The photographic images were the result of recent forays into the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (PAFA), The Louvre in Paris, and The Royal Cast Collection and Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, both in Copenhagen. Objectsfrom these collections have been individually documented and assembled into “constellations”.
As in previous bodies of work, Gonzales-Day engages with historical objects as part of his ongoing research into the history of modern racial formation. Many of the historic works are rarely on public display; are used for teaching; or are being redefined within the museum and the field of art history, as is the case with, for example, African and Egyptian Art, Latin American Art and Art of the Americas, and so on. Nearly all of the works Gonzales-Day photographed were once displayed as part of a universalized humanist approach that could be said to begin with the Enlightenment project’s notion of progress.
Today, some of these art objects might be characterized as “possessions,” spiritual objects, or ancestor figures. In representing these works, Gonzales-Day invites us to consider the dual role of every museum object—part visual expression of the maker or makers and part historical artifact within a larger cultural, institutional, disciplinary narrative—what Michel Foucault characterized as the politics of the imagination. If for Foucault, the museum was a culture machine, then for Gonzales-Day, it is precisely the site from which to begin any critical excavation, artistic recuperation, or cultural reconciliation.
Rather than creating “new” sculptural objects, Gonzales-Day has assembled this series as a response to the vast under-representation of the struggles of black, brown, queer, and variously abled bodies in the majority of publicly funded museum collections. However, Gonzales-Day does not simply echo the importance of applying a critical framework for thinking about museum collections, he also provides a model when he employs LACMA’s encyclopedic museum collection in order to bring attention to works already in the collection. The mermaid, the slave, the hunchback, the toothless Mexican or aged god, the androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati are just a few the idiosyncratic or problematic typologies the artist has identified.
For Gonzales-Day, these and other objects suggest the recuperative potential of a proposition which sees the ever-expanding universe of museum collections as a universe filled with its own dying stars and dark holes from which to highlight, not only what is present, but what is missing as well.