“Organizing things neatly precedes us.”
These first words in Austin Radcliffe’s introduction to Things Organized Neatly — a book of photographs containing exactly what you’d expect — can be read in two ways. In the first reading, where “neatly” modifies “organizing,” it puts the ongoing trend of so-called “organization porn” into a historical perspective. (As Radcliffe points out, the existence of cabinets of curiosity, graphing grids, and meticulously organized things like scientific specimens or crafting and carving tools has a history dating back hundreds of years.) In the second, where “neatly” modifies “precedes,” it’s as if the human impulse to arrange things into logical patterns is in turn part of a neatly ordered history. If even words organized neatly can tell different stories, the possibilities behind ordered physical objects are truly endless.
Radcliffe, a self-described curator, blogger, photographer, and “cyberflâneur,” started his Things Organized Neatly Tumblr blog in 2010, while a student at the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis. As he posted more and more photographs of things like bike parts carefully arranged across garage floors, pencils delicately lined up at the erasers, and differently colored cassette tapes arranged with the exact same spacing between them, he gained followers by the hundreds. Radcliffe’s blog became a calm and soothing space in the hectic world of the internet. His book is a microcosm of the virtual world he created, a “collection of collections,” as he calls it.
Things Organized Neatly features the work of 13 artists and photographs of their own collections of objects, ending with a few choice works by Radcliffe himself. Each portrays a certain “aesthetic of precision,” as Radcliffe likes to call it. In Tom Sachs‘s foreword to the book, he writes about his own preoccupation with “knolling,” arranging objects parallel and at 90 degree angles. “Much is made to compare these methods with obsessive-compulsive disorder but we all know that OCD is a form of narcissism,” he writes. “Knolling helps us see what’s in front of us so we can discern … always with the aim of understanding materials.”
While Mark Dion presents the aesthetic of science, Jim Golden organizes plastic hair barrettes in color order, Sarah Illenberger makes bugs out of watches and leaves, and Michael Johansson plays Tetris with shipping containers and tractors. All of the artists featured fall into the same category of aesthetic organization (of both objects and colors), yet each has his or her own individual style.
Comparing Sam Kaplan’s towering pyramid of sandwiches to Scheltens & Abbenes’s masculine depictions of neckties and playing cards, you get a completely different feel from them. Then there’s Barry Rosenthal, who creates clean lines and geometry out of found (often dirty) objects he picks up off the street. Ranging from sporks to yellow (or used-to-be yellow) plastic objects, lost shoes, glass bottles covered in stale mud, and even pill bottles and needles, Rosenthal’s neat organization of detritus makes for a very interesting juxtaposition. As Radcliffe writes, “The careful arrangement of objects demonstrates a reverence for their collection.” A reverence toward garbage is something that’s both rare and somehow admirably profound.
In an increasingly frenzied world, it’s no wonder we gravitate toward Radcliffe’s blog, slow TV, and soft voices. Perhaps the best aspect of Things Organized Neatly (both the book and the blog) is that it’s a completely new experience every time, the objects telling different stories each time you see them. Maybe I’ll keep this book on my desk. You know, for when I’m feeling stressed out by the other art books I’m reading and reviewing.
The Tweet comparing an ominous screen capture from the Tucker Carlson Show to one of Holzer’s Truisms is being sold as an NFT to benefit crucial organizations in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
Rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Pérez was sentenced to nine years.
Shows at the Hudson Valley’s Hessel Museum of Art feature artists Dara Birnbaum and Martine Syms, as well as new scholarship on Black melancholia as an artistic and critical practice.
On the day of the Supreme Court’s decision to undo 50 years of constitutional rights to abortion, artist Elana Mann’s “protest rattles” feel especially poignant and urgent.
This week, Title IX celebrates 50 years, the trouble with pronouns, a writer’s hilarious response to plagiarism allegations, and much more.
PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs reveals the “career in photography” that occupied the artist in the last three years of his life.
Since antiquity, women’s eyebrows have been sites of intense scrutiny, constantly shifting between trend cycles.
A landmark show of 30 artists at Jeffrey Deitch gallery in New York keeps the category of Asian figuration open-ended.
Contemporary Black-Indigenous women artists Rodslen Brown, Joelle Joyner, Moira Pernambuco, Paige Pettibon, Monica Rickert-Bolter, and Storme Webber are featured in this digital exhibition.
Hall makes no attempt to entice the viewer to begin looking and to look again, letting her methodical craft compel viewers to reflect upon their experience.
In Benglis’s latest works, the forces of gravity that defined her seminal poured latex and polyurethane pieces are traded for luminous bronzes.
A new project by Columbia’s Queer Students of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation explores queer histories that have been suppressed by gentrification and urban development.