Event at Harvard Art Museums: The Visual Commons: #BlackLivesMatter

Nicholas Mirzoeff, one of the founders of the visual culture discipline, is presenting parts of his new project, The Visual Commons: #BlackLivesMatter, at the Harvard Art Museums on Thursday, November 12th, 6:00-730.

In this public lecture, Nicholas Mirzoeff, professor of media, culture, and communication at New York University, will provide a genealogy of the visual commons, which he defines as “where we practice freedom, see each other, invent each other, and create a common space between us that cannot be owned.” He will discuss the origins of “abolition democracy” in Haiti, Reconstruction-era South Carolina, the 1968 Resurrection City encampment in Washington, D.C., and most recently, in the #BlackLivesMatter movement—which has extended, adapted, and above all, made visible this way of seeing. He will show how #BlackLivesMatter strategies like Hands Up, Don’t Shoot, die-ins, and the disruption of mass transport have made us look, and keep looking, at that space where the police say, “Move on, nothing to see here.”

This event will take place in Menschel Hall, Lower Level.

Free admission. Tickets for the lecture will be distributed after 5pm, on the Lower Level, on a first-come, first-served basis, and are limited to two per person. The lecture hall doors open at 5:30pm.

The museums will stay open until 10pm on November 12 to allow for time in the galleries before and after the lecture.

Complimentary parking available in the Broadway Garage, 7 Felton Street, in Cambridge.

Weekly Jobs Roundup

Here’s our weekly roundup of new jobs. As always, they go up immediately on their own page. Happy hunting!


Rapid Response Collecting: Not All Objects are Created Equal

Today we bring you an article by Erica Colwell, currently a Tufts student in the Museum Studies certificate program. For Museums Today: Mission and Function, the foundation course required for all Museum Studies students, students research and report on a recent topic regarding museums in the news.

In 2014, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London announced a new collecting strategy: rapid response collecting. This type of collecting involves a team of curators that “scour the streets—in a global sense—for items of interest and get them into the museum as quickly as possible.” The goal is to collect objects that are relevant to the present time, in hopes of creating an exhibition that will be updated regularly.

The curators on the rapid response team are putting a lot of thought into the objects they are bringing into the V&A’s collection. Collecting objects that represent current global culture is no easy task, in part because the scope of the collecting strategy is so broad. Some of the objects the V&A has collected via the rapid response method include the world’s first 3D-printed gun, an electronic cigarette, and Katy Perry false eyelashes.3 An eclectic array of objects, it is not immediately apparent why these items are being considered “museum worthy.” Kieran Long, the Senior Curator of Contemporary Architecture, Design and Digital at the V&A, offers the following argument for her decision to add the Katy Perry false eyelashes to the collection:

This apparently insignificant object unfolds a wide range of histories and worlds, involving several timely issues that link at a stroke the magic of Cleopatra, as played by Elizabeth Taylor in 1963, to what some would consider the darkest excesses of global consumer capitalism, encompassing theatre and performance, gender theory, images of the feminine…

While this is an impressive argument, such an argument could be made for virtually any object, because every object has a history. A curator could pick up a roll of paper towels and explain how our society has moved from the hand-made to the mass-produced, from the essential to the disposable. Not all objects are created equal.

Even though there may be no right or wrong answer to the question “what is art,” some of the objects collected via the rapid response method are more “museum-worthy” than the Katy Perry false eyelashes. The set of Christian Louboutin stilettos in different shades of nude representing the skin colors of women of different races is one such object. The shoes are art in the fashion sense (the shoes are beautiful) and the conversation-sparking sense (racial inequality is a hot-button issue for many in the world today.) The key is to have an argument that will convince visitors that viewing the object is worthwhile. In fact, getting people to talk about why one object is art and another object is not art is one of the best conversations a curator could hope to start amongst their museum’s visitors. The Louboutin set of stilettos is therefore an example of rapid response collecting done right.

While many might rejoice at a museum displaying objects that are truly current, some are wary of collecting objects in this way. I believe rapid response collecting could be a great thing, though it is possible to take it too far. Though museums cannot ignore the art and design being created today if they want to remain relevant, the arguments behind some of the objects being collected via the rapid response method are stronger than others. Since it is often the relevance of an object over time that indicates its value, collecting objects without that passage of time could mean that the choice of objects is based solely on the tastes of those curators doing the collecting.