International exhibitions

International 2008 Archives

Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art
Barbican Art Gallery, London (UK)

06.03 - 18.05.2008

07.09 - 25.11.2012

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Press release

Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art presents contemporary art as if shown in a fictional museum conceived by and designed for extraterrestrials. This ambitious, playful and irreverent exhibition transforms the Barbican Art Gallery into an imaginary museum. It features around 200 works - primarily scuplture as well as mixed media, video, photography and works on paper - by over 100 established and emerging artists, from the 1960s until now.

This exposition is in part inspired by the first chapter of Kant after Duchamp by Belgian art historian Thierry de Duve, in which an imaginary anthropologist from outer space sets out to inventory 'all that is called art by humans'. Since Martians do not have art as a defined category in their culture, they classify and interpret their chosen objects without the 'knowledge' we know as art history. Instead, they treat works of art as artefacts: objects which serve a function, wether real or symbolic.

The Martian perspective opens up contemporary art to fresh interpretations. It allows for its reassessment from an alien standpoint, thus mimicking the way that Western anthropoligsts historically interpreted non-Western cultures through foreign eyes. Looking at contemporay art as though from outer space offers the potential to make the familiar strange and to turn the dominant Euro-American art tradition into the 'other'. Il also raises pertinent questions about the use and value of contemporary art in human culture.


Exhibition 6 March - 18 May 2008. Barbican Art Gallery, Silk Street - London - EC2Y 8DS. Tel.: +44 (0)845 120 7550. Opening times: Daily 11am - 8pm. Tuesday & Wednesday 11am - 6pm, Time Out First Thursday until 10pm.


Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art at Barbican Art Gallery, London

© ArtCatalyse International / Marika Prévosto 2012. All Rights Reserved

Adopting a pseudo-anthropological approach, Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art employs eccentric taxinomies and surprising juxtapositions. Arranged according to how they function or are used by humans, objects are classified within a framework of four broad categories: Kinship and Descent; Magic and Belief; Ritual; and Communication. Within these larger themes, objects are grouped in subcategories such as Ancestor Worship, Relics and Spirits, Ceremonial Objects and Cultural Contact and arranged on plinths, in vitrines and on the wall.

While interpretive labels and an audio guide enhance accessibility, and serve further to explicate the Martian's understanding of the role and purpose of contemporary art, they also reveal humorous misunderstandings about the objects on view. The Martian Museum also includes a room devoted to Unclassified Objects. These are recent acquisitions which have not yet been understood, interpreted and categorised.