The Keeper at the New Museum
By Elana Kates
The New Museum’s recent exhibit, The Keeper, speaks to a particularly universal impulse: that to save, to amass, to preserve. Whether archival or anthropological, individual or historical. At this new show, the scope and range is extensive—the exhibit spans nearly four floors. The Keeper displays collections. These assortments reflect on the urge to collect things of varying degrees of importance (however you define this concept). Some are comprised of personal mementos and others antiquities. The items on display come from a diversity of historical contexts and circumstances. A selection of melted and distorted artifacts from the National Museum of Beirut is exhibited. These valuable objects, which had been warped by shellfire during the Lebanese Civil War, bear the physical manifestation of destruction and violence. And conversely: a collection of mini-sculptures by Japanese artist Yuji Agematsu. These small assemblages are composed of clear cigarette wrappings filled with a curated assortment of trash and detritus, which Agematsu obsessively collects during daily walks in Manhattan.
The cornerstone of The Keeper is an exhaustive project conceived and assembled by Ydessa Hendeles. This archive, titled Partners (The Teddy Bear Project), features some 3,000 family-album photographs of people posing with teddy bears. And the installation is overwhelming—walls are lined floor to ceiling with images that eventually blend together despite differing milieus and historical circumstances. Partners reveals a nearly frenzied impulse to comprehensively explore that which ties people to their playthings. Also displayed, an archive of a more personal nature: the 63-image photo-biography of Ye Jinglu. Jinglu, an avid portrait enthusiast, had his picture taken every year, from 1905 till his death in 1968. Although these unassuming images are formal and reserved, they betray Jinglu’s charming idiosyncrasies and mirror shifting cultural trends and developments. This condition is what links Partners and Ye Jinglu’s portraits, both collections of unassuming photographs that reflect individual proclivities and wider historical contexts.
The Keeper is full of such parallels and connections. Each of the collections displayed are unique, but they convey similar themes. Despite the multiplicity, universal truths emerge. This endures regardless of whether the work is that of an artist or amateur. And the exhibition’s collectiveness is exactly what makes it so captivating. The Keeper consistently and compellingly investigates distinctions between fine art and triviality at every level and on every floor (there are four of them).
The Keeper is on display from 7/20/16-9/25/16
Images © Tal Yaron
Article © Elana Kates