Museum Exhibit Labels as Fiction: “Pulp” Interviews Matthew Kirkpatrick

Mathew Kirkpatrick

Check out a new interview in Pulp with Matthew Kirkpatrick, author of The Ambrose J. and Vivian T. Seagrave Museum of 20th Century American Art (released in 2019 by Acre). In the novel, the secrets and dramas of a museum unfold through exhibit labels alongside the musings of an elderly visitor wandering the galleries of the legendarily odd institution. Check out this excerpt, then read the full interview on Pulp. You can order your own copy of Kirkpatrick’s novel from our website.

Q: Going back to your earlier point that art gets “yoked” to labels in museums, I’m curious about the content of the labels in this book. While reading, it quickly became apparent to me that the museum exhibit labels are not objective. Instead, the curator gives opinions and anecdotes about the artwork that goes beyond what a sign might typically convey, or at least what I might expect. For example, the first label on page 1 states, “[t]he ball is so obviously out of place,” and depicts cardinals as “the plainest of birds” in the painting it describes. How did you develop and how would you describe this first-person narrator of the labels?

: Before I started writing, I imagined that this book would work similarly to Letter to Wendy’s by Joe Wenderoth, in which the narrator gradually becomes more and more unhinged. I also knew that for the novel to work, the narrator couldn’t just describe the art — that his personality, obsessions, and quirks had to come through in his descriptions of the labels, so from the start, I knew that the labels were going to have to gradually — and then suddenly — stop resembling exhibit labels.

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