Museums & Society Newsfeed
In a recent blog post Scottish writer Allan Massie suggests it may not really matter whether artworks (read also: artifacts, historic documents and other significant material culture) leave their originating contexts because digital media can make these accessible to everyone, forever and from anywhere. The Brontë Society in Yorkshire may dispute Massie's notion, having just lost the "most significant manuscript by Charlotte Brontë to be discovered for decades" to the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits in Paris (read about it here). A few years ago, critics challenged Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton's acquisitions on similar grounds, arguing that she was removing masterpieces from their rightful homes, although more recently these same critics have been praising her Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (some do continue to note the ethical questions raised by Wal-Mart funding such a museum however: see Jeffrey Goldberg's article on bloomberg.com). What is at stake here? And are digital surrogates adequate substitutes for originals? or perhaps even better than originals because they allow us to build an infinite variety of imaginary museums - ones that make interpretative choices not limited by bricks and mortar? Could this simply be the latest iteration of museums "freeing works of art from their expected performance" (A. Malraux, "Imaginary Museum," in The Voices of Silence, trans. S. Gilbert (London, 1954), 12)? Tell us what your imaginary museum would hold and how it improves on the works' current homes. Post your response on our facebook page (link here).
Print by Print exhibit at the BMA featured this morning on WYPR. Students from Mellon-funded M&S Spring 2011 course "Paper Museums: Exhibiting Prints at the Baltimore Museum of Art" worked with curator Rena Hoisington to research the objects, select the prints and themes, and prepare exhibit materials.
Museums collect and display objects from all over the world, including places whose political significance changes according to current events. Behind the scenes, organizing an exhibit that may have international implications engages the museum in a more or less overt form of diplomacy. The Director of the Louvre Museum characterizes its mission as "increasingly a major player on the cultural diplomacy front" explaining that "naturally this international outreach finds expression in exhibitions" (About the Louvre: Message from the Director "International Outreach") - (and perhaps also in the planned Louvre Abu Dhabi - Alan Riding, "The Louvre's Art: Priceless. The Louvre's Name: Expensive" NYTimes, March 7, 2007). The British Museum director travels regularly to countries whose communication with the British government just as regularly stalls (William Lee Adams, "The Art of Museum Diplomacy" Time Magazine World, February 19, 2009). In the case of Europe's publicly funded national museums this may not be so surprising, but recently the news coverage of several American museums and exhibits have highlighted their involvement in international politics (click here to read more).
This month the Metropolitan Museum in New York reopened its galleries of Islamic art, now titled the galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia. The press coverage has focused on the significance of the Met's coincidental timing, practically the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks and soon after the events of the Arab Spring. Is the Met trying to change the American conversation about Islam? Holland Cotter reads the exhibit as a story about a complex, always varying, and largely secular culture (Holland Cotter's review in the NYTimes; see also Lee Lawrence in the Washington Post). Who exactly is the Met trying to reach with its representation of cultural understanding? Charlotte Higgins of the Guardian reports a novel aspect to this diplomatic story: the Met is working directly with the state department to promote the new galleries in the public spaces of US embassies worldwide ("New York's Met Museum Showcases a World of Islamic Treasures" Guardian, October 26, 2011).
Within a few weeks of the September 11 attacks several institutions, including museums such as the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History and the New York Historical Society, and individuals, such as Nicola McClean, a photojournalist, and Damon DiMarco, a writer, started collecting the moment through objects, images, and stories. Spontaneous memorials appeared almost immediately and, within a year, the Smithsonian had put on the exhibit September 11: Bearing Witness to History, the New York Fire Museum had created a display of memorial material, and the Museum of the City of New York had mounted an exhibit of children's art entitled The Day Our World Changed (for more examples of projects see www.911history.net). This Fall, museums are again tackling the subject of September 11, this time in the context of the tenth anniversary of the attacks. Ten years later, how museums create a material record of this event remains a sensitive and complicated question. (more...)
Both the decisions to include and to exclude particular material in museums raise concerns. An especially difficult issue for museums early on was whether to collect the spontaneous memorials that appeared on the sites of the attacks, and if so, which ones? (most museums decided instead to record these in photographs). Collecting decisions today continue to run into the opposing views of different communities, who worry about how the selection process makes implicit decisions about what is historically important (AP, "Atheist Group Sues Over Cross at Sept. 11 Museum," Wall Street Journal July 27, 2011). And these choices are being made at a time when we continue publicly to constitute September 11 as something to be remembered, an event to be invoked as a series of personal stories and responses somehow brought into an abstracted narrative of trauma, rather than extensively interpreted (Edward Rothstein "Recapturing the Spirit of a City as It Reeled From Its Wounds," exh. rev. NYTimes September 7, 2011). Most of this Fall's museum exhibits about September 11 are casting both curators and visitors as witnesses, often by asking them to tell their story and so experience and convey the historical event according to their personal feelings.
Museums and Society presents: Beyond the "Nicknackatory": The Material Legacy of Sir Hans Sloane, a talk by senior Emily Sneff. October 6, 4PM - Gilman 75. Part senior thesis, part travelogue, the talk explores the place of a man often mistakenly characterized as the founder of the British Museum, Sir Hans Sloane, in London's material and cultural landscape.
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