Click on the Hidden Picture Frame Patent to Reveal the Image
On LACMA's new blog Unframed, Allison Agsten discusses Charlotte Cotton's technique for preserving light-sensitive work on display:
Four of the photographs in the exhibition were covered with gray velvet curtains. A sign beside them read, “These photographs are extremely sensitive to light. Please lift the curtain to view the work.” So, as someone raised the first veil, I peered under the fabric. Behind each were examples of particularly old, beautifully fragile photographs, already dimmed by the passage of time.
The great thing about Cotton’s gesture is that it inverts the common museum practice with fragile art. Rather than pushing the viewer further away, it invites her closer, creating a physical and intimate relationship with the work. I’ve always enjoyed those moments when I encountered a work of art (often a book) that was displayed with a pair of cotton gloves. Time is slowed down a bit and the gesture of putting on the gloves creates a bit of ceremonial reverence which heightens the relationship between the viewer-handler and the work of art.
As Agsten describes her experience with the curtains:
...they also encouraged an added level of engagement. It’s impossible to simply cast a quick glance. To look, one must stop. Pause. Lift curtain. Think a little bit more. Not to mention proximity to the objects—I can’t remember the last time I was invited to get that close to a photograph in a museum.
This seems like a potential nugget for a future LACMA show; a display of works that invite touch or engage the viewer in other intimate ways. And by touch, I don't mean the "hit it and it makes a noise" aesthetic of science and technology museums, but rather an encouragement of a richer and more prolonged engagement with the work.
At the same time, I can't help but look at Cotton's velvet curtain as the objectification of desire through the act of revealing. Whether you look at the standing left and right figures in Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon who pull back curtains to reveal Picasso's objects of (among other things) desire--or (as I can imagine) the rubbed corner of the frame that covered Courbet's L'Origine du Monde, oily form Lacan's desire to reveal what is normally hidden.*
I can imagine LACMA's velvet curtains showing their own oily wear, and thus adding another layer of meaning to the work on display.
*Number 22 in the image above. Scroll up and click on the frame to reveal the image. Now look at the oil from your fingers on your mouse (or touch-pad). Punctums everywhere!