Museums are places that preserve and present culture. But historically, not everyone’s culture was valued enough to be preserved. A new commission displayed in London and sponsored by Morgan Stanley asks why.
Today’s most relevant artists ask tough questions. In the case of Rene Matić, whose new work following the light of the suns was recently on view at London’s Somerset House, the questions include, “Whose history gets recorded and recounted?” “How are their stories told—and mis-told, and by whom?”
The participatory sculpture, by the emerging London-based artist, examines the preservation, presentation and protection of cultural property through the lens of their own mixed-race experience. It comprises a series of acrylic museum vitrines filled with bright pin badges with the phrase CONSERVE ME in bold text. The vitrines are installed in several locations throughout the neoclassical building, and visitors are encouraged to take and wear a badge as they explore the cultural site.
Sponsored by Morgan Stanley and commissioned by Somerset House, the work was on view from November 12, 2021, through February 6, 2022. Matić also created a wall-based, two-dimensional edition of following the light of the suns, which is now on display in Morgan Stanley’s London office.
This commission is just one element of Morgan Stanley’s three-year partnership with Somerset House and The Courtauld, celebrating ideas, insights and diverse perspectives.
For Matić, interacting with the two, very different institutions was a critical part of their residency and the participatory work they created. “In terms of this project,” Matić says, “my engagement has been predominantly with Somerset House. I was given a residency which has helped me understand the building and people coming in and out of it on a daily basis, which is so important for this work.”
The history and mission of the institutions was just as central: “Researching the relationship between Somerset House and The Courtauld, I was continually drawn to the word ‘conservation,’” they say. “Both institutions have historically been concerned with the preservation, protection and appreciation of cultural property which is, of course, important.”
Matić adds: “If this same energy went into engaging in the preservation, protection, and appreciation of their audiences, then we could reach some kind of beyond. This commitment is integral to de-colonization—forging spaces where we not only feel ‘welcomed’ but also feel held. My main concern has been accessibility, so making sure the work can be encountered and understood by as many people as possible.”