Unsettled Objects (1968–1969)

Lothar Baumgarten
Unsettled Objects (detail)
Collection Sharjah Art Foundation
Image courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New
York, Paris, London, and the artist’s estate


The 81 slides in Unsettled Objects (1968–1969), images of artefacts from the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford that are shown by a carousel projector, make visible how European and Western museums present and store their so-called ethnological and anthropological ‘treasures’. This piece was the first artwork in which Baumgarten played with the juxtaposition of text and image. Considered an early part of the art historical movement known as ‘institutional critique’, the verbs and adverbs written on the slides call into question, sometimes subtly and at other times more pointedly, not only the contents of the images but also the methods of classification, categorisation and conservation that institutions use to hold these varied histories of the ‘Other’.

‘The accumulation of ethnographica, the collection of much-desired rarities, lends visible form to the wish for power achieved by adapting the foreign. An addiction to grasping the unknown through appropriation became programmatic under colonialism. Isolated and stylised as museological fetishes, all too often have they been reduced to nothing more than their aesthetic surplus value and, to the sounds of dubious applause, eke out an exotic existence as mis- or not understood relics of foundering worlds. The desire for knowledge and control led to an unsuspected host of activities and modes of organisation to deal with ethnographic artefacts, some of which are given here as representative of the now historical activities of museological practice.’

- Lothar Baumgarten, translated by Malcolm Gree

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Unsettled Objects  (1968–1969)

Baumgarten, Lothar

Over the last four and a half decades, Lothar Baumgarten has drawn wide acclaim and respect for his powerful body of work centred on ethnography and anthropology.