Every now and then an artist tries to take contemporary art where it doesn’t normally go. Famously, between 1961 and 1964, Claes Oldenburg created “The Store” for which the artist converted his workshop in New York’s Lower East Side into a retail storefront and stocked it with painted pop sculptures made of muslin and plaster. Oldenburg mimicked the visual language of retail to present his renditions of everyday objects. Inspired by his example, in 2013 I built Instant Artshop — a self-contained kiosk on which art products can be displayed — and took it to flea markets, grocery stores, malls, and other public arenas that are separate from contemporary art spaces. The “shop” sold prints, small sculptures, and an assortment of art products and ephemera. The highlight of the project was the time I got to explain Yoko Ono to two Amish girls at a flea market outside of Harrisburg. Or there was the time I explained to the guy in a “Yes, I’m a Redneck” t-shirt that those prints of hot pink machine guns were about emasculating gun culture. Because of these experiences, when I heard Matt Neckers had created a mobile art museum, I was more than a little excited. I conducted an email interview with him, through which he shed more light on this project.
Neckers is an artist from the tiny town of Eden, Vermont (population 1,323). He got some national attention in 2011 when his sculpture “Rocket” (2011) was stolen while on display at Helen Day’s Exposed annual outdoor sculpture exhibition. Since then, he opened the Vermont International Museum of Contemporary Art + Design, a four-by-four-feet gallery, he writes, “at a secret location” in Vermont that became, in Neckers’s words, “ a destination for sophisticated art travelers.” (Neckers can be a bit of a character.) Motivated by a desire to expand his audience, Neckers purchased “a dilapidated vintage camper off of Craigslist for $500” and spent a year turning it into the traveling Mobile Museum. He spent another two years creating hundreds of miniature art pieces for the Mobile Museum’s various galleries. The museum debuted at City Hall Park in Burlington, Vermont in August 2017, and since then has popped up at various sites around the state. The museum will be open to visitors at the South End Art Hop in Burlington, Vermont this weekend.
The galleries show artwork in a variety of media. A colorful wood assemblage hangs on the wall next to a monochromatic red sculpture on a white table. In another gallery, a metal mobile hangs in front of a painting. The exhibits laid
out in discrete rooms read like dioramas, and the art works on view are sophisticated and diverse. The Miniature Museum at Gemeentemuseum Den Haag has over two thousand works of art by luminaries such as Louise Bourgeois, Yves Klein, and Yayoi Kusama. The art in that collection was made specifically for Amsterdam art dealers Ria and Lex Daniëls who conceived of the museum in 1991. Unlike the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag collection, however, Neckers has made all the art on view himself.
“As people approached the Mobile Museum, many were drawn in by the vintage camper itself, but once inside the museum the most common responses were ‘wow’ and ‘this is amazing’,” said Neckers. “After seeing the miniature artwork and galleries almost everyone wanted to talk about what they had seen.” At its debut, Neckers was on hand to field questions from enthusiastic viewers. “In general, almost everyone responded to the playful nature of the project and left with a smile on their faces.”
The museum is free of gallery cards and the “curation” of the exhibits is a bit freeform. But having said that, were the galleries full sized, their offerings would not be far from what their real world counterparts do. Neckers’ Mobile Museum is a mimic. It can also be read as a caricature, a critique of the modern museum’s banality: as if the only way to make contemporary art interesting to the general public is to scale it differently.
Neckers plans to tour with the museum. He says,
In theory, the museum can go anywhere a truck with a camper can go, which is very exciting. When not on the road, the museum will be on permanent display at the Vermont International Museum of Contemporary Art + Design World Headquarters. I added the word “International” to the name of the museum, as the mobile museum can now theoretically travel into Canada, provided it can make it through customs.
The Mobile Museum is making several stops this fall, including the Kent Museum in Calais, Vermont on October 8th and the South End Art Hop in Burlington, Vermont, September 8–10. Spontaneous visits are planned in unexpected places. For more information, visit www.vtmocad.com or follow VTIMofCAD on Facebook.