“The Arcades Project foreshadows our experience of modernity: we absorb an overwhelming mass of information and cultural activity, yet it comes to us in a fragmented form, often through social and digital media, without the orderly coherence that thinkers and artists once predicted for the future.
Benjamin began his project around 1927 with a short essay about Paris’s nineteenth-century iron-and-glass vaulted shopping arcades, forerunners of the mall. The arcades are interior spaces that cut through city blocks, with some of the mysterious quality of a labyrinth. Though they imitated the form of a vaulted cathedral, they used modern engineering and materials and were lined with shops instead of chapels. Parisians could amble through them, idling and observing, picking and choosing. Benjamin saw this activity as a metaphor for how we encounter the world; he regarded the arcades as an important step in the development of modern consumer culture and the commodification of all aspects of daily life.
This exhibition of contemporary artworks is inspired by The Arcades Project. It is a collagelike construct through which visitors may stroll and browse like Parisian flâneurs, or saunterers, experiencing it in fragments. The works on view demonstrate how artists today grapple with the world’s disorder, having accepted the disappearance of a master narrative as our perennial condition. Where many artists of the past imagined themselves in a heroic role as interpreters of the world, distillers of reality, artists today face the difficult idea that the world is resistant to interpretation or structure and remains chaotic and incomplete. Just as Benjamin compiled ideas, the artists here mine the details of modern life to create new archives, full of treasures and secrets.
Reflecting this arrangement, each artist is paired with a “Convolute”—the name given by Benjamin to each planned section of The Arcades Project. The poet Kenneth Goldsmith has created a poem for each Convolute, intricately composed of found fragments of existing texts. You are invited to discover connections between Benjamin’s categories and the works on view. Your activity as a cultural flâneur completes the exhibition.” — Jens Hoffmann
Lee Friedlander, New York City, 2011, gelatin silver print; 20 x 16 inches. Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.
Nicholas Buffon. Left to right: The Stonewall Inn, 2017; Katz’s Delicatessen, 2017; Odessa, 2016; Lower East Side Coffee Shop, 2016. Foam, glue, paper, paint. Courtesy of the artist and Callicoon Fine Arts, New York.
Exhibition view of The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin at The Jewish Museum, NY.
Voluspa Jarpa, What You See Is What It Is, 2013, steel modules, laser-cut acrylic plates, 116.5 x 24 x 43.4 inches. Courtesy of Mor Charpentier, Paris, Enrique Jocelyn Holt Collection, and the artist.
Tim Lee, Untitled (Aleksander Rodchenko, 1928), 2008, four framed black-and-white photographs, 30 x 30 inches each
Courtesy of the artist and Kadist, San Francisco.
Tim Lee, Untitled II (Alexander Rodchenko, 1928), 2008, painted stainless steel, mirror, Leica 1 camera, 50 x 50 x 50 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery, London.
Taryn Simon, Folder: Swimming Pools, 2012, archival inkjet print, 47 x 62 inches.
Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian.
Installation view of The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin, The Jewish Museum, NY: Adam Pendleton, Black Dada Reader (wall work #1), 2016, adhesive vinyl; what is . . .?/Chagall (study), 2017, silkscreen ink on Mylar; Dada Dancers (Study), 2016, silkscreen ink on Mylar. Courtesy of the artist.
Markus Schinwald, Untitled (Machine I), 2016, brass, wood and motor, 98.4 x 55.1 x 23.6 inches. Courtesy of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, Paris, and Salzburg.
Ry Rocklen, Blue Eyed Worshipper, Southern Mesopotamia, 2600-2500 BC, 2015, ceramic vessels, mirror-mounted panel, brass, glass, 52.5 x 32.8 x 9.5 inches. Bjørnholt Collection, Oslo.
Andrea Bowers, The Triumph of Labor, 2016, marker on cardboard, 108.8 x 248 x 6.5 inches. Rennie Collection, Vancouver, British Columbia, courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter, Los Angeles Projects.
James Welling, Morgan Great Hall, 2014, inkjet print, 21 x 31.5 inches. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Purchased through a gift from Nancy D. Grover in honor of Robinson A. Grover (1936-2015).
Timm Ulrichs, Walter Benjamin:”The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction/Interpretation: Timm Ulrichs, The Photocopy of the Photocopy of the Photocopy of the Photocopy,” 1967, sequence of 100 black-and-white photocopies, wooden frames, 11.7 x 8.26 inches each; 100 pages.
Sanya Kantarovsky, Two Suns, 2017, oil, oilstick, pastel, watercolor on linen, 74.8 x 98.4 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Mungo Thompson, June 25, 2001 (How the Universe Will End), March 6, 1995 (When Did the Universe Begin?), 2012, installation: enamel on low-iron mirror, poplar, anodized aluminum; two panels, 74 x 56 x 2.5 inches each. Courtesy of the artist and Kadist, San Francisco.
Raymond Hains, Martini, 1968, plexiglas relief, 72.1 x 105.9 inches. Estate of Raymond Hains, courtesy of Galerie Max Hetzler, Paris and Berlin.
Claire Fontaine, The Barricades of May Brickbat, 2007, brick, brick fragments, digital print, 7.9 x 5.11 x 2.3 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Walter Benjamin’s library card
Gisèle Freund. Walter Benjamin at the Bibliothèque nationale, Paris. From the series “Bibliothèque Nationale,” 1937.
The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin is curated by Jens Hoffmann, Director of Special Exhibitions and Public Programs, The Jewish Museum, assisted by Shira Backer, Leon Levy Curatorial Associate, The Jewish Museum.
Images courtesy The Jewish Museum.