Docent Educator Logo

For Your Consideration 3.1

Interdisciplinary Approach to Contemporary Art

For 16 years the Whitney Museum of American Art has put together an annual symposium where graduate students present papers on art history before a public audience. This year the symposium had a new twist — none of the students were in art history programs.

Constance Wolf, Curator of Education for the Whitney, was quoted as saying, “Issues of visual interpretation are taken up by a variety of fields. No longer can art history control who says what about museums and the visual.” She continued by stating, “It makes our audience nervous and art historians extremely defensive.”

Art as Destination or Provocation

During a recent panel discussion held at the Wichita Center for the Arts in Wichita, KS, the artist Philip Pearlstein was asked whether art should be a “point-of-destination” (where the artist’s meaning and purpose are considered primary) or a “point-of-departure” (where the art work’s potential to provoke viewer-constructed meanings and understandings are primary). Mr. Pearlstein replied by stating that at a recent Whitney Museum biennial exhibition of contemporary art where artists wrote out long statements of their purpose and intent on text panels, he “deliberately didn’t read them.”

Museums and Multicultural Societies

In the April 14, 1993, issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Ivan Karp, Curator of Anthropology and African studies at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, and Steven Lavine president of the California Institute of the Arts, discussed some of their opinions concerning the need for museums to adapt to the pressures of multicultural awareness. Their comments, while primarily directed at trustee and curatorial decision-making, have implications to those who teach within these settings.

“As repositories of knowledge and forums for the expression of central values, museums have claimed to play a critical role in the transmission of culture. In this country [U.S.], museums have often asserted that they can compensate for the failures of formal education at all levels. Increasingly, however, museums are hoisted on the petard of their own boasts. Because they profess to be central cultural institutions, what they keep and what they display is increasingly subject to dispute …

Further changes in museums are inevitable … the stance of benign neutrality held by museums of the past has lost credibility. Exhibitions are being subjected to profound scrutiny about their political, cultural, and social agendas. As the demographics of the U.S. population shift and as we move toward being a society in which the majority of the population will belong to minority groups, we can expect these external pressures to grow.”

Mr. Karp and Mr. Lavine are the co-editors of two books on this topic: Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics ofMuseum Displays and Museums and Communities: The Politics of Public Culture. Both texts are published by the Smithsonian Institution Press.

New and Improved Quarters

The New Orleans Museum of Art recently completed a major expansion of its gallery and office space, allowing it to exhibit far more of its Asian, African, and European permanent collections.

The History Museum for Springfield-Greene County, in Springfield, MO., has moved to a new, larger location. In addition to exhibiting its permanent collection, the new site allows the museum to develop galleries for changing history exhibitions and a special, hands-on children’s area.

And, congratulations to The Art Museum of Santa Cruz County, which chronicled its logistical travails in the Winter 1992 issue of The Docent Educator. After 1 1 years of borrowed space and earthquake problems, they finally have a home in the handsome new McPherson Center for Art and History, which is shared with the Santa Cruz County Historical Trust.

“For Your Consideration,” The Docent Educator 3.1(Autumn 1993): 14.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *