Today, I explain, they are to be investigative reporters; their assignment is to find how girls and women appear in this museum.
“It feels impossible to talk about race or other kinds of difference,” wrote Roxane Gay recently in the New York Times Sunday Review. “But if we don’t have difficult conversations, we will be able to reconcile neither this country’s racist past nor racist present.” This is a refrain we read and hear so often these days, and yet, the conversations remain hard in coming. Faheem Majeed, in his first solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago this year, is a notable example of conversation between artist, curator, and museum institution that seeks to expand that conversation with a wider viewing public.
There is a particular magnetism in things. I feel the way they cling to me especially now, as I travel from one country to another by train, wanting nothing (I tell myself) but to travel lightly, and instead weighted down by what I cannot throw away. Even as I am having an “experience” (travel), I am tethered to my objects. There are the essentials, or what must come with—my dog, for instance, a toothbrush, underwear, and some clothes—but a lot more of the inessentials: three dog toys, a pair of yellowed goggles, a cigar box full of art supplies that includes two pairs of scissors plus an X-Acto knife, a curved sewing needle and bits of ribbon, thoroughly read copies of the London Review of Books, and a board game with instructions only in Spanish, a language I do not read. The last item I managed to offload onto a friend I met up with in Croatia. A best friend, to be sure (who else takes on the burden of your things?), who begrudgingly agreed to bring this and a heavy, hardcover exhibition catalogue back to the United States ahead of me.
The Hamburger Bahnhof is not a train station now, and never was in Hamburg. It’s a museum of contemporary art in Berlin. It’s also a good metaphor—in name and in content—for this city where nothing is quite as advertised. Though a very fine layer of general German Ordnung covers everything here, it gives way easily to a jumble of rules without regulation, a mass of juxtaposed and unlikely objects of which I am also, and only, one.