A Site of Curatorial Destabilization: Stephanie Syjuco’s Shadowshop

May 5, 2011

The Op-Ed column is a space for readers and contributors to sound off about Art Practical's content and to contribute to the larger conversation about Bay Area art which Art Practical supports.

In response to "Shadowshop"

Dear Editor: If artwork is exhibited in a museum, but not officially recognized, was it shown at all? Stephanie Syjuco's 2011 Shadowshop exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art raised this very question. This note details how Shadowshop destabilized the authority of SFMOMA's curatorial model by challenging how artistic works and practices are validated as "art" through museum exhibition.

On April 14, 2011, a participant in "Shop Talk, Part Two," a Shadowshop-related discussion, noted that he would not include his Shadowshop participation on his résumé. His statement implies that the works in the exhibition were unworthy of recognition, or invalid. The traditional role of the museum is to preserve cultural artifacts and practices. Museum presentation imbues canonical status; a work is deemed worthy of documentation, preservation, and historical annotation. Although it has likely been exchanged in a commercial transaction, the object or practice displayed in a museum is generally accepted as "art," not “product.” The museum employs curators who discern and confer this status. This process is compromised when an object or practice enters the museum through an alternate trajectory.

Syjuco destabilizes SFMOMA's curatorial model by inviting other artists to participate in the exhibition. Shadowshop was arranged in a manner resembling a gift shop, which is traditionally ancillary to a museum's exhibition spaces. Perceived more as products than art, objects in the gift shop do not receive attention comparable to those in the galleries. Shadowshop was positioned within an SFMOMA gallery as part of The More Things Change exhibition; it should follow that each work in Shadowshop was presented as art, but the objects' availability for sale complicated the distinction between art and product.

Although Syjuco has been formally recognized by SFMOMA, it is not clear that equal recognition extends to the works that comprise Shadowshop. Information about the artists and works in Shadowshop is featured solely on a blog not associated with the museum, while Shadowshop is promoted generally as Syjuco's project. Although certainly unintentional, this documentary omission can be construed as rendering the Shadowshop objects as subordinate to, or less valid than, Shadowshop as a conceptual work. Perhaps the indirect relation between the museum as a status-conferring institution and the Shadowshop artists’ work is deemed too attenuated.

It is likely and well deserved that Syjuco will benefit most from the Shadowshop exhibition. Presuming that Shadowshop is a relational artwork as a whole, it is the major piece in the show, and the collection of works are necessary to support Syjuco's thought-provoking vision.

Those artists who feel ambivalent about their Shadowshop participation should document their contributions and leverage their participation in an SFMOMA exhibition. In addition, artists should assert the validity of their work by creating new and self-initiated avenues for exhibition and dissemination. An understanding of art history shows that innovation often comes from outside or from the fringes of institutions—museums are sometimes late to the party.

— Tim Roseborough

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