Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: Kelsey L. Petersen (page 1 of 8)

Should We Defend the Universal Museum?

How can museums thoughtfully represent art that was never intended to be displayed in the first place? Should a museum contextualize the art it chooses to display, or does this unintentionally create an “othering” of one’s culture or heritage? Do museums have a responsibility to cast meaning onto an object, or should the art speak for itself? As a second year Master’s candidate in art history and museum studies with a focus in the politics of display concerning non-western art, these are just some of the many critical questions I regularly grapple with and consider. Currently, I am confronting these challenging notions in a seminar called, “Who Owns the Past?” Each week, my classmates and I discuss heritage in relation to nationalism, colonization, and questions of ownership while examining cultural property case studies (e.g. the ongoing Parthenon Sculptures debate).

The so-called ‘universal museum’ was the topic of discussion in our last class meeting. Universal museums, sometimes referred to as ‘encyclopedic museums,’ showcase a wide breadth of collections from around the world. Examples of such institutions include the British Museum, the Louvre, the Getty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, places where a visitor can encounter everything from Japanese narrative handscrolls and ancient Roman coins to West African textiles or contemporary sculptures.

Although one could argue that universal museums promote cross-cultural learning and engagement by providing visitors with a multitude of diverse art forms all under one roof, these institutions have also been harshly criticized for several reasons. First, for the way they defend their ownership of objects acquired in questionable ways: in 2002, for instance, nineteen of such institutions released a “Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums,” a joint statement that argued universal museums should retain other nations’ cultural patrimony (objects often subject to repatriation debates) because “museums serve not just the citizens of one nation but the people of every nation.” Universal museums have also been critiqued for their location; most are predominately in the West. Finally, rather paradoxically, universal or encyclopedic museums are in fact nationalistic. Their collections showcase objects from places ruled by the West, reinforcing imperial messages.

Considering my classmates’ and I’s critiques of universal museums, our professor asked us if we should defend them. With such colonial baggage, what’s left to argue in favor of the universal museum? One of my colleagues, in playing devil’s advocate for this conversation, asked the class to consider if we are perhaps “over-villifying” the universal museum. In its pursuit to provide access and educational resources to the public, is the mission of the universal museum still inherently good? We did not come up with an answer or solution, instead fixed on the neo-colonial rings that universal museums still perpetuate.

As it turns out, a prominent national museum in Europe may offer a solution. Recognizing the “darker side of a country’s history,” the Rijksmuseum – Netherlands’ national museum in Amsterdam – announced it will open an exhibition meant to bring light to the country’s history of slavery. This exhibition, set to open in the fall of 2020, will be the museum’s first show dedicated entirely to slavery. According to the Rijksmuseum website, the “exhibition testifies to the fact that slavery is an integral part of our history, not a dark page that can be simply turned and forgotten about. And that history is more recent than many people realize: going back just four or five generations you will find enslaved people and their enslavers.” I think an exhibition such as this one is a strong step towards creating a more honest narrative in the canon of art history, and I hope more institutions follow suit.

What are your thoughts on the so-called universal museum? Do they continue to confirm prejudice or promote tolerance? Where do we go from here?

Job Post: Dorchester Historical Society Seeks Part Time Researcher

FROM THE DORCHESTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Dorchester Historical Society, 195 Boston Street, Dorchester, MA 02125

Job Description

Researcher/Writer Veterans Project Phase 1

This is a grant-funded, temporary position. A minimum of 10-15 hours of work per week is required. Payment will be based upon number of deliverables produced. Work must be completed by Nov. 15, 2019.
DUTIES:
Under the guidance of the Collections Committee of the Dorchester Historical Society, the Coordinator will be the main genealogical researcher and biographical writer for the Veterans Project.
● Research and compile genealogical data for a predetermined list of Dorchester residents who have served in the armed forces
● Use genealogical data (online resources, onsite resources)and documentary evidence, to write a high-quality, short biographical narrative of each Dorchester service member
● Use proper citation methods to document the source of information used in producing biographies
● Submit biography drafts to Collections Committee for review and online publication
● Report periodically on progress of the project, including metric data

PREFERRED QUALIFICATIONS:
● Minimum education required: Bachelor’s degree in history or related field. Graduate students currently pursuing degrees in public history are strongly preferred.
● Keen interest and experience in performing historical/genealogical research
● Strong research and writing skills
● Strong organizational skills, including the ability to independently manage project timelines and tasks
● Familiarity with genealogical research tools such as Family Search and Ancestry.com
● Familiarity with newspaper research
● Proficiency in MS Office, including Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel

Please send cover letter and resume to: Earl Taylor, earltaylordorchhistsoc@gmail.com.  Please also include a writing sample of no more than 2 pages on a topic in history or genealogy.

Weekly Jobs Roundup!

Happy February! Here’s the job round up for the week of February 17th!

Northeast

Education-Exhibits Coordinator/Wethersfield Historical Society [Wethersfield, CT]

Curator/David Winton Bell Gallery (Brown University) [Providence, RI]

Assistant Education Director/Wade Institute for Science Education [Quincy, MA]

Registrar/deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum [Lincoln, MA]

Museum Educator/MIT Museum [Boston, MA]

Mid-Atlantic

Curator of Education and Public Engagement/Arkell Museum at Canajoharie and Canajoharie Library [Canajoharie, NY]

Collection Manager/George Eastman Museum [Rochester, NY]

Associate Manager, Education/Museum of the City of New York [New York, NY]

Education Associate/Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum [New York, NY] 

Informal Education Specialist/Space Telescope Science Institute [Baltimore, MD]

Institutional Relations Officer/National Museum of the American Indian [Washington, D.C.]

Southeast

General Museum Educator/University of North Florida [Jacksonville, FL]

Director of Education/Mosby Heritage Area Association [Loudoun County, VA]

Collections Manager/University of Alabama [Tuscaloosa, AL]

Curator, Historic Museums/Georgia College and State University [Milledgeville, GA]

Midwest

Education and Collections Manager/History Museum at the Castle [Appleton, WI]

Assistant Exhibits Preparator/Missouri Historical Society [St. Louis, MO]

K-12 Education Program Manager/Missouri Historical Society [St. Louis, MO]

Historic Site Supervisor/State Historical Society of North Dakota [Williston, ND]

Exhibition Designer/Detroit Institute of Arts [Detroit, MI]

ICAA Research Specialist/The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston [Houston, TX]

West

Interpretative Specialist/Denver Art Museum [Denver, CO]

Collection Information Specialist/LACMA [Los Angeles, CA]

Museum Educator/Oakland Museum of California [Oakland, CA]

 

 

Job Post- Deadline Extended for Curatorial Fellowship at the Baltimore Museum of Art

Deadline Extended to Friday, February 15th, 2019

The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) announces the inaugural cycle of the Meyerhoff-Becker Curatorial Fellowship, a year-long residency program, based in Baltimore, Maryland. The selected fellow will receive a full-time residency, round-trip travel expenses, and a $40,000 USD salary with benefits. Applicants who come from groups historically underrepresented in the museum field are strongly encouraged to apply.

The Fellowship will act as a career catalyst, providing a singular experience in exhibition making for emerging professionals. The Fellow will work closely with Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director Christopher Bedford to realize the inaugural Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker Biennial Commission, which invites internationally-renowned contemporary artists to make transformative works of art for the BMA’s most accessible public spaces.

The Meyerhoff-Becker Biennial Commission presents major works by internationally established artists in the BMA’s most public and welcoming space. It seeks to make the leading edge of contemporary art accessible and engaging to diverse audiences, providing an entry way to art for all.

Mickalene Thomas will be the inaugural artist for the Meyerhoff-Becker Biennial Commission. The internationally recognized, Brooklyn-based artist makes paintings, collages, photography, video, and installations that draw on art history and popular culture to create a contemporary vision of female sexuality, beauty, and power. Blurring the distinction between object and subject, concrete and abstract, real and imaginary, Thomas constructs complex portraits, landscapes, and interiors in order to examine how identity, gender, and sense-of-self are informed by the ways women (and “feminine” spaces) are represented in art and popular culture.

Established in concert with and in complement to the Biennial Commission, the Fellowship is intended to act as a pipeline for talented post-graduate professionals, with three to five years of museum experience. The Fellow will be involved with all aspects of exhibition realization and programming. The Fellow will have the opportunity to receive direct mentorship from senior Museum staff, create modest exhibition proposals, and engage with Baltimore’s vibrant arts community, while working to interpret newly commissioned work by prominent contemporary artists in the BMA’s public spaces.

The Baltimore Museum of Art connects art to Baltimore and Baltimore to the world, embodying a commitment to artistic excellence and social equity in every decision form art presentation, interpretation, and collecting, to the composition of our Board of Trustees, staff and volunteers – creating a museum welcoming to all.

The Fellowship is open to applicants residing anywhere in the world. Applicants must have completed a graduate or professionally accredited degree. Candidates are asked to submit a CV, a letter of interest, and a recent writing sample by mail or email. The Baltimore Museum of Art is an equal opportunity employer.

Fellowship term: May 2019–May 2020
For more information, please contact: fellowship@artbma.org.

To apply, visit: https://artbma.org/about/meyerhoff-fellowship.html

Open Access and Museum Collections

According to the American Alliance of Museums’ Characteristics of Excellence, a museum should, “guided by its mission, provide public access to its collections while ensuring their preservation.” Although museums protect over a billion objects, did you know that on average, less than five percent of a museum’s collection is on view for the public to enjoy? To make up for this, many museums have turned to the “visible storage” display strategy, in which collections not on exhibit are stored in open cases for the public to still see and enjoy.  While certainly effective, albeit overwhelming (and sometimes confusing, with little-to-no interpretive wall texts), more museums are instead embracing the digital age and implementing a completely accessible collection online.

For instance, last week, the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) announced its “Open Access” system, providing the public with free access to thousands of images from the Museum’s collection to learn from and even download to use for commercial purposes. With a simple click to the Museum’s collection page, users can now select an artwork, zoom in, and observe close details that are difficult to notice when the same object is placed behind a glass vitrine or on the wall in a gallery space. Moreover, it is now permissible to even download a high quality JPEG of the image, to use in any capacity one can imagine.

According to the Cleveland Museum’s website:

“Open Access means the public now has the ability to  share, collaborate, remix, and reuse images of many as 30,000 public- domain artworks from the CMA’s world-renowned collection of art for commercial and non-commercial purposes. In addition, portions of collections information (metadata) for more than 61,000 artworks, both in the public domain and those works with copyright or other restrictions, works are now available.”

The Cleveland Museum joins a growing list of institutions that have prioritized an accessible online database – open to students, scholars, and the general public to use without any restrictions. Other museums include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, LACMA, the Getty, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

In a recent study by Ian Gill, a graduate of San Francisco State University’s M.A. Museum Studies Program, it was found that museums with Open Access “benefit the public, promote scholarship, and align with the museum’s mission;” however, it is an expensive system to initiate without help from outstanding grants or other sources of funding. As an art historian who can easily spend hours searching through Google Images’ archives in search of a high quality photo of a specific artwork, I am excited to learn that the Cleveland Museum of Art has shared its diverse collection online, providing me with a new go-to source for finding JPEG images that are free under Creative Commons Zero.

What are your thoughts on Open Access?

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