Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: Dominique T. Marcial (page 1 of 9)

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Worcester Art Museum Rethinks Labels and Re-contextualizes Art

In recent months the Worcester Art Museum has mounted labels that re-contextualize the paintings of wealthy Americans from the past. Throughout history,  prominent and stately portraits have consisted of subjects who can afford to have such works painted. Oftentimes these paintings depict individuals who owned salves or who contributed to the exploitation of humans through colonialism or the slave trade.

Museums across the Unites States, such as the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Princeton Art Museum, are well aware that their collections do not consist of stately portraits of minority groups such as African Americans, and that many of the portraits they do have in their possession depict former slave owners and colonizers. These museums are starting to take action.

The Worcester Art Museum is setting an example that paves the way for museums to re-contextualize their paintings and the interpretation surrounding the art of wealthy slave owners. The museum decided to keep the traditional labels that relay information regarding the artist and subject, but the institution has added a second label to these portraits in a different color that delves deeper into the history of the painting through the lens of slavery. For example, John Singleton Copley’s portrait of Lucretia Chandler (1763), which hangs in the Worcester Art Museum, has a new, additional label that describes the context of difficult history associated with the Chandler family. Lucretia’s father was a wealthy merchant who owned two slaves that he passed on to family members after his death, as if they were objects. There are no portraits of these slaves, because they did not have the means or the freedoms to have such work commissioned, but there is a portrait of Lucretia, and it is through this portrait that the museum can bring to light the bleak history of her family.

These types of labels establish a new lens through which to view American art, which has been dominated through centuries by the wealthy elite. This lens asserts a non-neutral stance by museums toward the horrors of slavery and racism, and tells visitors that there is more to the story than the white-upper class narrative. This is an important trend in museums and should be the trajectory of U.S. museums moving forward.

 

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5 Museums That are not a Joke this April Fool’s Day

 

Whether you’re celebrating Passover, Easter, or simply April Fool’s this April 1, here are a few quirky museums that are no joke with their odd collections. Enjoy these fascinating finds!

 

  • The Lunchbox Museum, Columbus, GA
    • Some of these school-day classics displayed in the Lunchbox Museum are worth over two grand. Most of the lunchboxes displayed are made of tin, and range in date from the early to mid 20th The museum’s collector, Adam Woodall Jr. finds the most rewarding part of this museum to be the light in people’s faces when they find the lunchbox that they once took to school.
  • The Twine Ball Museum, Darwin, MN
    • This museum honors the largest ball of twine ever made by one man, along with some other eccentric oddities of this mid-western town. Darwin MN actually celebrates a Twine Ball Day every year-yikes!
  • The International Cryptozoology Museum-Portland, ME
    • Yes, there is actually a museum dedicated to unknown animals, and myths and legends such as BigFoot. The museum carries most of its label interpretation out through questions that seek to relate known animal biology to these creatures with an unproven existence.
  • National Mustard Museum- Middleton, WI
    • This museum features close to 6,000 variations of mustard from all 50 states. The museum also displays antique jars and mustard marketing from days past. The curator of the museum is actually the former Attorney General of the state of Wisconsin-talk about leaving your day job for your side-hustle.
  • The International Banana Museum, Mecca, CA
    • Nestled in California, this museum has everything-and I mean everything- banana related. There are jewelry, creams, cookie jars, pencil sharpeners-you name it, there’s something banana related.

Happy April Fool’s Day everyone!

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