FRONT: Installed to Stall
Art and activism collide in Ahmet Öğüt’s Bakunin’s Barricade at the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin, Ohio. Part of the 2022 FRONT Triennial, this massive installation remains on view until December 23, 2022 in its North American premiere.
Öğüt, a Kurdish-born artist working across media, collaborated with Oberlin College students and museum staff to create an assemblage that questions the power of art and political activism.
Its theme derives from anarchist Mikhail Bakunin’s 1849 proposal to place paintings from Prussia’s National Museum in front of barricades during a socialist uprising in Dresden. He posited that Prussian soldiers would not dare destroy priceless treasures to break the barricade.
They didn’t listen to Bakunin in 1849; his idea was not tested.
In 2022, Öğüt and his collaborators curated both barricade and a selection of art from the Allen’s collection embedded in a bricolage of street barricades and signs, chain link and concrete, trucks and bricks. Works by Andy Warhol, Barbara Kruger, John Baldessari, Raquelín Mendieta, Kiki Smith, Eva Hesse, Sol LeWitt and others present themselves to gallery visitors; a helpful schematic drawing (please leave it there in its acrylic wall pocket, it is laminated) identifies the included pieces.
The only text on the wall—indicative of the who, what, where of art, if not the how or why—is a magnificent, four-page conceptual contract, the “Agreement of Transfer of the Work of Art Bakunin’s Barricade.”
In it are provisions for Bakunin’s Barricade to be used “as a barricade if a party requests this loan in the context of extreme economic, social, political, or transformative moments that engender high levels of public concern relating to fundamental human rights as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The idea that culture could serve as a shield against real world barbarism in this way remains untested: The contract is unsigned.
If the barricade is meant to be lent, does it come with assembly instructions like an Ikea bookshelf?
If the barricade is art, why are there no benches before it upon which to rest and contemplate?
Does everyone know who Bakunin was? Or, in Midwest Nice Pretentious Version 2.0: of course, we all remember who Bakunin was.
Were the Toyota and Dodge pickups locally sourced?
How were these materials aged? Those bricks look mighty new; are they better for throwing?
Is this a question of using structures (art installations) to protect structures (institutions)?
When you surround a legal document with a mat and frame it well, does it become art?
Is this barricade a pest control or an insurrection deterrent?
Is this visual trauma to prevent larger trauma?
Where is the line of delineation between construction materials and sculpture? I’m lookin’ at you, Doris Salcedo, and your Untitled.
Will that pallet ladder in the right back corner appear next on Pinterest?
If the barricade is inside the museum, who does it stop?
The Allen Museum of Art is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m.