A Model is an exhibition that puts forward a reflection on the role of the museum at the beginning of the twenty-first century. It affirms the need to think of the institution as a living place, sensitive and receptive to contemporary debates and reaching beyond its status as simply a space for display. A Modelcontemplates the possibilities that arise when museum collections are re-imagined as active and performative environments, rather than timeless repositories of objects.
A Model is about the potential of art having critical impact on the world and about how artists exert their commitment to this potential through their work. Even as an artist’s vision is subjective, individual and personal, art objects or manifestations of artistic vision are vital forms of communication. The idea of the museum as a static archive – a conception inherited from the Enlightenment – is upended in today’s cultural context in which durational, event-based, and experimental artworks, exhibitions and experiences are part of the institutional language.
The museum must take social changes into consideration and rethink beliefs that have been taken for granted. Today, the landscape is changing, from a renewed approach to diversity within institutions, to rethinking existing and deeply anchored narratives and in turn rewriting history to re-establish cultures or practices hitherto overlooked or ignored. The recent pandemic also changed behaviours: the feedback loops of social media and constantly improving visual technologies are amplifying our relation to information and the realities of the world we live in.
This drive to rethink and reinvent itself is nothing new in the development of the modern and contemporary art museum. This exhibition was in part inspired by the project of the artist and activist Palle Nielsen, entitled Modellen – En model för ett kvalitativt samhälle (The Model – A Model for a Qualitative Society). It was presented in 1968 at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, then led by Pontus Hultén, who contributed considerably to redefine the museum in his time. Nielsen’s project consisted in the installation of an adventure playground inside the museum, freely accessible to all of Stockholm’s children to a wide range of play functions and activities. It was open for three weeks and attracted more than 33.500 visitors, 20.000 of whom were children (adults paid a normal entrance fee).
A Model echoes the regenerating spirit of this project in its desire to renew the museum’s commitment to contemporary art. It marks the beginning of new ways of thinking about how art is displayed and thought of, by placing the Mudam Collection at the point of departure of a temporary exhibition. The latter brings together around ten artists, invited to conceive new commissions inspired by and in dialogue with works from the collection, whose practices reflect critically on the museum institution and on contemporary society. A Model is a testament to the role played by artists in shaping collective awareness and the influence they have had on the shaping of the contemporary art museum.
The exhibition will be presented from 1 December 2023 to 8 September 2024 and is structured around three distinct temporalities, starting with A Model: Prelude – Rayyane Tabet. Trilogy, followed by A Model unfolding over two entire floors of the museum from the beginning of 2024, and concluding with A Model: Epilogue – Jason Dodge.
As a prelude to the exhibition A Model, Rayyane Tabet was given carte blanche to develop a site- specific project for the Henry J. and Erna D. Leir Pavilion.
An architect by training, the artist’s work is precisely based on the analysis and comprehension of sociocultural contexts. His work combines historical and subjective memory to offer an alternative reading to the official narrative surrounding his object of study, and to open it up to new meanings. Rayyane Tabet also attaches great importance to the spaces in which his projects are embedded. The articulation of his installations in the exhibition space takes into account the historical framework of the architecture, revealing its particularities as much as its contradictions.
In response to the invitation, the artist has devised Trilogy, an installation that unfolds around three pivotal periods of contemporary history. The interwar period is evoked through the presentation of elements from a room from Sanatorium Paimioby Alvar Aalto, a central ensemble of works in Mudam Collection. Conceived between 1930 and 1933, this furniture is emblematic of the functionalist research and humanistic thought of the architect, who designed it in such a way that, through its various functions, it contributed to the well-being and even rehabilitation of its residents.
The artist also revisits the period that witnessed the emergence of Mudam’s building, as well as other creations by its architect Ioeh Ming Pei: the Pyramid of the Louvre in Paris and the annex of the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin. Architectures of their time, characterised by big glass-paned surfaces, transparent and open to the outside – they serve as metaphors for the tipping point in history brought about by the collapse of the Soviet Union at the turn of the 1990s.
Following the same principle of aggregating memories and material forms, the windows framing the footbridge leading to the Pavilion are clad in translucent curtains similar to those installed by the artist’s grandparents in their Beirut flat in the 1950s. To arrange one’s interior in this way, to let the light in, was the sign of a time marked by progress and prosperity. By contrast, the glass roof of the Pavilion is entirely covered in a blue film that makes it invisible from the sky and permanently sets Aalto’s furniture in an end-of-day glow. Rayyane Tabet was inspired by the civilian population of Beirut, who during the Six-Day War in 1967 covered the windows of their homes and even the headlights of their vehicles with a deep blue colour to avoid being spotted.
Lastly, Rayyane Tabet references the explosion that took place on 4 August 2020, in the port of Beirut by producing a work made up of carafes themselves made from fragments of glass retrieved on site; a means of imagining a form of symbolic repair.