ROME, Italy (September 28, 2006)―Today, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) transferred thirteen antiquities to Italy and signed an agreement with the Italian Ministry of Culture marking the beginning of a new era of cultural exchange. The objects arrived in Rome a few days ago and were unveiled for the first time at today’s press conference.
To celebrate the extraordinary event of the transfer of these thirteen antiquities from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to Italy, they will be on view to the public at the Museo Nazionale Romano di Palazzo Massimo alle Terme in Rome for a week starting October 10, before being installed at museums in their historical territories.
Joint statement from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Italian Ministry of Culture
The return of eleven ceramic pieces to Italy by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, causes us to reflect on the issue of restitution. Perhaps we should think about the significance of this particular event. Restitution implies “returning something to its previous state.” If we consider the possibility that the act of returning these objects is not solely intended as a restitution of the Italian cultural heritage, but also of the object, then it becomes plausible that the point of this restitution is to return the object to its past circumstances. Over time, and with the territorial movements of the artifact, it has been divested of two important circumstances: it has been extracted from both its cultural habitat and its functional habitat. They are being returned to a contemporary Italy, which offers no restitution of the cultural setting from which the objects were removed. This inability to restore even the idea of the cultural context to which the object belonged forces it to exist in a “neutral” space where at least the idea of cultural context can be historically orchestrated. The museum is presented as an ideal space for this to happen, and it is here, in this new habitat, where a second extraction is performed on the artifact, removing that which during its crafting gave it its final intention or cause: what Heidegger called causa finalis. 1 Though these vessels were meant for domestic or ritual use, their final cause has been transformed until they have become the efficient bearers of their own cancellation. Inside the museum, these vessels have been given a new final cause, but their original reason for being has not disappeared: it has merely been cancelled, and in that cancellation, the objects have become historic artifacts that narrate their loss of origin and habitat. The cancellation of the object’s causa finalis is echoed in contemporary practices such as that of Marcel Duchamp. With the invention of readymade, Duchamp stripped the object of its useful function to give it a symbolic significance it didn’t have before. Despite the fact that readymades first made its appearance in the home, it is articulated in a profoundly different setting than that of the object’s everyday use. Eventually, the readymade will find a new space in the museum, but Duchamp considers the home to be an innately artistic institution. Inversely, in the context of this exhibition, this problem could find a parallel in Nicole Cherubini’s use of materials and forms. She tends to disintegrate the contemporary notion that links ceramics and a vessel’s form to the production of utilitarian objects. In her work, materials and forms are indebted to a causa finalis which, from the outset, falls outside the rationale of everyday use. Unlike the vessels mentioned above, her objects do not elaborate a cancellation of their final cause and are not arbitrarily inserted into exhibition spaces—in fact, they are created to be displayed in art institutions. She has approached ceramics from the perspective where the object has already failed in terms of its intended use, but for some reason she continues to refer to the vessel’s forms, material (ceramics) and history. It would seem that Cherubini has not lost sight of the idea that this form and this material are inherently destined for utilitarian functions and that to insert them into the discourse of contemporary art would mean to carry out the same act of cancellation that has been applied to the artifacts that now speak of the impossibility of their restitution.
-- Montserrat Albores (Translated from Spanish by Michelle Suderman)
Nicole Cherubini (born in Boston, 1969) recieved her M.F.A. from New York University and her B.F.A from the Rhode Island School of Design. She recently had a solo project space at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, PA. Her work will be included in upcoming exhibitions at the Sculpture Center (NYC, NY), the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (Scottsdale, AZ), Momenta Art (Brooklyn, NY) and she will have a solo exhibition in 2008 at Galerie Michael Jannssen (Berlin, Germany).
1 In the example of the silver chalice, Heidegger describes the causa finalis as follows: “But there remains yet a third that is above all responsible for the sacrificial vessel. It is that which in advance confines the chalice within the realm of consecration and bestowal. Through this the chalice is circumscribed as sacrificial vessel. Circumscribing gives bounds to the thing. With the bounds the thing does not stop; rather from out of them it begins to be what, after production, it will be. That which gives bounds, that which completes, in this sense is called in Greek telos, which is all too often translated as ‘aim’ or ‘purpose’ and so misinterpreted. The telos is responsible for what as matter and for what as aspect are together co-responsible for the sacrificial vessel.” Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology” in The Question Concerning Technology and other Essays (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1977): 8.