The Gallery of Lost Art
When the Internet was in its infancy and museum websites consisted of little more than what’s on and contact pages, the Tate was an early innovator, experimenting with the promise of this new medium and its capacity to expand the institution’s reach. Now that the web has become an integral component of our day-to-day existence and museums have widely embraced the Internet as an essential part of their programming, the Tate continues to be an industry leader, consistently adopting new ways of presenting exhibitions, and engaging audiences, online. Their latest web venture, The Gallery of Lost of Art, which uncovers works that no longer exist in a physical form and attempts to place them within a broader history of modern art, is an extremely ambitious and compelling project that will be of interest to art enthusiasts and neophytes alike.
The exhibition, curated by Jennifer Mundy, Head of Collection Research, and designed by the Glasgow-based digital studio ISO, is a playful and extremely informative exploration of the web’s capacity to redefine the nature of exhibitions and attract new audiences. The Gallery of Lost Art is innovative in its design, subject matter and in the way it exploits the distinctive spatial and temporal conditions of the digital medium. The site presents an exhibition that would not be possible, or at least very interesting, in the physical space of the museum as it unearths works of art that can no longer be hung on walls or installed in galleries; these are works that have been destroyed (purposefully or by accident), stolen, lost or designed to be ephemeral.
One of the benefits of creating exhibitions specifically for the web is that the curators and designers need not be restricted by the limits of space, a constraint that influences every exhibition regardless of the museum’s size. The Gallery of Lost Art is a mammoth warehouse that the visitor enters from above and can navigate by scrolling and zooming. The works are installed according to the cause of their destruction – rejected, discarded, unrealized, missing, attacked, etc. – and can be accessed by a simple click of the mouse. Instead of merely displaying an image of the lost work and a brief description, The Gallery of Lost Art is reminiscent of a crime scene investigation with “evidence”– installation views, pages from books, newspaper articles and photographs – systematically laid out on tables and the floor that collectively delineates a history of the work’s former existence. The chalk letters that demarcate the exhibition sections further promotes the sense that you are visiting a crime scene rather than a gallery. For those interested in delving deeper, each document and image is also clickable and reveals an additional layer of information; the amount of material available is truly staggering. The section devoted to Lucien Freud’s stolen portrait of Francis Bacon, for example, contains an essay, a photograph of the two great artists, a number of other portraits of Bacon by Freud, a wanted poster, and the last known siting of the work when it was installed at the Neue Galerie in 1988.
The stories behind the works are not only riveting tales of theft, intrigue and failed ambition that would not seem out of place in an Agatha Christie novel, they are also important reminders of how easy it is to forget or discount works that can no longer be exhibited in a conventional gallery context. Playing off the ephemeral nature of the works in the exhibition, The Gallery of Lost Art will exist for only one year, with new works being added to the show weekly. Featuring a diverse range of artists from the historical – Marcel Duchamp, Kazimir Malevich and Francis Picabia – to the contemporary – Tracey Emin, Rachel Whiteread and Michael Landy – The Gallery of Lost Art is a provocative resource that successfully expands the possibilities of presenting art exhibitions online. This immersive, interactive experience could never be replicated within the Tate’s physical walls.