Opened in Marseille in 2013, the Mucem – the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée – holds in its storerooms the collections of the former Musée national des Arts et Traditions Populaires (MnATP), created in Paris by Georges Henri Rivière in 1937.
What is to be made of these collections slumbering in the Mucem reserve collection? Through a series of residencies and workshops, artists and researchers considered how to reactivate these collections. The exhibition Document bilingue (Bilingual Document) and the catalogue that accompany it explore the status of these objects, between popular art and scientific discourse, between ethnography and aesthetics.
Artisanal and preindustrial objects from distant, often bygone times, the objects and documents assembled at the MnATP were the results of methodical gathering carried out during field studies, enriched by the further acquisitions that followed the opening of the museum.
The question of the object’s dual identity, between folk art and scientific discourse, like a bilingual document, was at the heart of Rivière’s project. But where does this leave the collections now slumbering in the Mucem reserve collection? How can these documents be reactivated, and even performed, in a way that takes into account their bilingual nature, their aesthetic or poetic status and their ethnographic value? How do we combine the needs of the museum and the imperatives of the laboratory, of exhibition and research?
These are some of the questions explored by this book, which brings together critical essays and artist’s notebooks inspired by the Mucem reserve collection. It discusses the missions of a museum of civilisation, the relations between a museum and its reserve collection and the ways in which art can serve to activate the collections.
This catalogue was published on the occasion of the exhibition Document bilingue, which showed at the Mucem from 7 July to 13 November 2017.