Art and Artifact

Art and Artifact

The Museum as Medium

  1. James Putnam
See Inside
  • ISBN 9780500288351
  • 27.50 x 23.00 cm
  • Paperback with flaps
  • 216pp
  • 290 Illustrations, 239 in colour
  • First published 2009
‘… a rare experience. It is a book concerned with complex issues that expresses them in a simple, engaging way and refrains from retreating into jargon … a rewarding exercise in the visual.’ – The Art Book
‘A fascinating, clearly written book, beautifully laid out, capturing the writer’s passion for his subject and encouraging us to see art museums from a fresh perspective’ – The Art Book
‘A significant addition to the existing scholarship’ – Tate Magazine


From Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Portable Museum’ Boîte-en-valise of the early 1940s to the latest interventions by artists in museums’ displays, merchandise and education, artists of the last seventy years have often turned their attention to the ideas underpinning the museum.

Traditional methods of curatorship have been appropriated, mimicked or reinterpreted. Found objects or artists’ possessions have served as an extension of the artist’s studio, a storage place where both ideas and materials are evaluated. Many artists have exhibited their collections as an entity or 
a ‘museum’, thus contributing to a fresh understanding of the role of the museum.

The trend towards collaborations between artists and museum curators has in some cases involved the rehanging of existing collections or redesigning of gallery spaces. In this way the probing instinct of the creative mind counterbalances the sense of permanence associated with the museum in a dialogue involving elements of the past, present and future.

The works included here, accompanied by quotations from the writings of individual artists, offer a wide-ranging coverage of projects by established and emerging figures alike, including Christian Boltanski, Sophie Calle, Tracey Emin, Hans Haacke, Donald Judd, Olafur Eliasson and Anish Kapoor.

This edition has been updated to include recent artists’ projects that make use of grand architectural spaces within the museum, as well as those that explore off-site locations and the internet, capitalizing on the idea of the 21st-century ‘museum without walls’.

James Putnam is an independent curator and writer. He founded and was curator of the British Museum’s Contemporary Arts and Cultures Programme and in 1994 he conceived and curated the groundbreaking exhibition, ‘Time Machine’, which juxtaposed works by contemporary artists with ancient sculptures. He has curated an ongoing series of acclaimed projects with artists at the Freud Museum, London that have included Sophie Calle, Sarah Lucas, Ellen Gallagher, Tim Noble and Sue Webster. He was Visiting Scholar in Museum Studies at New York University from 2003–04, and since 2004 has been a lecturer in Curatorial Studies at Central Saint Martins.