At Somerset House: The Museum of Innocence

The Museum of Innocence at Somerset House

A collection of vitrines (glass cabinets) await the visitor who, to get here, has already followed the arrows, observed the video loops of walks around a town and who is now keen to see the fragments and mementoes of a fictional relationship curated by Orhan Pamuk whose novel is, in this exhibition, brought to some kind of fictional life.  This shouldn’t work.  Or at least it should be unspeakably pretentious.  It may be the latter, I’m no judge and, anyway, I like a dose of pretension, but it is also remarkably affecting.

Various objets are collected, along with, on a facing wall, notes about each of the vitrines.  Some of the objects are mundane, everyday items, some seem more obviously personal.  One cabinet is filled with football player cigarette cards.  You can easily imagine interlocking lives and loves which these things may have touched.  It reminded me of the story of how, when the British tried to fake a spy from a corpse they spent months collecting the detritus that would fill his wallet: ticket stubs, dry cleaning bills, a few coins.  I turned out my pockets as a I left the exhibition and a raffle ticket fell out.  I have no idea if I won.  I have no idea where I even bought it.

It is all arranged with such precision that it recalls old style natural history museums with their pinned down bugs, only here it is the minutiae of our shared existence that is being catalogued.  This could all become cold or excluding – I was never in love in Istanbul in the 1970s – but it isn’t.  You leave wondering what would be in your collection


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