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Linda Samuels, CPO-CD®

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The Art of Organizing

In the past few years, I saw two exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City that had organizing themes. I’ve always recognized and enjoyed the visual aspect of the organizing work that I do. These installations brought art and organizing into a new light. While the two exhibits served different purposes, present in each were themes of collecting, repurposing, preserving, and letting go.

Martha Rosler’s The Meta-Monumental Garage Sale is on view through the end of this month. She says, “An object is always more than what it is: A chair is never only a chair, a spoon never merely a spoon. It travels through social worlds, and carries forward a history, belonging first to those who produced it, and later, to those who bought, used, altered, sold, traded, or discarded it. Value is ascribed to it, value is withdrawn; value is regenerated.”

Rosler’s interactive exhibit allows you to actually participate in the Garage Sale, by physically handling the objects, bargaining with the sellers, and purchasing someone else’s discards. Similar objects are grouped together. Signs such as “Haggle,” or “Everything Clean Nothing Guaranteed,” along with real time video monitors of people shopping, encourage you to engage in the active art of acquiring. As I walked around, I could feel the buzz of others enjoying the hunt.

The other exhibit, which I saw several years ago at MOMA, was Song Dong’s piece Waste Not. It was a poignant tribute and collaboration with the artist’s mother who would not part with any of her completely filled Beijing home. With his mother’s agreement, he turned her accumulated possessions into an art project. In her culture, the art of not wasting was considered “a prerequisite for survival.” In our culture, this type of saving without any dispossession would be thought of as hoarding behavior. The installation included the complete contents of her home, amassed over fifty years. Everyday items like pots, plastic bottles, and empty toothpaste tubes were organized and displayed for viewers to walk through and see. While you couldn’t touch the objects, as in the Garage Sale, you could get close to them without any barriers.

The things we collect, save, and let go of are integral to our human experience. With these two exhibits, someone else’s letting go enabled us to reexamine these objects as art, life, and new possibilities. What are your thoughts about acquiring, saving, or letting go?

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Reader Comments (8)

Song Dong's piece looks very much like what happens on the show Consumed. I wonder how many people would be amazed at what they keep if they could see it all laid out so.

On another note, how many organizers read fiction and are fascinated by how writer's describe people's relationships to their possessions and creating order. Those words seem to jump off the page at me. Observing how someone organizes their time and space gives true insight into what's important to them.

Thanks for sharing the art, Linda!

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClare Kumar

It's an interesting point that you make, Clare. When we organize with our clients, how often do we have them collect ALL the black pants or plastic containers so that they can better evaluate what they actually own and want to keep? There is power in mass. It can often help the decision-making process.

Like you, I too love reading about people and their relationship to their possessions. As organizers, we are helping our clients come to positive terms with their stuff. Gaining insight through others' descriptions helps us be more compassionate.

I appreciate you stopping by to join in the conversation.

November 20, 2012 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Linda... Martha Rosler’s "The Meta-Monumental Garage Sale" could almost inspire me to catch a plane to NYC just to see MOMA exhibit. How very FUNN[tm] and creative!!! Please keep posting info like this and maybe one of these days.... ;) MER

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary E. Rossow

Mary- It's well worth the trip. I'm glad you enjoyed this piece and stopped by to share. Keep me posted. Would love to hear your reaction to the Rosler's exhibit if you decide to see it.

November 20, 2012 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I found this fascinating, Linda. I would love to see Song Dong’s piece Waste Not. I can only imagine what would amass in our house if we never threw anything out. Thank you for sharing this with us.

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy @The Decorating Files

I'm so glad you liked this post, Peggy. Song Dong's installation was amazing. I remember walking through it in tears because I was so moved. He was able help his mother let go by honoring her possessions through this art project. The installation included the actual house. When you saw all the items displayed, it was hard to believe that everything had fit inside her home.

November 20, 2012 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Dear Linda. I have worked with very creative individuals and finding the fine line between "art supplies" from a broken dish or rock and what is consider excess was a wonderful exercise for my organizing skills.
Love your post and the opportunity to "see" the exhibits through your eyes!

November 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHelena Alkhas

Helena- I understand about the fine line that you are talking about. Creative people have the ability to see beyond the surface. Both of these exhibits did exactly that. The artists took the mundane, reframed the concept, and turned "organizing" into art. Just wonderful!

November 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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