of "the public museum." The collected artists span both generations and degrees of fame, from French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson to pop artist Claes Oldenburg to contemporary artists Gillian Wearing and Mark Dion. The show, and by extension the book, illustrates the impact that the invention of the museum (just 200 years ago) has had on art making. It is fascinating to peer through the eyes of individual artists whose personal and intimate visions are both outside of the museum and inextricably linked to it by their choice of career. The artwork in the exhibition is wide-reaching and the reproductions for the book are beautiful. Hiroshi Sugimoto's black-and-white photo series of natural-history museum dioramas; a taxidermied polar bear and a seal on a bed of fake ice; and a re-creation of underwater sea life are all exquisite in their quiet and choreographed other-worldliness. This book should not be missed; it offers a great chance to look at art by artists who use their work to address the complexities of their own relationships with the massive institutions that are our museums. --Jennifer Cohen

296 pages, 114 full-color images, 132 black-and-white images

About the Author:

Kynaston McShine is Acting Chief Curator of the Department of Painting and Sculpture at The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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ISBN 10:  087070091X ISBN 13:  9780870700910
Publisher: The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002
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9780810961975: The Museum As Muse: Artists Reflect

Museum..., 1999
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