Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Museums Amidst the “Me Too”

Women have played the role of artistic muse for millennia, serving as the objects of desire, lust, and love in paintings that offer depictions ranging from fully clothed to stark naked portrayals of the female persona.

Did these women pose willingly? Maybe. One cannot be sure.

Did some women suffer sexual assault or harassment from male artists who wished to portray their figures? Undoubtedly.

In the midst of the #MeToo movement which has spread an awareness of the magnitude of sexual assault and harassment via social media, museums must ask themselves how they fit into such a movement.

Most recently, Chuck Close has been accused of predatory behaviors toward his female subjects, but these accusations also stem back to ancient Greek pottery and painting, Manet, and even Picasso.

So how do we, as museums, deal with the uncomfortable imbalance of power that so often occurred between artist and subject throughout history?

Some might say remove the art- as protesters against Balthus’ work at the Met did, but censoring the exploitation of female subjects, would be censoring a lot of classical work, from Roman murals to the Renaissance to Impressionism, and in a sense would be censoring a large part of human history.

The artwork themselves are not a crime, but the stories behind the inspiration and the relationships between artist and subject may have been,

Museums should acknowledge these heinous acts within their actual context, and discuss the difficult history that surrounds such works. If there is a problematic story surrounding a work, tell it. Celebrate and honor the subjects and the humanity of the works, not the illicit artist.

Furthermore, to throw the buzzword relevance into the mix, museums would do well to tie these past examples of exploitation to current movements against oppression, gender inequality, racism and misogyny. There must be a learning dichotomy for these works that contextualizes the political, social, and racial scenes of these paintings, the problems with the scenes, and a call to action about what we can do today to eliminate these types of power structures in modern day history .

Therefore in addition to social media, #MeToo should be able to find another platform within museums through which difficult topics can be discussed within context, and the stories of those subjected to the acts of corrupt and debauched artists can give voice to those who have been oppressed and silenced by such acts.

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Around the Globe: Icelandic Museums

Did you know Iceland has more museums per capita than either the UK or the US? Fulbright Fellow Hannah Hethmon has made it her mission to share the stories of many of these museums and the professionals that run them. As part of her Fulbright project, she started the podcast Museums in Strange Places. Each episode explores the museum culture in Iceland and a specific museum. In Hannah’s words:

“Museums in Strange Places is a podcast for people who love museums, stories, culture, and exploring the world. This year, I’m living in Iceland, so in each episode, I visit a different Icelandic museum to discover what stories they hold and how they reflect and shape Iceland’s unique cultural identity, all from the perspective of a museum professional. Next year…I’ll be somewhere else in Europe!”

So if you’re among the millions of people recently obsessed with Iceland, or if you just want some help letting your thoughts escape the gray days of winter, check out Hannah’s podcast and be immersed in the stories of Iceland. Who knows – you might just find yourself buying a plane ticket halfway across the pond!

And if you’re looking for more museum podcasts, check out Hannah’s Complete List of Podcasts for Museum Professionals and Museum Hack’s Eleven Must-Listen Museum Podcasts. Have a favorite museum-related podcast of your own? Let us know in the comments! Happy listening!

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