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Habitat: Obsessions—A Look at Tony Oursler’s Spiritualist Paraphernalia

Tony Oursler in his New York apartment.

Tony Oursler in his New York apartment, holding an antique stereoscope viewer from the mid-1800’s.

Habitat: Obsessions is a ten-part series of visits to the surprising non-art collections of art-world professionals.

Tony Oursler’s multimedia works often take the form of a video of a talking head or a blinking eye projected atop an inanimate object—a fabric dummy, a monochrome painting, or even a tree. These somewhat spooky pieces have their roots, in part, in Oursler’s extensive collection of magic and spiritualist paraphernalia. A selection of his holdings is included in “Tony Oursler: The Imponderable Archive,” an exhibition curated by Tom Eccles and Beatrix Ruf that is currently on view at the CCS Bard Hessel Museum in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, though his apartment in Manhattan is still well stocked with Ouija boards, Italian spell books, and other mementos of the fringe practices that fascinate him.

When I visited Oursler at his home, he was gearing up for the opening of “Tony Oursler: Imponderable” at the Museum of Modern Art, which features more ephemera and an immersive film. In the workspace below the artist’s apartment, an assistant was putting the final touches on that feature-length film, also titled Imponderable, which was produced using a contemporary form of Pepper’s ghost—a 19th-century phantasmagoric device.

A look through Oursler’s spiritualist paraphernalia follows below.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of ARTnews on page 56 under the title “Tony Oursler: Items associated with magic and the occult.”

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