Guy Brett

[...] museum is an appropriate word. Most people today trace the origins of the modern museum to the Cabinets of Curiosities assembled in their homes by cultivated grandees of the 17th century (they are the ones we hear about, no doubt those less exalted had their collections too). These cabinets enjoyed a fertile, incongruous mix-up of categories, later distinguished as specialized disciplines: paleontology, natural history, archeology, ethnography, optics, cosmology, art. They were also 'lived-in' museums, and the phenomenon has reappeared in recent times, both as the dens of obsessional collectors, and as the studios of artists. Kurt Schwitters' Merzbau is an outstanding example.

He transformed his house in Hanover into an abstract grotto to contain all the ephemera he collected on his daily rambles. Though he might have wanted to stay for ever in his grotto, he was forced into itinerancy by political events and began a new Merzbau in each principal place of his exile (the poignant remains of the Merzbau he began in a farmer's barn in the English Lake District are preserved in the Hatton Gallery of the University of Newcastle).

Museum MAN, however, is conceived as itinerant. Like Schwitters'Merzbau, Nankervis' museum includes the gifts of other artists'work, or some personal item. Schwitters once purloined a pair of Lazlo Moholy-Nagy's socks after a visit by the Hungarian and incorporated them into his construction. No doubt this personal momento was steered towards abstraction. Abstraction, understood as the play of forms in a state of freedom, released from the old hierarchies and symbolisms, was the great quest of many 20th century artists. Indeed Schwitters wrote of his multivarious salvages:

By being balanced against each other, these materials lose their characteristics, their personality poison. They are dematerialised and are only stuff for thepainting which is a self-related entity.

Nankervis'museum belongs to an age of vastly expanded production and consumption of imagery: a new media-scape, an acceleration of the process of mediation of the real. Far from losing their 'personalities' his materials take on new personalities as a result of their proximity and interrelationship with one another (this must also be true of Schwitters: his materials do not really lose their personalities; nevertheless the urge towards abstraction does set his collages in their historical moment). Artists have invented museums around specific themes (such as Claes Oldenburg's Raygun collection as the discovery of a mass-cultural icon in the meanest scraps and trash; or Marcel Broodthaers Eagle Museum ( as a critique of power). As well, ordinary people have created live-in, single theme museums. Obsessional collections of Elvis memorabilia or images of dogs are monothematic but plural in terms of object-forms: an Elvis clock, an Elvis hot water bottle, etc.

The mythic presence is charmed into every commodity of domestic life. An entrepreneur can profit from the collectors addiction ? rare items changing hands for a lot of money ? but nobody can exploit the person who collects material according to a philosophy, a poetics, an aesthetic, that only they know [...]