Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Censorship and Expression: The Challenge off the Provocative in Museums.

Censorship and Expression: The Challenge off the Provocative in Museums.

When is provocative too provocative? This past week, three pieces were pulled from the Guggenheim Museum’s show “Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World”  due to protests from animal rights activists concerned about the portrayal of animals in this exhibit. The works pulled from the exhibit depict eight Pitbull’s on eight treadmills trying to fight each other, pigs engaged in intercourse, and insects, snakes, and small lizards underneath a lamp.

The removals from the Guggenheim follow the removal of Scaffold, a sculpture opposing capital punishment, drawing from controversial hangings in U.S. history from the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis, as well as protests at the Whitney Museum of Art surrounding Dana Schutz’s painting Open Casket,  portraying  Emmitt Till’s mutilated body.

The censorship vs expression battle between museums, artists, and the public is nothing new. Marcel Duchamp faced criticism for his found object art in 1917, and Picasso’s 1937 mural depicting the massacre of a Basque village was censored in the 1960s because Americans thought it was insensitive to Vietnam.

Artists have a right to express, but does a museum have the right to display works that may cause harm to others or that causs harm to the subjects of the work (in the Guggenheim case the animals)? If museums are held in the public trust, they should listen to the responses of the audience. Yet at the same time, museums are not neutral institutions. Whether implicitly or explicitly they push social, political, and even economic themes. The issue of censorship becomes clear when the staff, faculty, and museum goers safety comes into question. If the public is threatening violence over an exhibit, pieces need to be removed.

Perhaps in the case of the Guggenheim the works were correctly removed because they display physical harm done to animals, which is not good art. The animals were actually in these perilous situations to be photographed. Yet in cases such as Dana Shutz’s at the Whitney, she was not putting any creature in physical harm with her paintings, rather members of social activist groups did not feel she had authority as a white woman to paint a black man’s brutal  death. In the cases of censorship how does a museum weight physical vs. emotional harm in their decision to remove a piece?

As with most controversy, there is no clear answer to the expression v. censor debate. Yet I do feel that any physical harm or violence incited over the pieces in a museum should trigger the removal of the object so as to protect the workers and visitors. These protests against artwork may begin to pop up more frequently as social media fuels social protests and change. Museums will need to figure out a means to deal with the bold and provocative while remaining safe institutions for the public.

Free New England Heritage Education Summit

 Converging Paths and Common Goals

Archaeology, History, Science, Interpretation, and Education                                      

 October 13, 2017

The Archaelogical Institute of America and the Museum of Science are hosting a summit for heritage educators and those in affiliated fields at the Museum of Science in Boston.

If you are a heritage educator or in an affiliated field, we invite you to join us for a daylong summit where we will identify and highlight successful practices, provide participants with hands on experiences and practical advice, and encourage networking and collaboration among those of us who are engaged in similar efforts and share the same passion for reaching out to the public. We are looking for participants from a wide variety of backgrounds, including museums, historical societies, schools, historic parks, governmental agencies, non-profits, and living history groups to explore public outreach programs through shared and divergent lenses.

Join us for this unique professional development opportunity!

Date:     October 13, 2017

Place:    Museum of Science, 1 Science Park, Boston, MA 02114

Register Now:

Preliminary Schedule

8am                       Welcome and Icebreaker

8:30-9:15              Heritage Education Perspectives on Outreach Part I (panel)

9:15-10:05           Bringing the Community Together: Archaeology Fairs

10:30-11:20         Archaeology and STEM

11:20-12:30         Heritage Education Perspectives on Outreach Part II (group discussion)

12:30-1                 Future Plans and Concluding remarks

1pm                       Lunch together in cafeteria (optional)

Sponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America and the Museum of Science, Boston

New England Museum Association Conference

Who: Museum people! Includes new and experienced professionals, as well as students

What: New England Museum Association annual conference – 3 days of challenging and encouraging conversations

Where: Falmouth, MA – the Cape!

When: October 25-27, 2017

Almost exactly a month from now the New England Museum Association (NEMA) will hold their annual conference. This is a fantastic opportunity for current and emerging museum professionals as well as museum students to participate in current conversations in the field, do some networking, and be a part of the largest gathering of New England museum professionals. While the early bird deadline has passed, there is still plenty of time to sign up – for one day or all three days!

This year’s conference theme is ‘Truth and Trust: Museums in a Polarized Society.’ With sessions such as Leading from all Levels: What You Can Do for Social Justice; Thinking about Science, Creativity, and Informal Learning: Conversations about Public Conflict over Decision-Relevant Science; Finding New Relevance in Legacy Collections; and many more, there are bound to be great and challenging conversations throughout the whole conference! And if that’s not enough, the evenings offer events to continue networking and relax in fun environments – such as a beach BBQ and exclusive visits to fascinating local museums.

To learn more about the conference, see the full schedule of sessions and events, and register, click here. 

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