THE RELATIONSHIP between a museum and its visitors has long been a point of fascination with artists.
“Photographers have always loved photographing museums,” says Klaus Wehner, the London-based artist behind “Wundercamera: Savannah.”
The Jepson Center’s latest exhibition, hanging now through May, presents all aspects of the museum experience, from guards watching over the artwork to the ephemeral nature of passing through the museum and everything in between.
Wehner, or “Museum Clausum,” as he titles his work, has brought a collection of twelve artists’ examinations of exhibition spaces, all photographs.
“This show really has two themes, photography and the museum,” explains Wehner. “The juxtaposition of these different approaches really also brings up how interpretive the camera is.”
This is Wundercamera’s third round, the first two taking place at Pitzhanger Manor Gallery and House and at the Manchester Metropolitan University’s Holden Gallery. Wehner chose the Jepson because of its link to a historic house, the Telfair Academy.
Much of Wehner’s inspiration comes from the Soane Museum in London, which was originally Sir John Soane’s home before being converted into a museum.
For his museology project, Wehner photographed both the Soane Museum and the Owens-Thomas House in Savannah, noting that since Soane was inspired by the designs of William Jay, there are many architectural similarities between the two spaces.
“There’s always this effect that if you take a photograph of a true historic location, the photograph looks like an old photo. There’s this element of time I’m playing with,” Wehner muses.
The passage of time is a major theme in this show. The two videos in the gallery are of a time-lapse video of people in the Soane and a compilation of clips that are put together to look like a live CCTV feed.
Wehner’s photography from the Soane creates a restricted feeling—the camera peeks around corners and through posts to see the artwork. His work at the Telfair and the Owens-Thomas House uses a long exposure to show how people pass through the spaces.
Matthew Pillsbury also works in long exposure photography to show the movement around the Louvre Museum in France, creating a hectic scene around the Mona Lisa that Wehner estimates had an exposure time of about fifteen seconds.
Wundercamera also plays with the truth of photography.
“It’s questioning the veracity of photography, just a total kind of questioning of photographic truth,” Wehner says.
Richard Ross’ photographs from his “Museology” collection show stuffed animals in storage at various museums, like a rhino enclosed in a glass case at the Field Museum in Chicago, or parrots covered in tarps at the Museum National D’Histoire Naturelle in Paris.
“Here this project makes the most obvious what is happening in the whole exhibition,” Wehner says. “The museum, which is usually the active observer, becomes the passive object of observation and of collection. He focuses on the things that are wrong; these are stored and covered.”
Wehner’s fascination with museums has been years in the making, but Wundercamera didn’t begin until he started his practice-based Ph.D. in England and did his project on museums.
“When I finished, I realized, I have all this research. This has to be an exhibition,” he remembers.
“I think museums are very important kinds of spaces,” he says. “They are, so to speak, preserving history, telling history. But this whole discipline of museology in academia has really also examined and deconstructed this and is showing that museums are very subjective, of course, in the history they present.”