250 Articles
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Medium 9781442267763

Do Museums Still Need Objects?

AltaMira Press ePub

by Steven Conn. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010. 262 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8122-4190-7

Reviewed by Kimberly Rhodes, Associate Professor of Art History and Director, New York Semester on Contemporary Art, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey, 07940 phone: 973-327-2292; email: krhodes@drew.edu

Steven Conn’s response to the titular question of his provocative text, a collection of six loosely related essays, is a melancholy yes: “Museums — some of them anyway — may not need objects anymore, but without objects we all miss the delights and surprises that come with looking.” (57) The author’s commitment to objects stems from at least two of his primary motives for discussing, albeit diffusely, the current state of museum practice and studies in the United States. First, to provide an inclusive discussion of museums that encompasses institutions devoted to art, natural history, history, and science and thereby demonstrates their overlapping functions and concerns. Second, to promote a renewed humanistic vision of museums as public spaces that perpetuate civic duty through shared experiences of “objects,” what Conn calls “object-based epistemology.” In his introduction, Conn positions the latter imperative as a direct challenge to what he believes to be the recent textual and cynical turn in museum studies perpetuated by scholars employing poststructuralist theory to interrogate the histories and ideologies of museums. While it is useful for Conn to initiate a dialogue about the utility of various approaches to the study of museums in the United States, some readers may be irked by the author’s derisive attitude toward theory and disappointed that he does not fully examine the changing status of the “object,” especially in the visual arts. By extension, the author does not consider the role of technology and our twenty-first century immersion in the virtual world in diminishing the significance of the material world for institutions and audiences.

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Crossroads of Culture, Anthropology Collections at the Denver Museum of Science & Nature

AltaMira Press ePub

by Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Stephen E. Nash, and Stephen R. Holen. Boulder, CO: The University Press of Colorado, 2010. 174 pp. ISBN 978-1-60732-024-1

Reviewed by Deborah Rose Van Horn, Registrar, Kentucky Historical Society, 100 W. Broadway, Frankfort, KY 40601; email: deborah.vanhorn@ky.gov

The book, Crossroads of Culture, Anthropology Collections at the Denver Museum of Science & Nature, is an overview of the museum’s Anthropology collections. The authors provide their audience with a brief history of the institution, the history of the Anthropology collections and a look at where the Denver Museum of Science & Nature intends to take its Anthropology collections in the future. This synopsis is enhanced by beautiful color photographs and first-person narratives by collections stakeholders.

The authors begin with a brief history of that institution and the goals of this publication. The main focus of the volume is to introduce the Anthropology collections to a wider audience. As part of this process, the authors provide information about and access to the collections through the volume. According to the authors, only one percent of the museum’s holdings are on exhibit at any time and only a fraction of this percentage is the Anthropology collections. This is why they have chosen to publish this volume and provide access to the materials in the collection in this way. They proceed to do a departmental breakdown of the Anthropology collections including the history of the departments, the scopes of the anthropology collections, and future goals for that department.

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Critical Approaches to the Curator

AltaMira Press ePub

Abstract Surveys a broad range of approaches to the figure of the curator, including medieval precedents found in illuminated manuscripts (Serrano), new takes on nineteenth-century roles and debates over what “curating” meant in the early twentieth century (McTavish), and critiques of Okwui Enwezor, who arguably embodies the contemporary notion of the global curator (Ogbechie).

Nhora Lucía Serrano

Comparative Literature, California State University—Long Beach

In 1998 Michael Brenson proclaimed that the era of the curator had begun. Brenson defined the “curator” as someone who “work[s] across cultures and [is] able to think imaginatively about the points of compatibility and conflict among them” because the task of the curator is to “be able to communicate not only with artists but also with community leaders … and heads of state.”1 This model of the curator as a socio-political envoy, however, is not new or modern. It can be seen in medieval illuminated manuscripts in which representations of monarchs and royal counselors function similarly to Brenson’s definition of a curator. Alfonso X, el Sabio’s Cantigas de Santa María (1221–1284) and Christine de Pizan’s Epistre Othéa (1400) are two such manuscripts in which their richly-adorned portraits attest that there were political historiographers and cultural guides concerned with how history is read and preserved. But it is more than their mere presence that equates these miniatures as portraits of a curator; it is their gesturing hands so carefully painted and aptly directing the gaze to the visual narrative of the page that establish their exhibitionary aim, to shape and instill portraits of legitimate kings and strong empires.

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KEYNOTE The Times of the Curator

AltaMira Press ePub

History of Consciousness, University of California—Santa Cruz

“The Times of the Curator”… My title evokes two senses of temporality:

I’ll be speaking of both. My concern is the discrepant temporalities (sometimes I want to say “histories,” or even “futures”) that are integral to the task of the curator today.

“The task of the curator.” I like the conference title chosen by Lucian Gomoll and Lissette Olivares because of its invocation of Walter Benjamin and the problematic of translation, which in his famous essay, “The Task of the Translator,” is fundamentally a temporal and open-ended process. For Benjamin, of course, the discordant times of the past would be activated and “made new” by a critical-materialist form of historicizing that could challenge and open up closed narratives, the inevitable realisms of the victors.

I believe that what’s going on today in museums has the potential to make this kind of critical intervention. For the museum is an inventive, globally, and locally translated form, no longer anchored to its modern origins in Europe. Contemporary curatorial work, in the excessive times of decolonization and globalization, by engaging with discrepant temporalities—not resisting, or homogenizing, their inescapable friction—has the potential to open up common-sense, “given” histories. It does so under serious constraints, a push and pull of material forces and ideological legacies it cannot evade.

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Welcome New Editorial Board Members

AltaMira Press ePub

As a peer-reviewed, quarterly publication from AltaMira Press, Collections offers a platform for research, dialogue, and reportage among professionals — at every stage. The journal strives to offer professional guidance and theoretical grounding drawn from fields such as anthropology, art history, cultural studies, ethnobotany, history, conservation, law, life science, museum studies, and library science.

The publication process is a collaborative venture: the Editor; AltaMira Press and its parent company, Rowman and Littlefield; and authors contribute to and benefit from the journal in a range of capacities. Additionally, the Editorial Board plays a key role in the publication process and the success of the journal. Working closely with me in my role as editor of the journal, board members will help to achieve the journal’s mission and, moreover, contribute to the journal in a variety of ways. Key among these are peer review and guest editorship. In addition, members of the Editorial Board develop concepts for themed issues of the journal; encourage submissions from a range of museum and archives professionals; identify books, symposia, conferences, and projects for review or proceedings publication; assist the editor in keeping abreast of trends and issues in the field; and broaden the discourse about collections to our national and international readership. Names of the Editorial Board are proudly featured on the journal’s website and in each issue of the journal.

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Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance or Collapse?

AltaMira Press ePub

by Robert R. Janes. From the Museum Meanings Series. London and New York: Routledge, 2009. 208 pp. ISBN: 978-0-415-46300-3

Reviewed by Anna Heineman, Adjunct Professor of Art History, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida; FAD 233, School of Art + Art History, PO Box 115801, Gainesville, FL 32611; (641) 990-0950; email: anna.m.heineman@gmail.com

Museums today face issues of relevance, social and economic issues, and funding like never before. Robert R. Janes, museum professional of thirty-five years, detailed the growing challenges for museums in his book entitled, Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance or Collapse? Throughout the book, Janes analyzes the importance of museums, yet explores their struggle of remaining relevant in a time of environmental and economic change. Janes’s highly pointed, yet well researched perspectives and suggestions come from his nearly four decades of work as a museum director, author, consultant, editor, board member, and volunteer. This insider’s perspective guides readers — both museum professionals and attendees — to help steer museums back on a relevant path.

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Special Events

AltaMira Press ePub

Anthony Torres

Independent Curator, San Francisco

The Question is Known: (W)here is Latin American/Latino Art? (April-May 2008) was conceived as a self-reflexive cultural intervention that brought together multiple interests of artists, scholars, collectors, galleries, and cultural institutions, each with diverse needs and agendas. The exhibition aimed to interrogate the significance of Latin American and Latino art by problematizing, reformulating, and representing “Latin American/Latino Art" as an ideological construct that has subsumed the complexity and diversity of art practices by a range of artists.

Through the works in the exhibition, The Question is Known explored the significance of Latin American/Latino art as not “natural” or given, but rather, a hybrid of cultural creations that are fluid and mobile, established by contact, conflict, experience, sympathetic issue identification, and fantasy constructions, often constituted as living sources of inspiration, articulated through iconography, formal vocabularies, and personal associations. The exhibition was concerned with making what should be a simple and obvious statement—that Latino artists and art practices are diverse—as a means of countering characterizations that “essentialize” a range of practices done by Latino artists.

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Objects of Engagement

AltaMira Press ePub

Abstract Approaches contemporary issues related to engagement in exhibitions, including collaboration in visual art (Markopoulos), the incorporation of local indigenous groups and philosophies into museum praxis (Shelton), and envisioning how audiences can interact with African arts at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum (Forni).

Leigh Markopoulos

Curatorial Practice, California College of the Arts

The rise of the powerful curator-auteur in the 1990s, and the identification of exhibitions primarily with their originators/organizers (rather than necessarily the included artworks), has been addressed in recent years by a movement towards collaborative and more fluid structures for the conception and organization of shows. While the notion of curatorial identity, or authorship, is linked to Harald Szeemanns pioneering career, the consequent re-focusing on artists as the originators of ideas can also be seen in the Swiss curator’s approach to exhibition making, as first manifested in Live In Your Head: When Attitudes become Form (1969). This paper traces the re-calibration of the curatorial role away from branded stylization towards the artist, artworks, and ultimately the audience. Adopting diverse strategies, curators from Raimundas Malasauskas and Elena Filipovic to the Manifesta 8 hybrid collaborative curatorial teams, are seeking to arrive at new forms of presenting art through shared consensus. Challenging the authorial or sole voice, the process of creating meaning in exhibitions is being opened up to a multiplicity of voices—whether through a more democratic fashion of decision making, collaborative curatorial work, involving artists in curatorial decisions, or even appointing them as curators of shows, interventions, and education programs.

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The Participatory Museum

AltaMira Press ePub

by Nina Simon. Santa Cruz, California: Museum 2.0. 2010. 352 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0-615-34650-2

Reviewed by Anna Heineman, Adjunct Professor of Art History, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida; FAD 233, School of Art + Art History, PO Box 115801, Gainesville, FL 32611; (641) 990-0950; email: anna.m.heineman@gmail.com

Although the old adage recommends readers not to judge a book by its cover, in this case, one should. The cover of Simon’s book is a drawing of a museum, complete with people everywhere. Kids and adults are painting the book’s title on the pediment, hanging out the windows, and peering over the roof. This is a wonderful and apt image of a “participatory museum”; it is not sterile, not quiet, and not empty. Through her well-researched and written book, Simon explains in brilliant and understandable ways how one can achieve an alive and vibrant museum.

The readers of Collections will find numerous creative suggestions for how to enliven museum exhibitions. The author’s background is in exhibit design, museum consultation, and successful blog writing. The research and perspective of The Participatory Museum combines all three of these backgrounds; Simon neatly wove her past experiences together to present to the public a museum world that into which the reader can’t help but want to jump. Throughout the pages, Simon gives concrete examples of successful exhibits and instillations that have enlivened museums across the globe. In a society full of desired immediate entertainment, Simon paves a path for museums to follow to make themselves more relevant and enjoyable without sacrificing content or education.

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Display Dialogues and Pedagogies

AltaMira Press ePub

Abstract Deliberates on the various possibilities for educational and conversational interactions at the interface of an exhibition, shaped and mediated by curators, including mid-twentieth century experimental shows produced by Jermayne MacAgy (Goldsmith), working with structures of inclusion/exclusion as part of the curatorial medium (Uchill), and the display of fake artifacts based on familiar myths to encourage dialogues and educational activities with an audience (Filipovic).

Meredith Goldsmith

Visual Studies, University of California—Irvine

This paper introduces readers to Jermayne MacAgy (1914-1964), an American curator who practiced between 1941 and 1964. Though there are many facets of her career worthy of analysis—she was one of the first women to earn a Ph.D. in art history in the United States; in 1943 she became the youngest museum director ever appointed in the US—I focus on her eclectic exhibitions.

MacAgy was very involved in the Modern art of her time and the concepts of objecthood associated with it. She was an early supporter of Mark Rothko, she was the first to show Joseph Cornell’s films, and she mounted early group shows of Abstract Expressionists. Equally interesting to MacAgy were works associated with anthropology (a field she considered to be more Modern than art museums), and she curated stunning exhibitions of objects from Central and South America, West Africa, New Guinea, and elsewhere.

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Measured and Drawn: Techniques and Practice for the Metric Survey of Historic Buildings

AltaMira Press ePub

by David Andrews, Jon Bedford, Bill Blake, Paul Bryan, Tom Cromwell, and Richard Lea. Edited by Jon Bedford and Heather Papworth. Second Edition. Swindon: English Heritage. 2009. 70 pp. ISBN: 9781848020474

Reviewed by Craig A. Reynolds, Doctoral Student, Department of Art History, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA; email: reynolds.ca2@vcu.edu

English Heritage, the official government body charged with protecting England’s historic built environment, has recognized that emerging technologies have created an “interdependency” between computer based tools for recording history and the manner by which we evaluate history. With the ubiquity of computers and computer-based tools, it is nearly impossible to escape technology. Furthermore, it is undeniable that technology will continue to influence how we approach and evaluate history. It is only logical that we adapt these emerging tools to assist in our understanding of the past, particularly in aiding the preservation of historic buildings. The merging of technology and traditional academic fields such as history and art, however, is not always an easy one. For example, the sheer abundance of technological survey tools creates a situation where it may be difficult to determine which technique is appropriate to the chosen research methodology.

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Postcolonial Curatorial Strategies

AltaMira Press ePub

Abstract Searches for new methodologies and theories of exhibitionary practice for postcolonial agendas, including a proposal for ways to display African arts, particularly from Guinea, in relation to performance (Cohen), a satirical but serious performance-intervention that recalls nineteenth century displays of non-Western peoples (Sakamoto), and the ways that museums as well as state officials have a stake in the exhibitionary construction of cultural and technological narratives in Tamil Nadu, India (Jeychandran).

Joshua Cohen

Art History, Columbia University

Forceful vectors of colonialism, scholarly interest, and market demand have transferred thousands of African objects to Western collections since at least the 19th century. Art historians in recent decades have offered myriad critical assessments of this troubled past, while some curators have sought to raise general awareness of its legacy. Their projects, however, have not entirely overturned the paradigm of isolating African objects from artists, performance contexts, and modern histories. In other words, well-articulated complaints against dominant curatorial conventions have not prevented museums from perpetuating a number of the same conventions in displays of traditional African art.

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Conservation of Ancient Sites on the Silk Road: Proceedings of the Second International Conference on the Conservation of Grotto Sites, Mogao Grottoes, Dunhuang, People’s Republic of China, June 28–July 3, 2004

AltaMira Press ePub

by Neville Agnew, ed. Los Angeles: Getty Publications. 2004. 516 pp. ISBN 978-1-60606-013-1

Reviewed by Yun Shun Susie Chung, Adjunct Faculty, University of Louisiana at Monroe; email: yssc_2@yahoo.com

Conservation of Ancient Sites on the Silk Road (Conservation) edited by Neville Agnew (senior principal project specialist in the Field Projects department of the Getty Conservation Institute) is the result of the Second International Conference on the Conservation of Grotto Sites in 2004, reflecting two decades of collaboration between the Getty Conservation Institute, Dunhuang Academy, and China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage. The first conference proceeding, Conservation of Ancient Sites on the Silk Road: Proceedings of an International Conference on the Conservation of Grotto Sites, was published in 1997 addressing many of the topics that are also covered in the second conference proceeding. The second conference publication is an attempt to be more inclusive demonstrating the exchange between East and West professionals with central Asian contributors (xii). On a broader scale, this publication presents extensive research on the heritage management of a heritage route. Individual literature on the Silk Road and heritage sites on the route exist, however, a comprehensive volume on heritage management books is scarce. The last two foundational references on heritage management are: Richard Harrison’s (ed.) Manual of Heritage Management published in 1994 and Peter Howard and Gregory Ashworth’s Heritage Planning published in 1999, drawing examples of cultural and natural heritage case studies. Conservation focuses mostly on the cultural heritage resources and the immediate attention is on the conservation of the Mogao Grottoes on the Silk Road. The articles do also cover the wide-ranging management functions of the Mogao Grottoes such as those outlined in the Manual of Heritage Management. Conservation lays groundwork for the heritage management of heritage route literature, which includes not only the objects, sites, and buildings to preserve, but the institutions, cultures, and people that are intertwined in the practice of heritage administration, preservation, research, and communication.

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Artists, Patrons and the Public: Why Culture Changes

AltaMira Press ePub

by Barry Lord and Gail Dexter Lord. Lanham, MD; Plymouth, U.K.: AltaMira Press. 2010. 216 pp. ISBN: 978-0-7591-1848-5

Reviewed by Susan Martis, Ph.D., SAGES Fellow, Case Western Reserve University, Crawford Hall 110 LC7178, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106; email: susan.martis@case.edu.

Artists, Patrons and the Public: Why Culture Changes by Barry Lord and Gail Dexter Lord features an examination of aesthetic culture while elucidating its relationship to life experiences in general. By focusing on cultural change and the people who participate in it, this book provides a distinctive analysis of aspects often marginalized in textbooks and exhibitions. The authors utilize familiar works of art and their creators from art history, music, theater, and literature to explain their statements, but concepts emerge from and will appeal to a broad range of academic and general interests. Indeed, the last two chapters address topical issues of the environment, globalism, urbanism, and technology.

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Curating (and) Communities

AltaMira Press ePub

Abstract Approaches the ways that exhibitions are produced for particular groups of people, as well as how communities themselves may be formed through curatorial acts of framing and mediation, including the rearticulation of social spaces as a component of radical curating (Wiman), how curators may incorporate traditionally excluded communities in scientific projects (Parry), and one curator’s negotiations with a local community’s notion of “authentic” boricua identity (Rodriguez-Lawton).

Veronica Wiman

Independent Curator

The Agora is one of three elements in my curatorial methodology when practicing and theorizing what I call ‘’Art and Social Practice.” Drawing from Greek notions of civic assembly, the Agora is a space where anyone can attend and act, where opinions can be expressed and shared with others in a community. Craft and Play complete the process and structure as activities that take place within the space I delineate. I claim that this tripartite methodology is radical because it transforms conventional artistic roles and methods. The purpose of my paper is to explicate these three elements as the bases of a radical art praxis so that other curators may incorporate them into their own projects. Perhaps as with the three primary colors, they shall serve as the basic elements that are reinterpreted and responded to in creative and critical manners. Agora, Craft, and Play allow the curator/artist to go beyond language and familiar territories such as the museum, gallery, walls, floor, sculpture park, and so on.

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