Barnaby Drabble & Federica Martini

Sentimental Museography

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Studies in Visual Arts and Communication – an international journal / June 2017 4(1)


This article explores the affective significance of three curatorial projects realized between the 1960s and the early 1980s, plucked from a still un-assembled history of exhibitions in which collections of ever-day objects form the starting point for emotional, imaginative and at times narrative reflections on museology. The activities of the authors of these ‘museums’ can be seen as working somewhere between social and personal histories, between high and low culture, between private and collective memory, and between nostalgic and impulsive registers. Some commentators have termed them artists’ museums, but they are not exclusively assembled by artists. Others have filed them under institutional critique, even though in many ways they refer not to the modern museum, but back to its precursors; the Wunderkammer and Kunstkammer of the pre-rational age. This paper is written in the context of renewed interest in exhibition experiments substituting institutional museum visions with curatorial individual narratives and fictional acts. It considers, by way of an analysis of the three selected projects, how atypical collections and the narratives they convey configure affect. We argue that the deinstitutionalizing voice in these projects, which rephrases the activities of collecting and curating as, at once, subjective, convivial and sentimental, opens up possibilities for new communities of feeling and sensibility.

Keywords: Modern Art, Contemporary Art, Alternative Museums, Artists’ Collections, Exhibition History, Curating, Affect, Wunderkammer, Institutional Critique.

Biographical notes

Dr. Barnaby Drabble is a curator, writer and researcher with a focus on contemporary art and particularly experimental and avant-garde exhibition history and curatorial theory. Since 2009, he is a part of the faculty of the MAPS Master Program at ECAV. He has curated numerous independent projects including exhibitions, screenings, discursive events and events in the public space. In 2010 he was awarded a PhD by the visual and cultural studies department of the Edinburgh College of Art for his research into participatory exhibitions. The research and archiving project, Curating Degree Zero, co-initiated with Dorothee Richter in 1998 -­ 2008 has attracted attention for its role in assisting research into alternative approaches to exhibition making of the past 15 years. Since 2009 Drabble is managing editor of the Journal for Artistic Research, the first peer-­reviewed journal for the identification, publication and dissemination of artistic research.

Federica Martini, PhD, is an art historian and curator. She was a member of the Curatorial Departments of the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Musée Jenisch Vevey and Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts/Lausanne. Since 2009, Martini has been head of the Master programme MAPS at the ECAV/Ecole cantonale d’art du Valais/Sierre, and is part of the collective standard/deluxe, Lausanne. In 2015-16 she was a research fellow at the Istituto Svizzero di Roma. Together with Elise Lammer she initiated the Museum of Post-Digital Cultures (2012-ongoing) and with Julie Harboe she conceived the SARN booklets, an editorial series on artistic research. Recent publications include: “My PhD is my art practice. Notes and insights on the art PhD in Switzerland (with P. Gisler, 2017); Vedi alla voce: traversare (2016); Publishing Artistic Research (with B. Drabble, 2014); Open Source and Artistic Research (with B. Drabble, 2014); Tourists Like Us: Critical Tourism and Contemporary Art (with V. Mickelkevicius, 2013); Pavilions/Art in Architecture (with R. Ireland, 2013); Just Another Exhibition: Stories and Politics of Biennials (with V. Martini, 2011).