Wesley Meuris The World's most Important Artists

Description:
Installation, 660 drawers with unique codes. Photographies by Hervé Beurel. Image © Wesley Meuris and Hervé Beurel. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Created:
2009

Wesley Meuris The World's most Important Artists

Description:
Installation, 660 drawers with unique codes. Photographies by Hervé Beurel. Image © Wesley Meuris and Hervé Beurel. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Created:
2009

Wesley Meuris The World's most Important Artists

Description:
Installation, 660 drawers with unique codes. Photographies by Hervé Beurel. Image © Wesley Meuris and Hervé Beurel. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Created:
2009

Wesley Meuris The World's most Important Artists

Description:
Installation, 660 drawers with unique codes. Photographies by Hervé Beurel. Image © Wesley Meuris and Hervé Beurel. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Created:
2009

Wesley Meuris The World's most Important Artists

Description:
Installation, 660 drawers with unique codes. Photographies by Hervé Beurel. Image © Wesley Meuris and Hervé Beurel. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Created:
2009

Wesley Meuris The World's most Important Artists

Description:
Installation, 660 drawers with unique codes. Photographies by Hervé Beurel. Image © Wesley Meuris and Hervé Beurel. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Created:
2009

Wesley Meuris The World's most Important Artists

Description:
Installation, 660 drawers with unique codes. Photographies by Hervé Beurel. Image © Wesley Meuris and Hervé Beurel. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Created:
2009

Menu

Wesley Meuris
The World's Most Important Artists

The collection of information presented is subject to an ordered layout whose apparent rigour the visitor may initially find disconcerting. Explicitly organised according to the model of archive architecture, the installation divides the space in two with a long glass wall.

“And so I found myself actually in the Holy of Holies of the library. I had the impression, I assure you, of being inside a skull.  There was nothing around me but shelves with their cells of books, everywhere ladders to climb, and nothing on the desks and tables but catalogues and bibliographies, all the quintessence of knowledge, nowhere a proper book you could read, only books about books.” [1]

 

In Depth

In Robert Musil’s novel, The Man Without Quality, General Stumm describes to Ulrich his visit to the Imperial Library of Cacanie, accompanied by an eccentric librarian who takes him into the catalogue room, which was normally out of bounds to the uninitiated.  Overwhelmed by the sense of the place, Stumm thinks he is approaching the fount of all knowledge, but at the same time he measures the infinite character of his own fitness.  This creates in him a vertigo even more intense than admiration, as if there were in all those “books about books” the secret of all those in the library and the esoteric plan of their organisation.

As if what were preserved here, and the assumed correlated activities, were demanding a cold and impersonal environment to suit the rigour of the filing system.

Denis Briand

A similar vertigo could overtake us before Wesley Meuris’ installation The World’s Most Important Artists, [2] a title that seems to resonate with fundamental works in the history of art.  The collection of information presented is subject to an ordered layout whose apparent rigour the visitor may initially find disconcerting.  Explicitly organised according to the model of archive architecture, the installation divides the space in two with a long glass wall. On one side, a narrow passage runs in front of the glass, giving access to the outside of the filing space.  On the other side, are six long grey blocks aligned in a large white room, with sixty drawers on each of their longest sides.  In total, six hundred and sixty identical drawers lined up in this collection of grey columns looking exactly like ordinary filing cabinets.  In the centre of the glass partition an opening gives access to the space occupied by these volumes.  The area is simply lit by rows of neon lights hanging below the roof, lined up with the cabinets.  However, in reality the drawers are just surfaces on the sides of the “cabinets” and do not offer any real storage capacity.  Consequently, any attempt to use them is foiled by their failure to open and the drawers remain stubbornly closed.  They have no other material existence but the relief of their façade and the presence of the handles; similar to images of drawers, they flaunt a repetitive identity on both sides of this sculptured furniture.  The only tangible difference is the reference label on which a standardised code specific to each drawer is written in letters and figures. [3]

In this new installation, a methodical organisation of data is supposed to materialise in the architectural space, an exhaustive classification of the “artist’s life”.  But it uses an unusual system with the following logic:  a chart with three lists corresponding to medium, type of inspiration and psychological state of the artist, makes it possible to prepare and organise documentary research which could then follow in the archive room.  A slip, available at the entrance, permits the visitor to tick one box for each list on the chart to obtain a three section code referring to a specific drawer situated in one of the cabinets.  For example, if one is interested in ceramics, inspired by the theme “satanical and sadism”, created by artists suffering from a stutter, one should look in drawer no 028–SAS-Y3 in order to consult the files on the artists concerned.  If one would prefer to carry out research in the category “painting” with inspiration linked to “personal myth” and directed towards “sense of worth”, the research will then take place in drawer 044-PMY-Q3. These two examples reveal the nature of Wesley Meuris’ relationship with the business of classification.  A certain wit regularly undermines with the absurd the apparent megalomania of the project. [4]

If the collection of supposed archives preserved in the filing cabinets gives hope of possible exploratory work, research in this or that drawer cannot, however, take place.  No matter what code is obtained by combining the three lists on the chart, research will lead to nothing concrete and the promises of this collection of precious information on “the world’s most important artists” will quickly disappoint.  So, there is no actual content to be discovered in these fictitious archives, but a purely imaginary exploration can be undertaken from the cases in the chart, and a real spatial experience can be had in the constructed space. The grey colour of the filing cabinets, the rigour of their construction, the geometry of their form and the clinical neon lighting, all these characteristics, precisely defined by the artist, plunge the area into an austere atmosphere, a reflection of the classification system which seems to submit the architecture as a whole to his authority.  As if what were preserved here, and the assumed correlated activities, were demanding a cold and impersonal environment to suit the rigour of the filing system.  Before the void which the installation creates we would, after a fashion, be obliged to see the architecture [5] and for that the plastic dimension is no stranger to its qualitative perception.

The installation virtually takes possession of the architecture and completely reconfigures it.  From this point of view, the long, transparent separating wall represents a new use of glass walls in the work of Wesley Meuris, whose Zoological Classification constituted a significant step.  This series of sculptures and installations presented life-sized animal cages, where the conception takes account of all the characteristics of the animal’s natural life, adapted to artificial spaces. [6]  Taking inspiration from conservation and display practices in natural surroundings, Zoological Classificationshowcased the contradictory device of the zoo, obliged to look after the vital needs of the captive animals and, at the same time, constrained to make a spectacular display of them.  If the history of the zoo has really led to a specific form of show,[7]  the constraining power of the glass cage finds its legitimacy in the desire for knowledge and its humanistic intentions. Without being peremptory, this series reflected the ambiguity of the project, and the glass case fulfilled the double function of show case and exhibition material, creating a frontier between the spectator’s external space and the enclosed world of the cages, which, however, were always resolutely devoid of occupants.

 

This presentation is a fragment from Denis Briand, «The Lacunary Archives of Wesley Meuris», in Center for Collecting and Conservation of Art Information, Edition Galerie Art & Essai, Rennes 2 University, Rennes, and Gallery Annie Gentils, Antwerp, February 2010, p. 16-21.

 

NOTES:

[1] Robert Musil, “L’Homme sans qualité,” translated into French by Philippe Jacottet, new edition, Vol 1, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 2004, p. 517.  (English title “The Man Without Qualities.”)

[2] In his first solo exhibition in France, Wesley Meuris created an installation specifically for the space in the gallery Art & Essai at the University of Rennes 2:  THE WORLD’S MOST IMPORTANT ARTISTS A data collection which explores the artist’s life in depth, 30 April to 12 June 2009 (media: paint, glass, neon lights, metal handles, paper.)

[3] The principle of this installation is closely related to another work by Wesley Meuris entitledBotanical World Archive (2007), consisting of four tall, double shelf units associated with a drawing in perspective schematizing the spatial organisation of the botanical classification of this device, whose shelves remain, however, completely empty of all content.  It would be possible to see there a reference to the field of knowledge in which the first taxonomy businesses were developed and the first catalogues produced.

[4]  The heading on the research request slip available at the entrance says “Our archives allow you to explore the life of the artist in depth with rapid and well-designed research facilities,” and a note at the bottom of the page gives all the necessary “guarantees” on this vast, utopian system for the classification of art, pointing out that “Fundamental methods of conservation are employed.” This is just one of the many details that contribute to the fiction of the collection.

[5] Lieven Van Den Abeele,    “Une architecture à ‘voir’ – Les sculptures architecturales de Wesley Meuris”, Septentrion. Arts, Lettres et Culture de Flandre et des Pays-Bas, Rekken, Stichting Ons Erfdeel, n° 4, 2008, p. 5.

[6] Zoological Classification, created between 2005 and 2007; cf. “Wesley Meuris, Artificially Deconstructed,” Antwerp, Annie Gentils Gallery, 2007.

[7] Cf. Olivier Razac, L’écran et le zoo, Spectacle et domestication, des expositions coloniales à Loft Story, Paris, Éditions Denoël, Collections Essais, 2002, p. 82.

Medium:

Genre:

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,