Working with the fascinating collections in the MoMA Archives on a daily basis has led me to think about the ways in which archives share their unpublished material with the public. Outside of assisting researchers consulting documents in our reading room, the MoMA Archives staff also organizes show-and-tell events and exhibitions for visitors to the Museum. Through my work on some of these displays, I have become especially interested in the different methods that arts archives use to exhibit their material.
This curiosity led me to use my fellowship travel grant to visit Mexico City this summer, in pursuit of a few smaller archives that explore different archival exhibition tactics. At Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC), located within the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México campus, the archives occupy a space dubbed Arkheia. Director Pilar Garcia has curated a handful of dynamic exhibitions utilizing Arkheia’s growing holdings of contemporary Mexican arts archives. Garcia plans the shows around custom-built “exhibition furniture.” The equipment includes vitrines with nested drawers that open to reveal detailed material, reconfigurable cabinets that house photo albums or video viewing booths, and tables that display contemporary artwork directly alongside their documentation.
These components link together to form a web of information, providing the visitor with an organic network of paths through the exhibition space, while still allowing room for serendipitous discovery. For example, Garcia hopes a visitor might walk by an alcove and overhear a snippet of conversation; when they peer inside, a set of headphones invites them to listen to an artist interview. Archives are widely pigeonholed as static objects, but at Arkheia they spring to life and inundate the senses. This bodily connection with the material provides multiple entry points to the exhibited works in MUAC’s galleries. “After all,” Garcia explained, “you really cannot understand contemporary art without its documentation.”
Located in Chapultepec Park, on the other side of the city, the archives at the Museo Tamayo are still in their nascent stages. The documentation center staff are just beginning to process small collections of museum exhibition files and audiovisual material. Books, archival photographs, press clippings, and documents currently inhabit a hybrid space designed to complement and expand the museum’s exhibition program: the Modulario.
The Modulario consists of wooden exhibition vitrines and bookshelves, but rather than forming active paths of archival discovery, the organic sculptures shape spaces that encourage extended consultation and one-on-one contact with the material. Indeed, on my visit, a staff member invited me to select a binder of press clippings and make myself comfortable on one of the seats nestled in the wooden framework.
The archives exhibited in the Modulario ultimately morph beyond visual, content-driven items into an interactive, physically engaging reference area for the museum visitor. By experimenting with a variety of exhibition displays, MUAC and the Museo Tamayo provide visitors with opportunities to experience, discover, and understand the context and history of their museum’s artwork through the archival documents.