Close Encounters of the Art Kind: Introduction
11 January 2001–13 January 2002
What happens when contemporary sculpture is made a part of daily domestic life?
That is what Close Encounters of the Art Kind explored in 2001–2002. Devised and curated by Colin Painter, renowned for his work on ways in which images and objects are given meaning in people’s lives, the project was part of the Contemporary Programme at the Victoria and Albert Museum. This aims to bring out the Museum’s relevance to everyday life. For the first time the Museum displayed personal possessions from people’s homes chosen not by curators but by the householders involved in the project. The exhibition also included objects selected by sculptors from the Museum’s galleries. Of equal importance as exhibits were the texts presenting the meanings that the works displayed had for the participants. Crucial to the purpose of the exhibition however were the responses it evoked in the spectator. The V&A warmly thanks Colin Painter, the householders and the sculptors for making this collaborative project possible.
"This project celebrates contemplative encounters with images and objects and the sense we make of them. Of course context is crucial to that. For many years now, my work has centred on the relationship between the personal culture/s of the domestic and the museum culture of art. Thanks to the resources of the V&A, Close Encounters explores meanings generated when the two are brought together. Centrally it explores what happens when different people, who are not part of the culture of contemporary art, live with works by contemporary sculptors in their homes. There, through prolonged encounters, the works can accrue meanings and perform functions, perhaps unimagined by the artists, and often outside conventional art world discourse, participating in the rituals and rites of passage of people’s lives.
I recruited a variety of six contemporary sculptors and, through Brecknock Primary School NW1, a variety of six households – staff (teaching and non-teaching), parents and grandparents. For six months, with the help of V&A staff, Anne Painter and I rotated a work by each sculptor round these homes. The householders lived with each for a month, siting them as they wished in relation to their own possessions. They talked to me about the experience and allowed Anne to take photographs. In the interests of spontaneity I did not tell them the artists’ names nor the titles of the works. The artists had no knowledge of the homes involved.
The resulting exhibition presents the six sculptures, with photographs of them in their temporary homes, along with the thoughts of both artists and householders about their meanings as told to me during the project. These web pages documents that central aspect.
Also included in the exhibition, but not included here due to lack of space, are objects of significance, chosen by the householders from the homes in which the sculptures temporarily lived. These are complemented by items, also not included here, selected by the artists from the V&A’s collection as having resonance with their sculptures. The whole constitutes an unpredictable tapestry of meaning-making, relationships and interrelationships to which visitors will inevitably contribute through the prisms of their own lives.
I am greatly indebted to the artists and the householders who bravely and energetically submitted themselves to this project. Special thanks to Ann Whittaker of Brecknock Primary School, Jude Kerr and Anne Painter. Of course, I am also indebted to the V&A, and to Susan Lambert and Guillaume Olive in particular, for supportive collaboration."