Unanswered Letter

2017 / Made in collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia / Dimensions variable / 179 letters, vitrine containing original letter from Brian Morgan to Anne D'Harnoncourt on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and book (Brancusi by Sidney Geist) / Photos: Carlos Avendano

 

In the archives of the Philadelphia Museum of Art I came across an intriguing letter. It was written in 1978 by a member of the public, to the curator of 20th-century art. The writer – a Mr. Brian H. Morgan – describes a white marble egg made by his Romanian great-grandfather Peter Finck. He notes a startling similarity between this egg and Constantin Brancusi’s Sculpture for the Blind, which is in the museum’s permanent collection. The letter poses the question:

“What is it about Brancusi that makes his egg a work of art suitable for a museum, and not the egg by Finck?”

While Mr. Morgan’s letter is highly personal and particular, at its heart is an eloquent and timeless question: how does one object come to be understood as an important work of art, while another, so similar, is entirely forgotten?

I found the letter almost 40 years after it was written and discovered that it was never answered.

I sent a copy of the letter to 1,000 curators and museum directors – as well as other art professionals – whose collective labor influences what does and does not get seen in museums and what is and is not considered art in the first place. I invited each person to imagine that the letter was addressed directly to them and to respond to Mr. Morgan from their own particular perspective. 

179 people replied.

 

 
 Original letter from a member of the public to the Philadelphia Museum of Art's curator. Written in 1978. Found in the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Archives. 

Original letter from a member of the public to the Philadelphia Museum of Art's curator. Written in 1978. Found in the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Archives. 

 

Below are examples of some of the 179 replies received from museum directors, curators and other arts professionals from across the US as well as from Austria, Canada, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland and the UK. To read more please sign up below to a special Unanswered Letter mailing list to receive a letter directly to your inbox once a week.