Taryn Simon @ Rudolfinum

This spring Galerie Rudolfinum presents an exhibition of a New York artist Taryn Simon, who is known for working with things hidden in plain sight. The reason why her art is becoming more and more popular, I think, has something to do with the fact that for most part Taryn works with objects or their images, which are an inseparable part of life in contemporary society. Each room of this particular exhibition is devoted to a different project realized from 2007 to 2014. In all of them the artist questions modern world by asking: “What is hidden behind this?”, whether it is a day-to-day work of the U.S Border Protection Service of J.F. Kennedy International Airport or Disneyland. She studies, photographs and classifies tons of images. For the project mentioned above, called “Contraband”, the artist made more than 1,075 photographs. Thanks to years of research, travel and cataloging thousands of pictures, Taryn’s art is classified as research-based. What makes it conceptual is the fact that behind every seemingly insignificant and simple piece lays an idea; although, unlike many contemporary conceptual artists, Taryn aims for both – nice representation and deep ideas.


The project that stood out the most personally for me is called “An American index of the hidden and unfamiliar”. Here the artist reveals what lays out-of-the view within the borders of the United States. Various scientific, government or medical projects that were hidden or blacked-out are now documented and shown to the wide audience. With this project Taryn confronts the boundaries between those who are allowed and not allowed to access these or those places. With the help of photography and film she reveals for us a hidden America and helps us to learn its foundations, as well as mythology and contemporary culture. In this case I enjoyed the pictures very much and at the same time actually learned something, which is for me a perfect combination.

On Taryn’s example we can see how an artist can work in the field of conceptual art – how he or she:

  • finds inspiration, idea and statement
  • does research
  • creates the piece
  • exhibits it


Let’s have a closer look at one of Taryn’s projects. It is called “Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies”. First, the artist got inspired by the story of James Bond character creation. Ian Fleming, the author of James Bond novels, adopted this name for his books because it sounded “flat and colorless” – perfect name of someone who hides his identity. Originally this name belonged to an American ornithologist who worked during those times. This story became a driving force, a starting point for an amazing journey for Taryn. We can say that she became James Bond, the ornithologist, herself. She did an enormous research by identifying all birds that appear in 24 films of the James Bond franchise. Then Taryn photographed and classified those birds according to time, location and year in which they appeared and exhibited a part of this huge catalog at Rudolfinum, organizing the pieces according to the country of appearance. The idea behind this piece is not clear from the first sight. After a while of studying the piece, of wondering around the room and reading old letters or examining photographs and admiring wonderful drawings of exotic birds we see we finally understand the whole concept. We see that Taryn had force herself (and as a result the audience) to destruct from seductive images in James Bond movies and concentrate on something that is insignificant and maybe appeared on the screen by mere chance. Until the artist cataloged them, these birds were unrecognized. This makes us think about the true significance of every object and every person in this world. Do we become significant only when recognized by the others? This is a food for reflection.



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