Who? Exhibitions are rarely the subject of their own exhibition but PM Gallery & House's current display has proved an interesting exception to the rule, featuring images, by various international photographers, that thrust galleries and museums into the spotlight they so frequently offer but seldom inhabit.
What? Entitled Wundercamera, the exhibition is a web of semiotic intrigue as various exhibition spaces, each carefully conceived by their own curator, are captured on film by a new artist, with a new directorial vision, and the final photographs then, in turn, arranged in a new exhibition space by a new curator. This all sounds rather complicated but the resulting "museum of museums" makes for compelling viewing as the different photographers offer up their individual perspectives on museum culture and the art of collecting.
"A 'museum of museums', Wundercamera makes for compelling viewing as different photographers offer up their individual perspectives on museum culture"
Some, like Matt Stuart and Traer Scott, playfully toy with the relationship between viewer and object, as in Scott's image Gazelle, where two observers 'enter' the cabinet of a pair of stuffed gazelles as ghostly reflections in the protective glass. Others capture individual exhibits close-up, removing all signs of the museum that surrounds them and thus bestowing them with a more profound realism than their display case permits. This is exemplified by Karl Grimes' resplendent Brown Bear (1998), who, through Grimes' lens, is given the freedom to inhabit his painted mountain backdrop with a proud sense of ownership. In other works, such as those of Karen Knorr and Valery Katsuba, specific scenes have been set up within gallery spaces, like Katsuba's Gymnast who teeters precariously on a velvet ball, presented as just another curiosity in an elaborate museum setting. A final complementary section of the exhibition 'returns', photographically speaking, parts of Sir John Soane's diverse collection of art and antiquities (now housed at at Sir John Soane's museum) to the gallery's adjoining house Pitzhanger Manor, the pieces' original home.
Why? Speaking on the subject of why he was determined to assemble this unusual and refreshing cultural commentary, co-curator and photogapher Klaus Wehner explains, "Drawings made in galleries are allowed but the use of a photograph is not. Institutions deem the images as equivalent to a photo-copy, denying the photographs to be an artistic interpretation. Wundercamera reflects on this issue. It brings together a large number of photographic projects, featuring distinctly individual interpretations of different aspects of museums, and calls to attention the fact that there is no such thing as a camera made ‘photo-copy’. A photographic image is always a re-presentation and interpretation of its subject at the same time – and some of the photos in the exhibition, are no photos at all."
Wundercamera is at the PM Gallery & House until this Saturday 11 January.