In BOMB magazine, Alexander Galloway talks with artist Sarah Oppenheimer about her sculptures that draw attention to and complicate the very museum spaces in which they're installed. Whereas modern museums try to maximize "flow" by minimizing spaces that are rigidly divided, Oppenheimer's work often seeks to disrupt this flow. Here's an excerpt from her conversation with Galloway:
AG: So you think that a return to division is a way to push back against today's dominant trend toward flow, indistinction, and integration?
SO: I do, particularly when I'm working in the context of a museum space. Museum plans often correspond with the historical evolution of spatial division. While developing my project for the Pérez Art Museum Miami, for example, I learned that Herzog & de Meuron presented the museum administration with a gallery typology that traced the historical development of the museum floor plan from the enfilade at the Louvre and the Hermitage to "suites" at the Tate Modern and the Beyeler Foundation, to the "matrix" at the 21st Century Museum.
AG: Dividing a space can take the form of a wall obviously, but it can also happen as an informal boundary that can be transgressed. You must spend a lot of time thinking about floor plans. As someone who works in a specifically architectural vocabulary and context, perhaps even more so than artists who consider their work to be about site-specificity, how do you connect ideas of the array and of cellular division to the architectural plan?
SO: I have used the term array to align the spatial organization of a place—a museum, a public building, a home—to a broader set of historical, social, and spatial patterns. It encompasses the protocols of spatial organization determined by construction codes, the availability of material, and spatial development. Museums are a wonderful example of the relationship between the array and the architectural plan.
AG: Historians of domesticity have written about the invention of the hallway and the disappearance of the enfilade or the railroad apartment. I love that one of the casualties of all that is the room divider. It used to be that people had screens in rooms in order to change their clothes. I think it really does come back to a fundamental act of division.
SO: It's interesting to consider how discrete units are organized. Division is common in museums. Walls and ceilings house extensive mechanical systems for airflow and lighting. But, as I mentioned, they're buried, so you don't think about where the lighting system or the air conditioning are located. You think about the visible exhibition space. The Pérez presents a flexible space interspersed with discrete rooms, but there's a three-foot-deep cavity beneath the floors of the galleries that doesn't correspond easily with the rhetoric of flexibility.
Image: Sarah Oppenheimer, S-399390, 2016. Via BOMB.