It was on the third floor of the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) in 1996 when Florida-based artist Sean Miller discovered a new subject for his work—dust. Working as an exhibition technician, one of his duties was to remove dust from the art displays: “performing this tedious, solitary, and meditative task in such an aesthetically charged environment made me consider this material in a special way. One day when I noticed a minute fiber had fallen from an African mask, I realized the art had dropped into, and joined, the dust.”
That’s when The Art Museum Dust Collection was born, an ingenious project that has had a myriad of incarnations over the years—to date the project includes dust from over 90 museums worldwide. Originally, it was started in collaboration with Miller’s SAM co-worker Phil Stoiber; they created a mail art project enlisting the help of museum employees around the U.S. to contribute dust samples and dusty white gloves to the collection.
In 2002, Miller began to photograph the dust specimens using microscopy. We can imagine the wide-eyed excitement he must have felt with that first image; “art museum dust is amazing because it is a hybrid of decaying art, the art institution, the art audience, artists themselves, and art administrators. Due to this synthesis it may be the most pure and significant material present in many museums.” Perhaps that’s why Miller’s specimens are so beautiful; they hold so much. They are also a testament to what makes a great artist—the discovery and display of something we would never have thought of.
In addition to the photographs, the project involves dust collecting performances, lectures, dust collecting equipment, wearable art, multiples, dust sculptures, and collages.
“Dust Sample from the Louvre” will be exhibitied in the upcoming exhibition, Ten Artists to Watch, from June 13–July 6, 2013 at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art.