My Favorites—Index of a Certain Collection: Selections from the MoMAK Collection
   An Index of a Certain Classification, or: An Invitation to the Non-Category



The following is the introductory text of the VIIIth Collection Catalogue of the National Museum of Modern Art Kyoto, which is also the exhibition catalogue of My Favorites—Index of a Certain Collection: Selections from the MoMAK Collection.



In 1967, when the Annex Museum (founded 1963) of the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo became the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, our museum’s collection consisted of just 4 artworks and 223 crafts.  This collection has since grown to include nearly 10,000 works and other items related to their study.1
The origins of the museum, on which the art museum and thus the museum of modern art are based, can be traced back to the Age of Enlightenment.  Naturally, the collection and storage of works/items as well as their categorization and systematic organization are basic and important functions of these institutions.  Thus the determination of the categories themselves (the nouns denoting the categories) plays no small role in forming the museum’s character.  In Japanese national museums of art, the collections of each museum are classified in two stages: schematic divisions, or general groupings of works/items, and classifications, or subdivisions of the schematic divisions.  There are two basic approaches to the determination of these classifications: a conceptual approach based on the collective character of the artistic expression of the works/items included therein, and a technical approach based on the media or techniques used in the works/items.  Many art museums determine their categories through a combination of these two approaches, as we have done ourselves.
Amongst our various detailed categories is a mysterious, little-known classification called the Non-Category.2  The Non-Category was introduced in the fiscal year of 1978–79 as a ‘provisional’ category for works that are difficult to classify within the usual categories.  Interestingly, the very first accession under this classification was Boîte-en-Valise (1955–68) by Marcel Duchamp.  The Non-Category covers works that were not widely recognized as works of art at the time of accession; works that use a combination of different techniques; works that are specifically concerned with the issue of categorization and with crossing such boundaries; and other works/items wherein different fields or techniques overlap in various ways.  As such, our Non-Category collection provides a valuable insight into the diversity of expression in modern and contemporary art.
Contrary to the possible perception of the Non-Category as an abandonment of a basic professional function of the art museum, the introduction of this classification cannot be attributed merely to the increase of works/items that are created using multiple techniques, nor to the subsequent difficulty in following the technical approach of categorization.  A general survey of the list of our Non-Category collection, included as an appendix to this catalogue, will show that many of the works and items have ‘something else’ that cannot be contained within classifications (nouns) that are commonly understood.  In other words, these works stand outside of established classifications, i.e., the standard terminology of art museums.  My personal understanding is that our predecessors in this museum made a conscious decision to avoid assigning a standard noun to these works and chose one that is ambiguous instead.  I believe it is an expression of love for the potential that comes with ambiguity, and that the preservation of this ambiguous ‘something else’ has been a mission in the history of our museum.
Professionals working in the system of the museum of modern art are well aware of the meaning behind Duchamp’s statement in 1961: “Since the tubes of paint used by the artist are manufactured and ready made products we must conclude that all the paintings in the world are ‘readymades aided’ and also works of assemblage.”3  That is to say, even as we are aware of the danger of the process of categorization becoming an archaeological one—or their identification/reaffirmation in accordance with nouns that are already in our vocabulary—we must also sift through the infinite number of (hi)stories that inevitably emerge from the repositioning of known works/items, or from the reassignment of names (nouns).  This practice is constantly accompanied by a question that is nearly impossible to answer: “Is this work closed off in the past, or is it opened up toward the present and the future?”  The compilation of databases of artworks/items as social capital is well in progress, and the categories used by art museums are increasingly required to be consolidated (homogenized) and, simultaneously, further refined.  In the midst this endless stream of labeling and tagging, our museum’s Non-Category classification emerges as a meaningful place of refuge that offers the possibility of change rather than immobilization.  One might even venture to suggest that our Non-Category classification is that of hope, preserving the possibility of continuing to ask whether each artwork/item is a closed text or a writable open text that is available to viewers and decipherers.
There is no doubt that the meta-(hi)story compiled by the institution known as the museum of modern art—the history of modern art—is among the greatest cultural accomplishments of the twentieth century.  However, when the works/items classified as Non-Category form unexpected links with those in other classifications, a (hi)story apart from the history of modern art that we had not noticed before may begin to unfold.  Metaphorically speaking, our Non-Category classification can be compared to a rudimentary object database rather than a tree data structure.  In running a search through the Non-Category collection, ‘something that is more nonverbal and physical’ may offer better access than the usual keywords.  At this point, it is impossible for the museum to provide this ‘something’ as a universal manual of instructions.  The intent behind the use of the first-person pronoun and an extremely subjective word in the title of this exhibition, My Favorites,4 is to express that the discovery of ‘something’ depends on the will and agency of each individual.
This exhibition catalogue aims to recreate the layout of the exhibition itself as faithfully as possible.  The ordering of the plates is not only intended to form a multilayered index for deciphering this exhibition of Non-Category works in our collection—as well as works and items from other classifications that are closely related to them, coming out to a total of approximately 300 exhibits in all—but also an index that allows viewers and readers to discover the (hi)story of ‘a certain collection’ that is separate from the history of modern art.5  On the occasion of the present exhibition, we hereby present this catalogue with a complete list of the works that are registered under the Non-Category classification as of March 23, 2010 as the eighth collection catalogue of the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto.

Shinji Kohmoto
Chief Curator, The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto
March 2010

1  As of the end of the fiscal year of 1966–67, our collection consisted of 223 crafts (136 ceramics, 28 metal works, 30 lacquer works, 20 textiles, 5 wood works, 3 bamboo works, 1 doll) and 4 artworks (1 oil painting: Eitaro Ishigaki, Whipping, 1925; 1 print: Yukihisa Isobe, Work 63-45, 1963; 2 sculptures: Emilio Greco, Grande figura accoccolata, 1961, and Toen Morikawa, White Deer of Kasuga, 1868).  As of March 23, 2010, the collection comes to a total of 9,679 registered works/items.
2  As of March 23, 2010, there are 317 Non-Category works in our collection.
3  Marcel Duchamp, “Apropos of ‘Readymades,’” The Writings of Marcel Duchamp, ed. Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson. New York: Da Capo Press, 1973, pp. 141–42.
4  The full title of this exhibition is My Favorites—Index of a Certain Collection: Selections from the MoMAK Collection.  The subtitle is based on two found objects in the manner of Duchamp, so to speak: (1) the translations of the word “index” as “library catalogue” and “list of forbidden items,” found in an electronic English-Japanese dictionary and (2) the title of a novel and comic series popular with Japanese youth today.
5  The discovery of the (hi)story of a certain collection presents the risk of reviving the ambiguous (hi)stories that have been eliminated in the process of compiling the history of modern art.


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