Paintings, water-color paintings, print art, sculpture, photography, craftwork and others — collections of artworks stored in museums are usually classified into such categories as stated above. Why are they categorized? A number of artworks are divided into groups to make it easier to be organized by classifying them into certain small categories. Above all, however, the segmentation/classification of works is considered to be important in terms of suggesting ways of understanding or defining some exhibits by distinguishing them from others. Let me give you an example in which we would classify relief works made by Yoshishige Saito as “paintings” instead of “sculptures”. This categorizing doesn’t just mean the displaying of his artworks in an exhibition room in the painting section or keeping them in a storage room especially prepared for paintings. It also provides us with a way of considering Saito’s relief works not just vaguely as “artworks”, but specifically treating them as “paintings”, categorized as one of the fields of “artworks” and considering them within the framework of “paintings”.
What would you do if you had something that proved to be difficult to be classify in a classification table you have already prepared? If there is a certain amount of “something”, you may create a new group to categorize them. However, if there are only small amounts and a wide variety of this “something”, you will have to then lump them all together into the same group named a “non-category”.
fig. 1 View from the "My Favorites — Index of a Certain Collection" at The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, courtesy of The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto
fig. 2 Marcel Duchamp “La boîte-en-valise” (1936-41); replica miniature, photograph, colored replication, cardboard case, 38.5cm×35.0cm×7.0cm, courtesy of The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto
fig. 3 View from the "My Favorites — Index of a Certain Collection" at The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, courtesy of The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto
fig. 4 Krzysztof Wodiczko, “If You See Something…” (2005); video installation, four-sided projection, courtesy of The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto
fig. 5 Krzysztof Wodiczko, “If You See Something…” (2005); video installation, four-sided projection, courtesy of The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto
The exhibition entitled “My Favorites — Index of a Certain Collection” held in the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto introduced mainly such groups of works categorized in this “non-category” category. Although works shown in this exhibition were composed of “non-category” works, not all of them were strange and fantastic. Instead, this exhibition could be called an extremely orthodox collection exhibition of modern art, since we could enjoy Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” (1917/1964, assisted readymade, Schwarz edition, ed. 6/8), Surrealist prints, Fluxus materials, or photographic and film works. In this case, what does “non-category” mean?
It is a little too symbolic, but that the first collection categorized as “non-category” by the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto was Marcel Duchamp’s “La boîte-en-valise” (1936-41, replica miniature, photograph, colored replication, cardboard case, 38.5 cm × 35.0 cm × 7.0 cm). In this exhibition, we could view Duchamp’s “Fountain” and “In Advance of the Broken Arm” (1964, shovel (iron/wood), 132.0cm) in addition to “La boîte-en-valise”. Indeed, “Fountain” and “In Advance of the Broken Arm” have been classified as “sculpture”, but they were not actually made by engraving or carving. The former is just a lavatory pan, and the latter is simply a shovel. They are so-called ready-made products. Duchamp added significantly different meanings to those of the originals by giving them certain names, such as “Fountain” and “In Advance of the Broken Arm”. He transformed these ready-made products into something unidentified, namely, “non-category” things by removing their established meanings.
In pictures taken by Bill Brandt and Edward Weston, subjects, such as human bodies and things, were transformed into objects because of their composition making viewers imagine they were taken in a geometric structure. The set of matters which took a legal turn as a result of Genpei Akasegawa’s reproduction of a thousand-yen bill still makes those of us in Japan realize intensely the disturbing strength of art trying to remain a “non-category” in our society. Thus, in a history of contemporary art starting with Duchamp’s works, it was an important element in the process of completing works to exist as “non-category” creations that cannot be categorized by traditional categorization and to transform existing things into “non-category” ones.
Furthermore, it may also be one of the characteristics of post-war art that most of creations were made using “non-category” techniques. For example, so-called “film works”, such as Nam June Paik’s video art and William Kentridge’s animations, cannot be categorized using existing groups of works, including painting and sculpture. In addition, as for “film creations”, they have no certain type of media like that of “paintings” since they are shown using various kinds of display form, such as video, DVD and CRT-base or projection television. It is therefore not easy for us to define “film creations”. This would be one of the reasons they are often classified as “non-category” works.
There is other form of creations described as “installations”. Examples include Tatsuo Miyajima’s “Monism/Dualism” (1989, light-emitting diode) made by using LED and Tadasu Takamine’s “Baby Insa-dong” (2003, mixed media) composed of photographs and film. Installation shows us its wide range of possibilities and orientation while introducing techniques used for creating other groups of artworks, such as “film works” and sculpture.
The flourishing of this “non-category” art as stated above may sometimes cause a certain type of confusion. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, we usually categorize with the aim of ordering and methodizing. If there is as a result an excessive number of various kinds of subjects considered to be classified into this “non-category” group, we need to create and organize a new group to categorize them. Does the current situation in which the number of “non-category” works is increasing, (as can be seen in this exhibition), represent the inability of skilled curators to categorize modern artworks? Needless to say, the answer is “No”. As Shinji Kohmoto stated in the brochure of this exhibition, the above-mentioned present condition regarding “non-category” creations must be due to the fact that curators have “regretted and loved the possibility included in the ambiguous definition of ‘non-category’ works”.*1 “Non-category” creations are defined as “something” and given some meaning. Despite this, curators actively kept them as “non-category” works to hand down to following generations some kind of surplus/various aspects of these works which may be at risk of being destroyed by defined or given some meanings.
When we convey something to others, it is better to simplify the subjects we deliver. This should be the cardinal rule to facilitate communication. Simpler objects are more effective in reaching others and receiving a wider sympathy. It must be essential for museums to define and give some meanings to exhibits to simplify them so that museums become places to provide viewers with the pleasure of enjoying art through exhibitions. But what then does art mean? Does it represent a human drama? Is it a method of treating the mind? Or is it something “free” that can be interpreted in any way since there are no right answers as to how we may perceive it? Art, as well as human beings, is a much more complicated and difficult thing to be identified (though both firmly exist in this world). Isn’t this the case?
The existence of the “non-category” collection at the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, would be neither a reflection of belief in the nature of artworks which may be lost by being defined, nor the paradigm advocated in the 1980s, such as that written in “Tosoron”. Instead, a group of works categorized as “non-category” reflects curators’ frustration that, ironically, they could not successfully provide any fresh impact for viewers through exhibits though they wished and attempted to familiarize art among people by using a method of simplifying it.
In Krzysztof Wodiczko’s video installation entitled “If You See Something…” (2005,video installation, four-sided projection), people could be found through frosted glass. In the video, they seem to be carrying out different actions, including having a pleasant chat, sitting on the floor and cleaning something. However, we could only see their silhouettes and therefore had no choice but to imagine what kind of people they were. In other words, we could not clearly identify these people, as we could only see their wavering outlines through the obscured glass and we therefore perceive them as “dubious” or “non-category” people. This work of Wodiczko’s has presented us with a question as to what kind of attitude should be adopted when we encounter such “non-category” things.
Incidentally, I visited this exhibition on a designated day when entry to the venue was free. There were accordingly a large number of people enjoying the exhibition. Most of them were taking pictures of Wodiczko’s installation curiously with their digital cameras and mobile phones since in this exhibition every visitor was allowed to take photographs of all the exhibits. This reminds us that we modern people tend to take pictures of “non-category” things when we encounter them.
Now then, I ask, what would you do if you encountered some strange or unidentifiable thing?
(Translated by Nozomi Nakayama)
- “My Favorites — Index of a Certain Collection”, the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, 2010
My Favorites — Index of a Certain Collection
24/Mar/2010 - 05/May/2010
Venue: The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto