The Faux Museum, truly

In Portland's Old Town, a "museum" just for fun

The Faux Museum/Photo by Patrick Collier

The Faux Museum/Photo by Patrick Collier

I always cry at the end of the movie, “Revenge of the Nerds.” Tears flow every time, without fail. Maybe it’s the reminder that most of us have a geeky side that fails to partially or completely resonate with more dominant aspects of our society. Or, it could be that I continue to be penitent for those times I have been the coward who sought refuge in the oppressive power of a malignant crowd.

I’m certainly not proud of the latter, although I am glad my maturity has gone beyond that of a fourteen year old’s and alleviated most of that tendency. Yet, I am somewhat uncomfortable with the first interpretation of my emotional reaction as well, for I am not sure such self-identification can come in a pure form. To know or say I am a geek places me outside of myself and gives some credit to the status quo, as it were, therefore compromising the authenticity of what it is to be one with my geekiness.

Likewise, the local counter-culture’s motto of choice, “Keep Portland Weird.” Is it a dictum rather than a choice, and if so, does it replace obliviousness to what others think with a fabricated spectacle? The phrase ends up smelling a little too self-conscious for my taste. Besides, as my wife is quick to point out after I shared these thoughts with her, “The second ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ flick really sucked.”

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I’ve been in establishments like The Faux Museum before, part second-hand store and part ramshackle roadside curiosity, all overseen by a guy with a carnival barker or snake oil salesman’s glint in his eye—someone who is self-satisfied in the knowledge that he knows something you do not. Friendly enough but only because his goal is to draw you in and close the deal.

Except this guy seems harmless. A couple of young women rummage about the “gift shop.” The proprietor/curator/janitor, Tom “Faux” Richards engages them in light banter, reminding them that they have a chance to spin the wheel in front of the cash register to win a prize. I pay my admission fee while he tries to guess where I’m from. After some confusing back and forth, I leave him and have to duck to enter a narrow cardboard tunnel that leads to the first of the displays, “The Faux Museum: 10,000 Years of History.”

If one has any type of Attention Deficit Disorder or is pressed for time, much is going to be missed in just one visit. I may have both of these things going against me. Still, the entryway may be the first clue that what lies ahead should not be taken too seriously. The construction is functional but almost slipshod, and the illustrations within the tunnel appear hastily drawn and amateurish. “Still,” I say to myself, “let’s have some fun in the spirit this is intended,” which is well-advised, for even the more professional signage is rife with typos or misspellings. Not very museum-like at all.

If you are familiar with Lawrence Weschler’s book, “Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder,” you will know that Weschler draws a historical line between early collectors of the world’s natural curiosities and modern museums; you will also know that the book is about the Museum of Jurassic Technology, in Culver City, California, an ongoing work of art by by David Hildebrand Wilson and Diana Drake Wilson that explores and parodies this history. I could not help but think about their museum as I walked through the Faux Museum, as both make it up as they go along.

The curator/janitor of The Faux Museum, Tom "Faux" Richards/Photo by Patrick Collier

The curator/janitor of The Faux Museum, Tom “Faux” Richards/Photo by Patrick Collier

Loathe as I am to make comparisons between artists — for I am certain that the Faux Museum should be considered as a work of art — I will instead contrast the hand of the artist in each of these endeavors. The Jurassic artists are hidden behind objects that on the surface seem plausible not only because of the craft employed but the vernacular of the museum that is used to back them up. The Faux artist is ever-present, not only at the cash register but because his hand’s eccentricities are paramount. There is an institutional calm and coolness in the former, an air of mania about the latter.

As such, The Faux Museum seems more of a whimsy: a little bit of this and that constructed out of readily available materials that will “make do” and are easily replaced when the next burst of imagination occurs.

Meanwhile, the overflow of ideas is carried over to the museum’s Facebook page.

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I first read about the Faux Museum on Facebook. Another arts writer mentioned that he had visited and then left perplexed. Looking at the museum’s FB page, I was perplexed as well, yet intrigued enough to click “Like” to insure I’d get their feed. The museum was in the middle of trying to get 500 “Likes” by March 31 , and when that wasn’t panning out, 300, then finally congratulating itself on a successful 276 Likes Campaign. (New “Likes” for the page are greeted by comments directed to those people who clicked.)

Contests are staged—a recent one called for people to vote for the best picture of Jesus—and this week they asked followers to choose the best postcard in the museum’s collection. They posted “The Faux Museum Top 10 List,” which, perhaps not surprisingly, contains nineteen items. The wit of these little performances, along with their advertised display of a giant Wooly Ant (whatever that may be, yet also echoing the Jurassic Museum’s Pronged Ant) seemed enough of a reason to check the place out.

The strategy of the exhibition space is more elusive, the wit drier and buried within the substantial amount of text on the walls, and any point to be made camouflaged by surrounding ephemera.

For instance, in the much-promoted display about the 7th Dimension, we are encouraged to begin seeing everyday objects and thoughts (also seen) as they exist in 7-D, a “process that will transform your being and gradually change you into the person everyone hoped you could be.” This is either a wry statement on subjective relativism, an excuse for escapism, or serves another purpose altogether, none of which I can be certain about, and something I would imagine greatly pleases the curator.

Faux Portal to 7th D

Yet, any guidance as to how one goes about this transformation of being and seeing remains unclear and lacks cohesion as illustrated by “The Faux Portal to the Monument of the 7th Dimension” through its numerological contrivances. Which leaves us with a question: Do these seemingly arbitrary absurdities qualify as remarkable curiosities?

Only if we allow a lot of latitude, the very thing, some would insist, that makes Portland famous.

That said, one cannot disregard the industry behind this project. The curator’s shotgun approach does garner some worthwhile moments for the viewer. For example, a small sign for the museum sits just inside the exit of the exhibit. It is yet another piece of cardboard, irregularly torn and etched with the name of the museum on it. It rests upon a very small school chair, perhaps something a first grader would occupy. This little display provides the most discreet and sublime commentary on what I had experienced within the exhibits, and by and large, it was enough to make my visit worthwhile.

2 Responses.

  1. Tom Richards says:

    I want to thank Mr. Collier for coming to The Faux Museum & giving us a look.I would, however, like to make a few points. If as he states he suffered from both, “…Attention Deficit Disorder or is(was) pressed for time,” maybe The Faux Museum is not for you (especially the pressed for time) as the writing is very important to my exhibitions. I think he missed quite a bit actually. I mentioned to him as I do most that it is a conceptual art museum and if a patron doesn’t quite understand that I tell them that it is a “critical thinking museum with a sense of humor,” and so I appreciated that he was confused about how to reap the benefits of The 7th Dimension. I’ve had over 1000 visitors since I opened again (I had the same museum in Portland 20+ years ago)and most get it, others however are a bit confused. I am happy with both types of patrons.
    Another couple of points; the “hastily drawn and amateurish illustrations” he referred to in the portal were actually done by cartoonist and journalist Joe Sacco; and finally I don’t mind getting 2nd billing behind David Wilson as he is a MacArthur Genius fellow.

  2. Patrick Collier says:

    Thank you for commenting, Tom. As I enjoy both conceptual art and humor, I look forward to seeing your future exhibits.

Comments are closed.