Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: Kelsey L. Petersen (page 1 of 3)

The Pillaging of Cultural Patrimony: Who Does Art Belong To?

This week, the British Museum announced that it would return eight looted artifacts of antiquity to Iraq’s National Museum. These objects, including a 4,000 year old clay-fired cone inscribed in cuneiform, were illegally taken from the country following the US-led Iraq invasion in 2003. While thousands of priceless objects of Mesopotamian cultural heritage remain missing, the return of these eight signal a positive “win” for cultural materials often subject to global discussions concerning repatriation and restitution.

The debate is complicated, involving questionable permits, unethical archaeological practices, colonial coercion tactics, nation-state laws, and of course, money. Is there ever truly an owner when it comes to great art and if so, who would it be? The one who created it, the one who bought it, the one who found it, or the one who restored it? These imperative questions are just some of many involving issues of repatriation and restitution of cultural materials in museums around the world. From the Bust of Queen Nefertiti (originally from Egypt but currently on display in Berlin) to the thousands of artworks looted under the Third Reich, the controversies surrounding these cultural materials are complex, emotional, and anything but straightforward.

The Elgin Marbles often receive the most public attention in repatriation conversations, probably because museums fear the Marbles’ return to Athens could set the stage for countless other cultural objects to be repatriated too. With an impressive archaeological museum right down the hill from the Acropolis, as well as the equipment, teams, space, and funding available to properly care for and display the Parthenon sculptures, I am in favor of their repatriation. However, many fear that returning a culture’s heritage back to its country of origin possibly means putting the objects at risk of iconoclasm or destruction.

For instance, the Antalya Museum in Turkey has been attempting unsuccessfully to ensure the return of the Sion Treasure, a precious set of silver and gold liturgical objects from Byzantium, currently on display at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. The Turkish government has argued the patens, crosses, and candlesticks in the collection are their rightful property, and that they should be returned. Similar to the Elgin Marbles, their legal acquisition into an American museum provokes further scrutiny. The silver was first discovered buried on a hillside in Kumluca, in southwestern Turkey, where it may have been hidden for protection in response to Arab raids. Due to unauthorized excavations and black market traders, the objects eventually found their way onto American ground illegally.

Despite this, many art historians and museum professionals argue the Sion Treasure should stay in D.C. Dumbarton Oaks spent thousands of dollars restoring the flattened and shattered pieces of the set, the condition in which they arrived at the Museum. There it was lovingly restored to its original brilliance and luster, safeguarded and protected, and displayed for the thousands of tourists who have visited this museum each year.

Should cultural objects reside in a place that is most accessible to the public? The past belongs to all of humanity; is it our right to be able to see and enjoy art objects in the place that is most safe? (Antalya is close to Syria, where a significant amount of art objects have already been lost due to deliberate demolition.) As the cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah has stated, the “rule should be one that protects the object and makes it available to people who will benefit from experiencing it.”[1] When it comes to displaying antiquities with a contentious provenance, does it come down to the “greater good?”

What are your thoughts?

[1] Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Whose Culture is it?,” 4, (https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2006/02/09/whose-culture-is-it/).

Weekly Jobs Roundup

Here’s the weekly jobs roundup for the week of August 13th!

Northeast

Associate Curator of Education and Experience [Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA]

Museum Educator [USS Constitution Museum, Boston, MA]

Public Art Curator [Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture, Arlington, MA]

Development Assistant [JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA]

Assistant Education Director [Museum Institute for Teaching Science, Quincy, MA]

Mid-Atlantic

Curatorial Research Assistant (American Art) [Cooper Hewitt, New York, NY]

Development Coordinator [American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, MD]

Assistant Manager, Membership [Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY]

Southeast

Collections Manager [Marco Island Historical Society, Marco Island, FL]

Collections Manager/Registrar [Appalachian State University, Boone, NC]

Assistant Registrar [The Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans, LA]

Midwest

Interpretations Coordinator [Mackinack State Historic Parks, Mackinaw City, MI]

Director, Education and Community Engagement [Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, IN]

Site Manager [Fulton Mansion State Historic Site, Rockport, TX]

Managing Archivist [Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, TX]

West

Development Manager [Pasadena Museum of History, Pasadena, CA]

Manager of Docent Programs [Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA]

Registrar [Center for Sacramento History, Sacramento, CA]

Curatorial Support Group Administration [Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA]

Director of Decolonizing Initiatives [San Diego Museum of Man, San Diego, CA]

Assistant Curator [Tucson Museum of Art, AZ]

Exhibit Projects Manager [California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, CA]

Part-Time Collection Management Internship Opportunity

Description:

The Fitchburg Art Museum is seeking a Collection Management Intern for Fall 2018 (September 4 – December 20). The Intern will assist the Collection Manager in overseeing the care of FAM’s collection of over 5,500 works of art including sculpture, painting, prints, drawings, and photographs. This is an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with collection management, gain valuable experience in the museum field, and learn about the operations of a major regional museum with a growing collection of contemporary art, photography, African, and American art. This volunteer position is part-time (2 days a week) and reports to the Collection Manager, Aminadab “Charlie” Cruz Jr.

Tasks include:

  • Assistance with museum-wide inventory of works of art
  • Basic cataloguing of new works of art
  • Creating and maintaining files for works of art
  • Assistance with art handling, movement, and storage
  • Assistance with looking up records in the database
  • Assistance with setting up and taking down works of art for Collections Meetings
  • Assistance in preparation and installation of exhibitions
  • Taking inquiries from the public about the collection
  • Other administrative tasks as needed

Who you are:

You are a student currently enrolled in a MA program (BA students and grads also welcome) and have an interest in art and museums. You are enthusiastic and work easily with others. You are curious, eager to learn, and aren’t afraid to ask questions.

Who we are:

Founded in 1925, the Fitchburg Art Museum (FAM) serves the cities of Fitchburg and Leominster and the surrounding communities of North Central Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire. It has a strong collection of nineteenth-century American art, photography, and African art, and regularly exhibits an ambitious program of Contemporary New England art. FAM is a small work place that is collaborative, fun, creative, and supportive. We enjoy sharing our experience and knowledge.

www.fitchburgartmuseum.org

Qualifications:

  • Ability to work both under direction and independently
  • Well-organized
  • Detail-oriented and willing to see the big picture
  • Comfortable with learning and using new technology
  • Comfortable working with art (and/or willing to learn how to handle valuable works of art)
  • The ideal candidate is interested in museums, art and/or art history, or library science
  • Must be currently enrolled, in a MA program (BA students and grads also welcome)

How to apply:

Interested candidates should send a cover letter, CV or resume, and the names and contact information for 2 references by email to Collection Manager Aminadab “Charlie” Cruz Jr., acruz@fitchburgartmuseum.org.

Apply by:

The application process will be open until the position is filled.

Do Pop-Up Museums Threaten the Integrity of Art Museums?

Fellow millennial colleagues, get ready: the Color Factory is opening in New York next month. This interactive and immersive exhibition features site-specific palette installations, including a massive bright yellow ball pit that participants can jump into, a room comprised entirely of confetti, and a larger than life size Lite Bright wall. Sound familiar? We have all seen these installations online or on our feeds. When the Color Factory first opened in San Francisco last year, it took the internet by storm, becoming an especially popular platform for colorful Instagram posts.

As an art historian and museum studies student, I’m somewhat uneasy about this latest museum fad: the pop-up museum. These “museums,” such as the Museum of Ice Cream, Candytopia,  and 29Rooms strategically provide multi-sensory experiences that are often geared towards a younger audience constituency.  However, with their commercial and social media appeal, instant entertainment, competitive ticket availabilities, and expensive entrance fees (with some tickets as high as $38 per person), I have to wonder if this pop culture fad is threatening, or helping, the integrity of art museums. Where museums were once thought of as a place of quiet respite and serious contemplation of the art and information available, many museums are now social gathering hubs for millennials, as a place to go to get that perfect Instagram shot. Are the days of “cultivating a broad public for high art” gone? Can we even compare the pop-up museum with other museum institutions?

Philippe de Montebello, the former director of the Met, has argued that quick turnover rates for such exhibitions, while fantastic for a museum’s finances, is sacrificing connoisseurship and education. This is especially true of hyped-up immersive installations; many people pay for the experience, and not to understand the idea behind the artwork- and that is okay. Pop-up exhibitions and installations are still succeeding in bringing in more visitors, many of whom may not have visited in the first place.

The high prices of these installations themselves are a problem. For instance, when the immersive Rain Room experience was at LACMA in 2015, tickets completely sold out in just days. With its widespread, if slightly pervasive, advertising, and the prevalence of the installation on social media, everyone was trying to get their hands on a ticket. However, upon inquiry with a staff member, I discovered I could receive a coveted ticket by simply “signing up for a museum membership for $110.” This was a proposal I declined, not only for the price, but also for the rather unethical nature of the offer. It didn’t sit right with me that those who were able to afford the membership fee would gain immediate access to this in-demand experience, while others, like students, would either have to wait in standby lines or pass up the experience altogether.

Similarly, the Cleveland Museum of Art is currently showing Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, an immersive environment installation like the Rain Room. Although entrance to the Museum’s collections is free, tickets to this experience are expensive, at $30 per person, and almost inaccessible, considering the speed in which they sell out. This is another disheartening example of the threat to the integrity of art museums. It appears that individuals are traveling to the Cleveland Museum of Art in mass numbers to wait in line for hours for this experience, rather than taking the same amount of time to enjoy the Kara Walkers’, Mark Rothkos’, and Paul Cézannes’ all available to view in the adjacent galleries. I hope that visitors to these popular installations also take the time to visit the other collections on site after their three-to-five minute immersive and selfie experience is complete.

Moreover, ‘Instagramable’ exhibitions do not always align with the museum’s mission, and in fact the “museum’s basic mission can be directly contradicted by shoddiness of product,” as Montebello has observed. I contend that LACMA had its financial interests in mind over that of the public when they installed the Rain Room. LACMA’s mission statement is “To serve the public through the collection, conservation, exhibition, and interpretation of significant works of art from a broad range of cultures and historical periods, and through the translation of these collections into meaningful educational, aesthetic, intellectual, and cultural experiences for the widest array of audiences.” I will agree that the Rain Room experience achieved the “aesthetic experience” section of its mission, but what about the “educational, intellectual, and cultural experiences to the widest array of audiences?” Ultimately, it appears that a cultivation of commercial experiences, to the detriment of the inherently scholarly nature of some museums, is the latest threat to an art museum’s integrity.

Weekly Jobs Roundup!

Here’s the weekly jobs roundup for the week of July 22nd!

Northeast

Leadership Transitions and Data Administrator [Arts Consulting Group, Boston, MA]

Education Manager [Old North Church, Boston, MA]

Curatorial Assistant [MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA]

Museum Educator and Assistant [Historic Newton, Newton, MA]

Studio Coordinator [New Art Center, Newton, MA]

Education and Group Program Coordinator [Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum, Essex, MA]

Communications Manager [The Preservation Society of Newport County, Newport, RI]

Mid-Atlantic

Manager, Interactive Experiences [Liberty Science Center, Jersey City, NJ]

Manager of School and Community Programs [Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Baltimore, MD]

Registrar and Collection Manager [Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Baltimore, MD]

Co-Curator, Arts and Industries Building Future Exhibition [Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC]

Manager of Exhibitions [Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta, GA]

Midwest

Collections Management Specialist [Ohio History Connection, Columbus, OH]

Curatorial Assistant, Contemporary Art [Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR]

Curator of Education [Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, OH]

Curator of Exhibits [Missouri State Museum, Jefferson City, MI]

Southeast

Curator [Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, Jacksonville, FL]

Associate Curator [Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, Jacksonville, FL]

West

Coordinator, School Programs [La Brea Tar Pits and Natural History Museum, Los Angeles, CA]

Assistant Conservator [LACMA, Los Angeles, CA]

Curator of Natural History [City of Riverside, Riverside, CA]

Corporate Development Officer [San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA]

Publications Associate [SFMOMA, San Francisco, CA]

Assistant Registrar [SFMOMA, San Francisco, CA]

Educator [Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, Portland, OR]

 

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