The Empty Museum


YEAR: 1993



The artist


Part of the installation No 193, “The Strange City.” See CRI vol 3, No 67, pp 366-387


Frankfurt am Main, Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste
Das Leere Museum, 11 Feb 1993 — 19 Mar 1993

Grand Palais, Paris, France 
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: L’Étrange Cité (Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: The Strange City), Monumenta 2014, organization: Réunion des Musées Nationaux with support of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, May 10 to June 22, 2014

Power Station of Art, Shanghai, China

The installation was exhibited as part of the installation “The Strange City,” No 193, which included the installations, The Dark Chapel, The Gates, as well as the additional installations 20 Ways to get an Apple listening to the Music of Mozart and The Fallen Angel

Power Station of Art, Shanghai, China
伊利亚和艾米莉亚•卡巴科夫:理想之城 / llya and Emilia Kabakov: The Dream City, 上海当代艺术博物馆, August 7 to December 6, 2015


A separate, long space was built inside of a large metal barracks and was completely repainted inside, including the walls, ceiling, and floor: the ceiling was gray, the floor was dark brown, the walls were a crimson color and the lower part of the walls was covered to a height of 1.09 meters with wood paneling, also dark. Specially constructed two-sided couches with high backs so they could be leaned upon occupied the center of the hall; cornices under the ceiling and around the doors were made with golden baroque ornamentation. As a result of all of this, what emerged inside was the image of an old museum of the 19th Century, the walls of which were anticipating the arrival and arrangement of paintings that were of no less ‘classical’ content. It is interesting to note that the external appearance of this ‘museum’ remained exactly the same as that of temporary decorative structures or pavilions so that the viewer might first see such an external front and then enter into a ‘museum.’

There were spotlights hanging from the ceiling as in any museum, and today they were turned on and were illuminating the places that should be occupied by paintings, forming 16 round spots of light on the noble red background. There were no paintings. But the solemn music of Bach’s Passacaglia resounded through the air.

The most interesting thing that emerged from observing the behavior of viewers in such a situation was that they would quickly sit down on the soft chairs and would submerge themselves, though it is difficult to say whether they were actually submerged into listening to Bach, but many of them would sit for a very long time, not getting up from their places and they seemed to be engrossed in ‘some sort’ of state. As it now seems to me, there were five states existing in the memory of every person that merged together here and would not release the ‘viewer’ (it is difficult to use this word, since, strictly speaking, there was nothing to look at) from their grips.

Here are the five states in order:

  1. The state of a ‘train station’ or an ‘airport’ where people are waiting for either their train or plane, perhaps soon or not so soon. This is a state of prolonged ‘anticipation.’

  2. The state each person experiences when inside a church: tranquility, concentration, a lofty aloofness of the soul.

  3. The state induced by a concert in a conservatory, where you have come intentionally to listen to music that is beautifully performed.

  4. The state in a museum where in order to submerge yourself in contemplation you need a peaceful state on a comfortable sofa and the optimal conditions in front of your eyes, so that no one would pass before you or block what you are looking at.

  5. Finally comes the situation in a movie theater or a regular theater when to the right and left of you are sitting people in a completely mesmerized state looking straight ahead in one and the same direction.

And finally, why shouldn’t you just relax and stretch out, like at home, on the soft couch and in the soft semi-darkness and forget that you are surrounded by day and your constant cares …

Music in the Installation

The spatial atmosphere of an old ‘classical’ museum is recreated in the installation The Empty Museum: dark red walls, golden molding under the ceiling and around the doors, low wooden paneling around all the walls. There are two comfortable ‘museum’ couches in the middle of the room. But there are no paintings hanging on the walls; instead, there are oval spots of light produced by spotlights aimed at the walls. There are 12 such illuminated ovals in the entire space. Bach’s ceremonious organ piece, Passacaglia, resounds rather loudly in the space, filling the entire rectangular museum hall, as it might resound in a conservatory, or more precisely, even in a church space. The style of the music is loftily ceremonious, ritualistic – it corresponds well and naturally to the old, even somewhat gloomy hall. The image is easily accessible, and such a hall with its dark seat couches, the old gilding, and wooden panels, turns out to be on the same level with a concert hall, a conservatory, and a church. But particularly unexpected and yet at the same time naturally perceived is the connection between the resounding music and the oval spots of light on the walls. If classical old paintings were to be hanging on the walls in these places, this unexpected but harmonious effect would not occur. The reason for this ‘naturalness’ is easy to explain and understand: the ovals of light on the walls are easily associated with windows, the shining stained-glass windows in a church when the sun hits, ‘blinding’ with its rays. But the second reason has, it seems to me, a more subtle, one might say, psychological explanation: the presence, the necessity of the music in the ‘museum’ is explained directly by the absence on its walls of paintings. This emptiness on the walls has a direct and natural connection to the filled space of the museum. There is a complete absence of paintings in the hall, but it is completely filled, to its very edges, with music. Moreover, it should be repeated that this is the very same, great, traditional, classical content that the paintings that could be hanging there might have.

This unexpected substitution, the replacement of one form of art by another, although it is surprising in its radicality, nonetheless ‘worked’ for the viewers, who could sit silently for a very long time, submerged into parallel listening/contemplating (this was demonstrated by the experience of the lengthy existence of this installation). In this protracted description I merely wanted to show the possibilities of such a substitution – of paintings by sound – but not to draw specific conclusions and accompany them with theoretical interpretations.



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1993Megan BartonComment