If you feel like losing yourself in an emotional and suggestive journey discovering unusual exhibition spaces, Delirious Museum is the perfect book for you. Its narrative structure allows the readers to immerse themselves in the thirteen chapters that make up the book, seamlessly walking through museum rooms. A true wunderkammer-book, as defined by the publishing house, that explores the issues of exhibition space and its borders with a city by using numerous examples and accurate descriptions.
Delirious Museum. A journey from the Louvre to Las Vegas was first published in 2006; the most recent edition is that of 2017, published by Johan & Levi. The narration style of this extraordinary tale is fragmented, it is both in the past and the present, it analyses the cities, the works, the literature, and the events. Compared to traditional canons of order and cataloguing, on which these cultural institutions are normally based, it provides a distorted and chaotic image of the museum.
The author, Calum Storrie, is an architect, curator and designer; he graduated in 1980 from Dundee University, has collaborated with prestigious museum institutions and opened his own studio – Calum Storrie Ltd – which deals in curating exhibition spaces, as well as temporary and permanent exhibits. He also writes for various art and architecture magazines, addressing the issues on which all his research focuses on.
In the introduction the author outlines the guidelines on how to read and work your way through the labyrinthine stories of the book: “The museum I will examine presents elements of continuity with the street and aspires to the condition of the city: my objective is to return the museum to the city and vice versa. (…) Most cities have evolved over a long period of time and in an uncontrolled manner. On the other hand, the museum is traditionally associated with order and classification: “neutral” taxonomic systems have been used as a tool for “clarification” and education, and often this neutrality has limited the possible intentions of the museum. (…) All museums carry within them the seed of their own delirium (…) The disorder, the upheaval of categories, the theatricality, the museological narratives and the complex historical stratifications can, as single or combined elements, lead to the eruption of delirium. (…) Delirious Museum does not substitute the museum as we know it, rather it constitutes a parallel version of it with respect to its evolution.”
It begins with the story of the event which, according to Storrie, can be identified as the constitutive act of the delirious museum: the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911 in which, in various ways, Picasso, Appollinaire and his secretary Géry Pieret were all involved. The moment this theft is discovered marks the beginning of a chain of events that represent a metaphor for the ambiguous relationship between modernism and the museum.
According to Storrie the genesis of the Delirious Museum should no be looked for in the history of the museum itself but in the ideas around the city formulated by Baudelaire, Benjamin, Aragon and Breton. These ideas, apart from creating a story, are the essence itself of the Delirious Museum. The condition of the flaneur is thus investigated starting from the definition given by Baudelaire: the modern and curious urban observer, the visitor to the Delirious Museum, moves freely between the roles assigned to the flaneur, in a similar way; the desire of the delirious museum is that every visitor succumbs to curiosity, to the “fatal, irresistible passion” described by the poet. In the following chapters, there is no lack of mention of the gestures and actions of artists such as Duchamp and, subsequently, of Klein and Arman – fundamental for the definition of what we call an exhibition space today – and an in-depth study of Schwitters’ Merzbau.
The journey continues and lands at the Department of Arts, an imaginary museum dedicated to the works of artists who have worked or are working on the idea of the museum; it talks about ideal itineraries in a London familiar to the author, it tackles the theme of death and mausoleums, it explores Los Angeles and Las Vegas, it examines the work of designers such as Carlo Scarpa and Daniel Libeskind.
Delirious Museum is a book that intrigues page after page, capable of raising numerous questions. How much has the city invaded the museum, and how much has the museum invaded the city? What do a pub, overflowing with dusty objects, and a museum have in common? How much can an exhibition project contain the delirium of a labyrinth made of materials, narratives and history?
Find out more by visiting the Johan & Levi website.
Translated by Ludovica Sarti
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