Hearing Is Forgetting

On September 11, 2010, there was a conversation between two of America’s leading cultural figures, artist Mark Dion and writer Lawrence Weschler. Dion’s exhibition The Marvelous Museum: Orphans, Curiosities, and Treasures opened the night before at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA).

 The Marvelous Museum, which closes March 6th, 2011, was an exhibition of items gathered from OMCA’s art, history, and natural sciences collections. Each object was chosen to explore the roots of the Museum and meditate upon the nature of collections—what fits in, what doesn’t, and what happens to things that fall between the cracks.

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This rare exchange between Dion and Weschler has been edited to fit the format of this website. We’ve repurposed some elements of Dion’s exhibit to accompany this audio recording. The musical interludes were written and performed by musician Courtney Lain for a video of magic lantern slides that greets visitors at the start of the show. (Magic lantern slides are a very early form of photography and represent some of the first widely circulated images of the world.) The accompanying images, by photographer David Maisel, were originally commissioned for the show’s magnificent publication, which was co-published with Chronicle Books.

The Maisel photographs show objects from OMCA’s collections set within the Museum’s storage facility and backroom spaces. The behind-the-scenes perspective of Maisel’s images conveys the feel of the exhibit; our goal was to provide an expansive view of museums—to look beyond the typical finished galleries to the back-of-house spaces, offices, storage facilities, and archive rooms. The intent was to show that museums, rather than being static, polished places of authority, are in reality forums (sometimes messy ones) for competing ideas about culture and social memory, and are in constant process and flux. The Marvelous Museum was installed throughout the Gallery of California Art, and it is discovered by the viewer piece by piece, each part building on the cumulative experience of Dion’s overall project, but also commenting upon its immediate surroundings. One of the more humorous interventions was the placement of a stuffed baby giraffe in the midst of a gallery of portraits and figurative sculptures; the juxtaposition comically suggested issues of anthropomorphism.

This digital account of the Dion–Weschler conversation cannot entirely convey the richness, energy, and excitement experienced by the audience on that magical Saturday. It nonetheless expresses the poetic leaps the conversation took, the mutual admiration the two brilliant participants felt for each other, and the pleasures of a good conversation.

René de Guzman

Here are a few of David Maisel's photographs for the catalogue:

And here's the catalogue. It's quite a tome. Purchase it here.

This is an excerpt from the catalogue, featuring a 2009 interview of Dion by Weschler. Take a look at Chronicle's chic graphic design.

And last, the video of magic lantern slides that greeted visitors when they entered the gallery.