Homeless Museum at home to guests this Sunday

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Filip Noterdaeme THE NEWEST™ 2006 model (plexiglass, LED screens, figurines, remote-controlled robotic system) [installation view]*


The Homeless Museum (affectionately referred to as HoMu by both adoring fans and its own creators) will be welcoming visitors once again this Sunday. I don't think anyone could describe this incredible institution as well as the creators themselves do on the museum's website, and I'm certainly not going to try:

A product of New York City's cultural decline, the Homeless Museum (HoMu) is a budget-and-staff-free, unaccredited arts organization that enables and engages cultural dialogue practiced at the intersection of the arts and homelessness.
Originally established mostly as a concept, two years ago the museum found a home in the fifth-floor walkup the founder shares with his partner Daniel Isengart. Once a month they open their doors to guests by invitation. Visitors are encouraged to email (info@homelessmuseum.org) or call (718-522-5683).

The NYTimes has found out about it and last month Dan Shaw wrote an excellent account of its mission and its work. The Believer has an extended article by Samantha Topol in the December/January issue.

I highly recommend a visit to the museum. Barry and I were there several weeks ago and we were charmed by the wit and sincerity of our hosts and delighted with the museum experience. We had first encountered what I'll call the creative humanism of Filip Noterdaeme's projects two years ago when we read about his campaign to shame the Museum of Modern Art (called MoMa by both supporters and critics, with little warmth from either) for its introduction of a compulsory $20 admission charge. Noterdaeme encouraged and inspired visitors to pay the entire amount in pennies, making it necessary for the museum to place buckets beside the station of each ticket clerk.

The admission at HoMu itself is determined on the basis weight (1¢/lb.), cash only. The Times article describes its membership policy:

The museum raises money for the homeless with a twist on the usual cultural memberships. ''We encourage visitors to become members,'' Mr. Isengart said. ''We tell them they can choose from any levels, from $5 to $125, and that they must give the money to a homeless person of their choice directly. We do it this way so that 100 percent of their donation goes to the homeless.''


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Filip Noterdaeme Spoon, 1/8 Iroquios drawing


"Spoon, 1/8 Iroquios" is in the museum's collection. It is part of a series which represents a kind of empathetic curating concern absent from any museum of my experience. From the HoMu website:

The One-on-One Collection is a deeply felt and authentic engagement with the grim and stultifying lives of countless homeless adults who yearn for love, but instead must settle for broken dreams, abuse, and danger.

What began as a fascination with the sex lives of homeless men and how they fulfill their sexual desires has inspired this collection of body prints that are reminiscent in style of Yves Klein's Anthropometries. Paintings on paper made by the imprint of naked bodies previously drenched in "Homeless Orange" provide a range of erotic connotations, addressing taboos such as homelessness, public sex, and homosexuality. For example, in "Spoon, 1/8 Iroquois", two silhouettes suggest a hurried sexual encounter between two men.


What's the tie-in between HoMu's championing of the homeless and its critique of the museum? I think it lies in a profound awareness of the contrast between the outlandish sums of money and attention devoted to the increasingly-elaborate (and increasingly-inaccessible) temples in which we house the high-end items branded as our official cultural idols, and an incredibly wealthy society's neglect or spurning of its own most-forsaken things and people, including its own material detritus but above all the homeless, the outsider, and the uncompromised artist. Noterdaeme and Isengart bring it all home with their phenomenal mix of minimalist panache and compassion.

The open house is Sunday from 1 to 6, on Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights.


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Filip Noterdaeme ISM (The Incredible Shrinking Museum) 2004-2006 model (glycerin soap) [installation view]*

*
descriptions of the two works shown in model form above, adapted from material furnished by the artist:

"The Newest™" presents itself as a new contemporary art museum. Viewed from the front, it appears to be a building that is inundated by visitors whose silhouettes can be seen moving about behind its see-through façade, outfitted with several slogan-flashing LED screens. But a look behind the scene reveals the effect to be a choreographed deception: The Newest™ is not a building but an oversized stage-set simulating a building front. The visitors turn out to be dummies circulating on conveyor belts and rotating platforms. The machinery is controlled from a computer operated by a single person, the museum director.

"ISM (The Incredible Shrinking Museum)" is a project for an interactive museum consisting of a sixteen-foot cube of glycerin soap. The cube is subject to constant change through exposure to the elements. In addition, visitors will be invited to exploit the structure like a mine until is it is used up, the goal being to reach out to a new audience and challenge visitors to think about their role as active participants in the shaping and destruction of culture through direct participation in the realization and, ultimately, the deconstruction of a museum.


[image of "Spoon" from HoMu]