Curatorial Poetry


Micah, over at the Cooper Hewitt Labs blog, coined the term. Some of the objects in their database have a description but no image. Some of these are… poetic. And so, curatorial poetry:

Curatorial Poetry is a stream of decontextualized “descriptive” texts pulled from museum collection meta-data. These snippets of information, separated from their full object records and image representations, provide the possibility of a different entry point to the object.

The folks at Cooper Hewitt Labs are savvy with their tumblrs and the like, and so the obvious thing is to automate the project. Every two hours a new bit of poetry is posted to And to And to Every two hours for the next eight years.

The distinctive Jenks Museum labels

The distinctive Jenks Museum labels

The Jenks Society has its own form of curatorial poetry. Few objects survive from the Museum. The records of the museum are presumed lost in a fire. But just as the Cooper Hewitt has its database of words, we have ours. The artifacts of the Lost Museum survive in snippets of descriptions in newspaper article, in annual reports, in labels that survived their artifacts.

These records are museum artifacts turned into language. We’re turning the language back into artifacts. Or rather, artists are. They’ve been given the poetic and peculiar Lists of Three. That is: one natural history object, one ethnographic object, one “other.” So, for example:

  • Zither from Bornio, collection of songbird eggs, defunct giraffe
  • Mittens, red-breasted merganser, wildcat in skin
  • Amazonian dart bundle, lynx, Greek marble
  • Sudanese dance belt, golden eagle, echinoderms in large variety

The artist will pick one of these three, and—within some carefully defined constraints—re-imagine the artifacts. Objects into words, words into objects.

Come visit to see what they’ve created. Opening in less than two months.


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