The Butler Museum of Art
Written by Bwog Staff
Too busy to make it to the Met? Butler displays are a poor substitute, but will do for a few minutes’ distraction. Bwog rookie Rob Stenson critiques the latest.
It’s exhibition installation season at Columbia, with first year MFAs in Schermerhorn (from high-art pornography to cable TV), and a senior thesis show in Dodge (exhibition highlight: an electrical cable in a bucket of water). But of all the new destinations for art-connoisseuring on campus, none is as accessible or relentlessly contemporary as what has replaced the Joseph Urban stage model exhibit in the third-floor display cases at Butler. Accessible, because the installation is timed right for reading week cellphone breaks. Relentless, because the new show, titled “Preserving the Libraries’ Collections,” embraces an object-fetishist aesthetic equal parts Hard Rock Cafe, natural history museum exhibition, and contemporary art-is-just-stuff-ism of trash on display.
The exhibition, a richly-illustrated, richly-accompanied, six case primer on how information disappears and how we can save it, does not disappoint. Janet Gertz, Director of Preservation at Butler and sole curator of the third floor display, has pulled off something artistically unique: a show that subtly critiques not the institution but us, its visitors. Full of placards that gently scold library patrons—e.g. “YOU CAN HELP”; “Please be careful when replacing books on shelves”; “If you see vermin, report the problem to staff”—the whole thing becomes a catalogue of our library-going sins. Here are the books you have killed, it says: Dostoevsky with a crushed spine, coffee-stained sociology, one “unfortunate specimen” eaten by a dog, an encyclopedia destroyed by an untutored photocopying technique.
Exhibition highlights include a plastic bag (pictured) in a case titled “Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and fires: enemies of library collections,” latex gloves, a
gas mask available at University Hardware, a Jaz disc and drive (“period of use was the mid-1990s through the early 2000’s”), a CD burner, and a laserdisc of Italy’s tourist attractions. All of the stuff—either exhumed from library storage, or destined to be trash—seems left behind, like the props from some event that was as equally uninspired and as visually uninteresting as the current exhibition.
So, for painfully overwrought works of art—walls of abstract doodles and letters to the 1980s—by people who would like to be artists, visit Schermerhorn and Dodge. For the effortless display of stuff that would otherwise be trash, but is—when cobbled together by Janet Gertz, who doesn’t appear to care very much—a kind of contemporary art by accident, simply exit the reading room and answer your phone.