Portrait of Martín La Roche by Oswaldo García and courtesy of Miriam Gallery, Brooklyn NY.
In this new series of interviews we dive into the private collections of artists. Whether these collections are of bought or exchanged works, we get a glimpse into what inspires artists when they are not creating. The 'artists’ artists' is a term that refers to an artist that may be overlooked by the market or art historical canon, but who is highly respected among peers. Join us as we discover the unique connection between collecting and the creative process.
Martín La Roche is a visual artist from Santiago de Chile who lives in Amsterdam. He studied Visual Arts at the University of Chile and completed a postgraduate program at the Jan Van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, the Netherlands. His works often find their starting points from existing collections of objects, archives as modes of storytelling which he reassembles into installations, performances or publications. He has exhibited his works at various art spaces including Matucana 100 (Santiago de Chile), Amsterdam Ferry Festival, Parallel Institute (Hangzhou), Ludwig Museum (Koblenz), Museo de Artes Visuales (Santiago de Chile), Musée du Petit Format (Brussels), Tlaxcala 3 (CDMX), Rozenstraat (Amsterdam), Saltz (Basel), Miriam Gallery (New York), and Lugar a Dudas (Cali) among others.
Manuel López Ramírez: Your collection is something like most people have never heard of. Can you explain what your museum is, and how you came up with the idea?
Martín La Roche: My museum was born inside a hat, and it is called Musée Légitime. Every artist in the collection is invited to provide a piece small or immaterial enough that it can fit inside a hat while I’m wearing it. At different moments, I do a selection of pieces, tuck them inside one of the museum buildings (in the shape of hats), and go for a walk while wearing the museum. If the moment arises, I take the hat off and present the pieces in the collection, telling their stories and those of the authors, one by one. At the moment, there are 169 pieces in the collection and eleven museum buildings.
The idea came to me from a special finding I had one day while working at the documentation center of ‘Lugar a Dudas,' an artspace in Cali, Colombia. I was invited by Calipso Press to rethink their library organization, and I proposed solving a crossword puzzle using the books in their collection. In that process, by chance, I came upon a story of an artist who started a gallery inside a hat. This artist was Robert Filliou, who, in the years 1962-1963, had a gallery inside his cap. He invited his artist friends to contribute pieces that could fit inside the hat, and he acted as the gallerist, displaying the pieces. If any were sold, he charged them a 33% commission. That was the previous agreement. It is not certain how the gallery worked nor if he sold any pieces; there are only some photos of a hat filled with blurry objects and a few verbal descriptions made by him and some friends. This story stayed with me for some time.
When I was invited to participate in a show called ‘Chinese whispers' in Belgrade in 2017, a show about stories that get distorted and misinterpreted, and also about reinterpreting a culture that is not yours, I proposed to reenact the ‘Gallerie légitime.' However, mine was going to be a museum, and I intended to preserve the pieces, carry them around, and exhibit them. After receiving 19 pieces from artist friends, on the 17th of August 2017, the Museum was shown for the first time.
Manuel López Ramírez: Your “Musée Legitime” is quite atypical, in many ways. For one, it is an ambulatory museum. It travels, it is not married to any specific time or place, and can be shown anywhere, at any time. How does this itinerant and versatile nature respond to the nature of art institutions as they stand today? Might your museum be filling a specific vacuum, whether intentionally or unintentionally? In these terms, does it have a specific goal?
Martín La Roche: The ambulatory or transportable nature of the Musée Légitime has allowed me to easily come with its collection to a diverse range of places at unexpected moments, even for myself. The museum’s collection has been presented in several art venues in different cities, within art institutions and art centers alike, other museums and galleries. Most of the time, these presentations are planned and communicated in advance. At the same time, in different occasions, the Musée Légitime is presented in a more spontaneous way in other kinds of spaces such as a psychiatric hospital, pubs, bars and cafes, gardens, private apartments and public offices, libraries, pagodas, trains, an anatomical theater, a boat, a park bench or in bus stops, among others.
It has also been presented at varied times of the day, without fixed visiting hours. I would say that the biggest advantage towards other institutions is the flexibility that this mobility allows; it is one of the few museums that can come to you and you don’t need to come to it. However, it is not entirely versatile; the museum is carried and held by my skull and body. I need to eat and sleep, and it is also my memory that sustains the verbal aspect of its stories. The outdoor nature of this mobility also means that the museum is heavily affected by the weather. That’s why I have different museum buildings, some designed for cold temperatures and some for warm weather and heat.
Regarding the vacuum you referred to, in the Musée Légitime, there is a rich tradition of holes, vacuums, and empty spaces. For instance, the artist Hyesoo Park has a piece in which she punches holes into words with negative connotations from various newspapers. With these pieces of punched paper, she produces scores for musical boxes that are then played in the gallery. At one point, she asked for my help to underline these types of negative words in a Spanish newspaper, and I agreed in exchange for keeping the material of the holes she was punching. Over time, all these leftover little circles became a part of her piece in the collection of the hat museum. In an equivalent gesture, Astrid Seme asks me to cut a hole into a business card that she designed as the museum’s identity, every time I deliver one—that is also her artwork.
Following the hole in her piece, I would say that the vacuum between the hat and the head is a fundamental condition for this institution to exist. So more than coming to fill a vacuum, the Musée Légitime proposes itself as a vacuum, inviting you to immerse yourself and ‘come in’ in order to experience its collection—a vacuum and lens simultaneously. This museum inside a hat is continually undergoing transformation by its audience and contributors. Furthermore, as it is sometimes included in the programming of other institutions, following Carol Stakenas' proposal, the Musée Légitime aspires to be part of a 'three-sided transformation' of those other institutions and museums as well.
Manuel López Ramírez: For us to get a grasp of the idiosyncrasy and impact of your museum, could you share an anecdote about how visitors have related and reacted to the collection in the past?
Martín La Roche: From its very beginning the museum presentations became its reason for being. I remember after the presentation in Belgrade, that was supposed to be a ‘one time performance’ many things happened that are a good example of what defines this institution. One was that someone in the audience started crying. I was very surprised. I could see that the presentation generated some interest, but I never expected such an answer to it. When I asked why the cry, this someone explained to me that ten years ago in Belgrade, the two major art museums, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, went through some major renovations. After they had dismantled all the structures to be renewed, the 2008 economic crisis came, and all the reconstruction works were stopped. Since that time, the museums hadn’t reopened. This person related to the art world explained how in the last ten years they had had several conversations, seminars, discussions about the need of a museum, or the possibility of not needing it, of doing something regardless of the museum building and its institutional bureaucracy. This person told me that the idea of thinking of the space of a hat as a museum was deeply emotional for them in this context.
That evening something else happened to the configuration of the collection as well. After the presentation, three artists approached me immediately saying that they had interest in contributing with a work. With Marc Buchy and Adrijana Gvozdenovic it was an interesting talk and the promise of a contact, an email and a future work to come. But with Milos Komadina, the third artist, it was different. Milos had an urgency, he said that he had something for the collection, but he needed to give it to me now, at least during my stay in Belgrade; I needed to bring it with me back to Amsterdam. If not, he wouldn't succeed with its delivery. He mentioned some political reasons and obscure dilemmas. I was coming back to Amsterdam the next day, and until then I never thought of the possibility of spontaneous contributions to the collection, so it took me by surprise.
Milos asked for the address of the accommodation where I was staying and promised to come the next day before I took my flight back. I thought that this was said in the heat of the night, after the effect of some alcohol and late enthusiasm. But the next day, at 8 in the morning, when I was coming out of the apartment with my small suitcase there he was: Milos Komadina holding a little painting in his hands, a gold and blue painting that had a handwritten text on it. The text said: we must. He told me that this was a political piece. –Why?– I asked. –Because politicians always say we must, and they never mean it, but we must.– he answered. I knew at that exact moment that this museum was not a one time activation, it had become an institution in itself with a responsibility to its artists and collection.
Manuel López Ramírez: Your way of collecting is different too. For each given piece, you either asked for it, or you were given it. There is no commerce involved. Why is it important that you keep operating like this? What does commerce and commodification take away from art and museums? How does taking it out of the equation make things different?
Martín La Roche: In my particular case, the fact that there is no commerce involved has given me a more direct and intimate relation with the contributors. The exchange is of interest for both parties. I promise not to sell the pieces of the artists, but to carry them around and remember their stories and mention their names as they would like to be named. It is a shared memory, because almost all the pieces that have been given to me are defined by their authors. There are two exceptions in the collection that have been given post-mortem with explicit authorization of close friends of the artists, explaining that if still in this world, for sure the artists would have contributed to the Musée Légitime’s collection.
That’s the case of the contribution of Ron Padgett in collaboration with the Estate of Joe Brainard with the work Sufferin’ Succotash, and Ken Montgomery and his friend Conrad Schnitzler with the piece CON DNA. At the moment of telling the story for sure a selective and subjective quality of memory influences how I present the pieces. The fact that commerce is not involved in the equation frees me from looking to sell the pieces, and opens me to try to listen to them and then translate their stories.
Manuel López Ramírez: In exchange for getting to hold a piece in your museum, you commit to sharing the artist’s name and the work’s story with the public. Why is it important to have a story tied to the artwork? What does it contribute to the making of your museum? Why not let the pieces speak for themselves? What is the place of the story in art?
Martín La Roche: In my art practice I’m very influenced by some storytelling practices in relation to reading objects or translating objects to words, like the case of a storytelling box called Kavad from the region of Rajasthan in India. I think that there are multiple ways that a work of art can affect someone. There is a material, concrete reality of an art piece, something that you can access by seeing, touching, smelling, hearing, without the need of words or any verbalization. But at the same time, on top of that experience there are signs and symbols, a complex way in which we are reading an artwork. We are always naming things, and there is verbal communication carried around and shared in different ways in relation to art pieces. That is why in the Musée Légitime there is an interest in titles, names of the authors, multiple explanations, texts and essays, interviews in magazines, books, etc. That’s where a paratext starts to be constructed; there is gossip and splendid misinterpretations around art pieces.
Fiction and narrative play a crucial role in this. Part of telling stories is the possibility of sharing some of these anecdotes that set the tone to enter the world of the pieces that I carry. It is also a technique for them to be considered by the visitors of this hat museum. This is reinforced by pieces that have an explicit score quality, they are waiting to be read and performed. This is not rigid in this hat museum and it is constantly reshaped by the different pieces. For example, gerlach en koop, two individuals working together as a collective artist, asked me to be silent during the showing of their piece. I’m asked by them to make some movements with my hands, to perform the piece, but not telling anything. The first time I presented it, some visitors were confused, because I stayed for some time without saying anything and without any warning. This gesture also opened myself, it put me in a different disposition towards the presentation.
Manuel López Ramírez: Can you tell us more about some of the works you last carried inside a hat, and about your experience working with these particular artists?
Martín La Roche: Some of the last artworks that I was carrying were the ones by Toshiko Kobayashi and Tatsuo Koreda, her son. It is interesting to notice how much these works were connected by one event. Working with Toshiko was a great opening towards other disciplines. She formulated the theory of Expressive Origami Therapy (EOT), emphasizing the use of origami as a tool of art therapy in trauma work. When I met her, I didn’t know that something like this existed. She brought an idea that seemed from outside of my world, and I tried to understand it by simply folding paper. When she gave me her piece for the hat museum, she asked me to fold some papers together with her, a really tiny and beautiful piece. We built it together. This was quite unique, also in relation to other pieces in the collection. The relationship with Tatsuo and his piece for the collection came after Toshiko.
I met them together for the first time in New York. After 4 years of this encounter, Toshiko was traveling to a congress in Italy, and had some visits in Germany, Amsterdam and the Musée du Petit Format in Belgium. Since Toshiko had some health dilemmas, she couldn’t drive anymore, so she asked Tatsuo to go to New York from Tokyo to join her in her Europe trip and drive her around. Tatsuo accepted and arranged the flight ticket. It must be said that Tatsuo is a dreamy character and also very playful. During some idle moments before the trip he had been making some drawings and interventions in his passport. He even burned one corner in order to draw a figure that resembled someone smoking. He considered this as minor drawings. But when he came to New Delhi, the stepover of his journey to New York, he was stopped and said he couldn't continue. The international police officer considered that his passport was so much changed that it couldn’t be considered any longer a valid document, so he decided to void it. He followed the protocol and with a machine made some very special holes in the Japanese passport of Tatsuo, some little circles that wrote the word VOID.
Tatsuo was in a immigration limbo for a few days, without being able to continue to New York or to come back to Japan. He had to wait and sleep in the airport until the Japanese embassy allowed him to come back with a temporary document, and this involved a new ticket, lots of expenses and a big delay. When Toshiko finally joined Tatsuo and came many days later to her Europe trip and met me in Amsterdam, she would ask defiant Tatsuo to tell the story of the delay. –Tatsuo, tell Martín why it took us so long to get here.– One moment when we were alone, Tatsuo asked me very seriously if I would consider his voided passport as a piece in the collection of my museum. This would be a way to redeem himself from the embarrassment, and also to transform the whole experience into an artwork. I accepted happily. I thought the passport piece was amazing.
Tatsuo called it Slices of my time and in a humorous way to me it touched upon a state of control and the strong boundaries that the nation states impose on human bodies these days. It also appealed to me because of the relationship between Tatsuo and Toshiko and how their pieces related to each other. As you can see with all this story, working with Toshiko and Tatsuo has been very meaningful, they have become such special friends.
Manuel López Ramírez: Aside from being a collector, you’re an artist and curator. How do your practices inform one another? How has your experience as a collector influenced your own art-making, and vice versa? How has collecting changed your perspective?
Martín La Roche: This question reminds me of an essay by Adrian Piper called: On wearing Three Hats. I always say that there should be more artists-curators. I appreciate the work done by curators that have an ongoing art practice, that deal with the making and thinking of an artwork and its processes, not just theoretically, but also in an interconnected way between praxis and thinking. Of course this is a very general and reductionist claim, but it still communicates something that I think.
There has been a collector impulse in me since I was a child. I always have enjoyed and found it important to build configurations out of networks or groups of objects. But collecting always involves edition, the idea of a collection is not just about what has been collected, but also about what else could match the collection and what is left outside and excluded from it. In a way I see these practices as a continuum. My art-making is nurtured by my ways of collecting, and probably there wouldn't be a collector without the art background to justify and channel it (I would probably be considered a light form of a hoarder). To give a concrete example of this, whenever I browse boxes and old collections, I find little drawings, papers, objects that were given to me by friends and people that I have met. Sometimes I see that the Musée Légitime existed before the Musée Légitime, it was just waiting for the narrative of the hat and the repetitive practice of carrying it around, but the components were already there.
Manuel López Ramírez: You’re Chilean but moved to the Netherlands in the mid 2010s. How has your experience as a Latin-American immigrant influenced the making of the Musée Legitime, as well as your own art practice?
Martín La Roche: This move from Chile to the Netherlands gave me a strong sense of space, movement and our relationship to objects. As to many people that leave their home countries, in different circumstances, I could bring a small number of things to the Netherlands. So I had to get rid of most of my stuff and find ways to select the most important things, which had to be small and not so heavy. This seemingly rudimentary exercise changed the way in which I related to things. Once in the Netherlands, I started collecting new things and began to engage in the more conscious study of different archives and collections from different times, territories and locations.
The Netherlands also, through some of the art institutions that hosted me at the beginning, gave me access to a big network of international artists. For instance, at the Jan Van Eyck or through the curatorial program of de Appel, I was in constant communication with artists and curators that put me in contact with other artists. Paradoxically, I was invited to go to Cali in Colombia while being in the Netherlands. That would have rarely happened during my time in Santiago, despite being much closer geographically.
As I told you before, that stay in Cali is where I started to conceive the idea of the museum. Somehow because of being Chilean and living in Amsterdam I was invited to exhibit in Belgrade, which was also an important moment to think of the hat museum. This is more fluid and less controlled from my narration, but I think that there is definitely some connection to these movements. When I started the Musée Légitime, some of my first invitations were done to some of the artists that I had met in my life in the Netherlands, but also to some artist friends from my time in Chile.
In that sense the fact of being latinx gave me a different entrance to certain environments and also gave me a role as a connector or bridge between cultures. For instance, when I was invited by the Dutch organization Beautiful Distress to work in an art residency in the Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, I was the first non-Dutch artist that did it. The fact of speaking Spanish in the hospital and having a different cultural background, allowed me to relate in a completely different way with the clients, therapists and staff. The organization that is Dutch, hadn’t thought thoroughly about this cultural and language aspect before that experience. I was also bringing the museum during this stay, and that’s why there are also many artworks from people that I met in New York.
These movements have defined the function and way of being of the museum as well as its network of contributors and its collection. This happens not just in my art practice, I think many other art practices reflect and embody these movements. For instance, even though poorly recognized in Dutch institutions, if you think in those terms, there is an important contribution that latinx artists have made in the past decades to art scenes such as the Amsterdam and Dutch one. In the US for example, being a latinx artist is fundamental these days because of the strong political relationships and historical power dynamics, and some intention to repair the lack of representation in certain art institutions.
In the Netherlands no institution cares so much about latinx artists' narratives. It is a void in Dutch official interests and preoccupations. Beyond Surinam and the Caribbean, it seems like the other Latin American countries are a hole in the map of art influences. I see this as another gap left by certain colonial orders. A good example of what I’m saying is the underrated value that museums like the Stedelijk in Amsterdam have given to artists like Ulises Carrion, whose work is very linked to the fabric of the city of Amsterdam, and precursor of a series of conceptual and digital art, but has been much more valued in Spain or Mexico. That said, I’m not so interested in being defined or solely defined by nation-state or regional identities. The possibility of moving fluidly between certain boundaries has shaped and allowed the Musée Légitim to exist.
Manuel López Ramírez: What is the place of subjectivity in curating a collection that is explicitly meant for public display?
Martín La Roche: I can explain what I think with a particular collection, that somehow reflects on what I’m interested in, that is that of Sir John Soane in London. This XVIII century English architect, specialized in a Neoclassical style, became very important for the architecture of the United Kingdom in a moment of enormous imperial power. He had a special interest for objects, trophies and artworks as many other imperial collectors, and created a huge collection of his own. The particularity of his collection is that it was very whimsical. For instance, when other people in the time were interested in Greek sculptures, he would just collect Greek sculptures that represented Lion’s feet. Or he had a great interest in Egyptian sarcophaguses but not so much for other things coming from that culture or times.
He designed and constructed a museum for his collection that was tailor made to every item. He thought of a picture room, with some doors that opened one after the other, to organize the space of certain paintings and for producing an immersive and unfolding experience. Beyond the ethical implications of these sorts of collections, and what it meant in colonial terms in those times, I’m interested in the lack of ‘universality’ of Sir John Soane’s collection. He was very blatant with certain desires that reflected on what he collected, and that is why the collection became something else. It is a completely different perspective from the British Museum for example.
The way of constructing didn’t pretend to comprehend the whole, but just paid attention to small interests. Today visiting the public display of this collection makes you wonder of several issues also relating to the use and life of museums and collections. I have the feeling that this lack of need to have everything, but the attention that is paid to the particular encounter it’s something that makes a public display much more valuable in my opinion.There is more space for chance and for oblique lines in the construction of these sorts of collections. The straight lines of the nation-state museum's thoughts are not so well defined in these other cases.
Manuel López Ramírez: You’ve emphasized the importance of materiality and touch within the Musée Legitime. How do you deal, then, with the growing significance of art digitization? In your opinion, what should be the role of the digital collection and how does it relate to the physical one?
Martín La Roche: I am not against the digitization of art. The other way around, I think that the growing digitization of art is also transforming our habits in relation to experiencing art. For instance, when I experience other artists' performances, I find them so valuable, because of what I lack on the screen. I see many people around me that have developed a fetish for buying and doing physical books, that I read as directly proportional to the lack of materiality that our digital immersion involves. Sometimes also the digital realm allows for things that couldn’t be done in other ways. It is a technology as other technologies, and it is as material as other materials. I’m busy building a website for the Musée Légitime, one that could reflect on these issues.
To do this website, we started a collaboration with designer Astrid Seme, and are now collaborating with programmer Ezequiel Aquino and designer Dongyoung Lee. We are thinking of doing an experience that doesn’t try to translate or replicate the physical-hat performance of it, but a new digital experience. Maybe one that you can translate to a pdf, or a file that could be printed. In that sense I see the role of a digital collection as a possibility to expand on the collection narratives, and not just mimicking the collection for the digital. Beyond that, the importance of materiality and touch in the Musée Légitime are linked with the fact that the collection is carried with the body. All the artworks in the collection are meant to be carried and hosted by the body. The small is in relation to the body as a measure.
Manuel López Ramírez: What is the biggest insight you’ve gained from becoming the collector of the Musée Legitime in terms of the relationship between art and the museum? How do they transform each other? How do they inform each other’s state of being?
Martín La Roche: There is an important insight that I have gained from this experience of doing the Musée Légitime, that comes from the response that I have gotten when proposing that I have an institution inside my hat. I see this museum as an artwork, it departed from my art practice in collaboration with other artists and contributors. But after repeating the gesture again and again, somehow the museum starts to be seen and has become a real institution. Despite it being small or having a fictitious origin, I start to confront equivalent dilemmas and problems of other institutions, like dealing with a visual identity, communicating a program, presenting myself. Also it happens that I have gained insight in the complexities of dealing with a collection when trying to make it public in terms of conservation of the pieces, security, and limits that need to be enacted in order to secure the pieces. I dissociate myself between the conservation department that says not to show certain pieces, and the mediation team that is craving to allow the touch of certain artworks in the collection.
To have a balanced representation of the pieces is also another issue; I tend to repeat some of the supposedly popular pieces and unexpectedly impose some sort of oblivion in the other ones. I have to invent systems to break this favoritism pattern, and I have realized that some pieces that I didn’t pay attention to were very meaningful for some visitors. The museum has granted me access to certain realms and a role that as an artist I wouldn’t have accessed, like when I was invited to a heritage meeting in Amsterdam with the main museum directors of the city. I was introduced as the director of the Musée Légitime, and there were as many curious reactions as incredulous ones when I answered the question of where my museum was. Of course my answer was that the museum was here with me, and I took off the hat.
This museum has also granted me access to experience and display amazing pieces from other collections and museums. That is the case now in Santiago, where the Museum of Memory and Human Rights made a temporary loan of a small set of pieces of their prison crafts collection to the Musée Légitime for the duration of an exhibition called Lejos, muy Lejos presented now in the art center Matucana 100. I researched this collection in 2019-2020, that the museum saves and displays in order to not forget the years of human rights violations and dictatorship in Chile. This piece, that is a set of playing cards drawn by political prisoners in a a center of torture, murder and imprisonment in 1973 (the national stadium), was born in a context of complete horror and uncertainty. But, maybe because of the same, it is very touching and emotional to see the humanity of imprisoned people that still in those contexts paid attention to something like playing cards. They were donated by the grandson of Mario Cabrera Arredondo. They are drawn with such tenderness, I feel very grateful to be able to show this piece and open this story with some people that might not be otherwise able to encounter it.
David Wojnarowicz / Magic Box (n.d.). Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Buchholz, New York.
Manuel López Ramírez: Lastly, as this series is called "The Artist's Artists," could you share with us a few artists who have interesting or unusual collections that you think our readers would be interested in exploring further?
Martín La Roche: For sure! There are many that I love and that are part of the collection of the Musée Légitime or are connected to it. For example the case of David Bernstein, who collects many artworks by other artists, invents different displays of it and gives tours of his collection telling the stories of the pieces. If that wasn’t enough, he also has an amazing collection of spatulas. I encourage you to look at images of it. I know that artist Francisca Khamis has an interesting art collection related to anything that has to do with dogs. Because of the same, she receives several donations from all her friends and acquaintances when confronted with any puppy-like artwork, but for sure she also collects stories of dogs and artworks as well. Several art-people have talked to her about Dogumenta in 2012. A similar case is the one of Anna Banana, that after falling in a box full of bananas in 1970, delved deeply into bananology and started working with and collecting anything that has to do with bananas.
Her artworks deal in an amazing way with the multiple possibilities and layers that a fruit like this could have. She took it further when connected one year later with the international mail art network that brought her many friends and banana enthusiasts. That connects to Rod Summers and his mail art network, that I see also as a collection of artists themselves, which includes Anna Banana and hundred other artists that have been exchanging art through the mail art system for five decades. ‘My mailbox is a museum’, was one of their mottos, and it still applies to the many letters and packages that they receive each week, and that he stores and organizes in his basement in Maastricht. Visiting him is for sure a big experience. At the moment there is an exhibition at the Bonnefanten Museum curated by Joep Vossebeld and myself, that tries to give an impression of what his VEC archive is. It will last for a few months, until next year in April, and Rod still answers everything that he has received.
Maybe I can close this interview with an amazing collection of objects that I recently personally reviewed at the NYU Special Collections Library, one corresponding to the David Wojnarowicz Papers. When the artist David Wojnarowicz died of AIDS complications in 1992, in New York, his friends encountered a wooden fruit box under his bed with a tape on its lid that had written with a marker: Magic Box. The box contained a collection of a hundred little items: pebbles, stones, little figures, charms, religious items, playing cards, amulets, plastic toys, a metallic crocodile biting a bird feather, a little terrestrial globe, etc. Nobody knew what it was, and the only lover that once heard about it, died before making it clear what it was. In David’s notebooks they only found one reference that said ‘place Magic Box in installation’. After a lot of discussion it was resolved that the NYU archive was going to conserve it and facilitate it for research.
In September this year I appointed myself to two complete days for reviewing the contents of the Magic Box. I’m enchanted by this story and this postumus legacy of such an artist. My amusement also comes from being able to touch and review such items, and after noticing the resemblance between what I have received in the last six years for my hat museum and what I encountered those days in the Wojnarowicz papers, on top of a simple table, at the second floor of the Special Collections Libraries close to Washington Square.