2014 - 2019

Los Carpinteros Helm/Helmet/Yelmo

Museum Folkwang

The Central Chamber of Things

The piece entitled Helm/Helmet/Yelmo by Cuban artists Los Carpinteros has been on view at Museum Folkwang since 2014. The work is 4.5 metres high and can be entered by visitors; it is both a sculpture as well as exhibition architecture providing a space for the presentation of objects from the museum’s Archaeology, Global Art, Applied Arts collection.

The Helmet invites viewers to consider what it means to collect, order and exhibit objects: What does a museum collect? Which kind of system do the things it exhibits become part of?

Artists Dagoberto Rodríguez Sánchez (born 1969) and Marco Antonio Castillo Valdés (born 1971) were dubbed Los Carpinteros, meaning “the carpenters”, by critics because the first pieces they made as a duo were wooden furniture objects. The artists decided to work under the moniker from that point onwards.

In their work, Los Carpinteros bring together architecture, design and sculpture.

For Museum Folkwang they have created a space that allows many different kinds of objects to be presented alongside each other: Helm/Helmet/Yelmo is an exhibition space made up of a great number of display cabinets. It is a spectacular container for art works and you can enter it just as you would a building.

A bowl from Iran, dated about 1350...

Next to a mbuya mask by the West Pende, Central Africa, undated.

A ritual pouring vessel from Iran, 9th – 8th century BC

Alongside an Egyptian relief from the Seker-Osiris Temple in Abusir el-Meleqeiner, dated about 350 BC

The objects exhibited here were originally part of the collection compiled by museum founder Karl Ernst Osthaus (1874 - 1921).

A museum should be a place that brings together all human creative activities, including painting, sculpture and the applied arts (which we now call product design) as well as poster art, architecture and town planning. Osthaus had access to an extensive network and was able to secure amongst others, the help of renowned architect and founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius (1883 – 1969), who advised him in the acquisition of precious tiles from Spain and North Africa.

This approach to collecting was maintained by the museum after Osthaus’ death. This impressive head of Egyptian ruler Nefertiti became part of the collection in 1961.

Today the “Archaeology, Global Art, Applied Arts” collection at Museum Folkwang in Essen comprises roughly 1,800items, including ancient sculptures from Greece, Egypt, Iraq and Iran, a tile collection, a collection of textiles and a selection of glass vessels dating from Antiquity through to Modern times.

Some objects are of considerable size; this frieze from Oceania for example is 48 cm high and 2.47 m long.

The museum also holds numerous vases, tiles, masks, figures and so on that are so delicate and fragile that they can only be presented behind glass.

This is an example of Art Deco cabinets used in the Museum Folkwang building during that era (photograph around 1911).

In the 1930s and 1960s, Museum Folkwang again made use of cabinets designed in-keeping with the style of the times (photographs dating around 1930 and 1960).

The artists Los Carpinteros want to do things differently in the 21st century. They decided to create a pavilion in the shape of an oversized helmet made up of a great number of differently constructed hexagons.

Each of the hexagons forms a cabinet that can be opened individually. This makes it possible to give individual objects or groups of objects their own space.
Yet, it is still possible to look at the different exhibits alongside each other at the same time.

The pavilion’s helmet-like shape was chosen in reference to the museum’s protective function as a place where objects and memories, all of which deserve our attention for different reasons, are preserved and made accessible to all.
At the same time the helmet shape evokes the fact that historically, museums also served to express national grandeur and economic or military strength.

The underlying idea for the structure of Helm/Helmet/Yelmo references construction principles as developed and implemented for Modernist architecture in the 20th century, for example by Richard Buckminster Fuller.

Within the helmet there is no system indicating the level of importance of an object. As Los Carpinteros say: “The helmet kills the formality of the museum.”

An object doesn’t have to be particularly old…

or worked in an especially elaborate way.

Extremely fragile…

or highly stylized.

What this is about is the juxtaposition of past and present, traditional culture and modern design, functionality and abstraction.

This kind of synopsis was an objective of Museum Folkwang in its early days, too.
This photograph taken around 1930 of an exhibition space at the museum shows pieces by European and non-European artists exhibited alongside each other.

Los Carpinteros chose and arranged the objects shown in Helm/Helmet/Yelmo themselves; the museum team advised and supported the duo in this undertaking.

The objects were chosen and arranged in accordance with a range of criteria, for example according to weight, subject matter shown, function, and so on.
It was important to the artists that surprising pairings were created in viewing the objects: similarities, historical parallels, variations of techniques and/or materials.

Helm/Helmet/Yelmo is not just a place of and for art. It is also a protected space. It makes it possible to question our collecting activities and the systems we devise for things.

How would someone else configure these objects? Which other collections can we imagine?

In this way Helm/Helmet/Yelmo, also draws attention to the history of this collection, which was begun as a collection of samples and source of inspiration for artists, designers and architects.

At the same time, it provides a surprising answer to the question: How should objects be exhibited? The structure prescribes neither a direction for viewing nor for reading: the differences between left and right, top and bottom become unimportant. The observer may assume constantly changing viewing positions inside the structure, and position themselves anew both in conceptual and spatial terms.

The way the objects are arranged above, underneath and next to each other inside the helmet is reminiscent of a cabinet of wonder. The furnishings and decoration within these cabinets comprehensively unified the objects of very diverse collections in aesthetic terms.

The chamber of marvels, a precursor to the modern museum, managed without the compartmentalising or “pigeonholing” of the later disciplinary sciences (such as biology, geography, history, art history and so on). Objects were not unambiguously classified as being scientific specimen, historical document, an artwork or a technical invention.

Los Carpinteros have reinvented the principle of the chamber of marvels and given it a new form that may serve as a model for a certain type of exhibition. This makes it possible to present collections of objects put together according to personal preferences and subjective ideas and based only very loosely on generally accepted systematic principles – if at all.

Following this line of thinking, Museum Folkwang will be inviting further collectors, artists and others to outfit the “Helmet” according to their own ideas with objects they have chosen themselves. Collector Thomas Olbricht accepted this invitation in the spring of 2016. Under the title Weird and Wonderful. Los Carpinteros, Ouyang Chun and favourite pieces from the Olbricht Collection Olbricht presents 400 pieces from his collections at Museum Folkwang.

It is not just the “Helmet” but also the Olbricht collection that provides a fascinating and contemporary take on the principle of the chamber of marvels.

Further projects to follow...

Text: S. Pizonka, H.-J. Lechtreck, M. v. Lüttichau / Museum Folkwang, 2016
Credits: Story

Museum Folkwang, Essen, 2016
Titel: Helm/Helmet/Yelmo Courtesy of the Artists and Ivorypress, Foto: Sebastian Drüen, Museum Folkwang, 2014

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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