Sociology, Primitivism and Museums

The Museology of George Henri Rivière, Follower of Marcel Mauss

in Volume 9 (2003): Issue 1 (Dec 2003)
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The Musée de l'Homme closed its ethnological collections to the public during April 2003, after years of failing to receive appropriate finances, which brought about the run-down state of its premises, a lack of qualified staff and a distressing intellectual and moral atmosphere (Heritage-Augé 1991). With its library in the process of dispersion and its galleries emptied and silent, it is difficult to understand the fascination that the museum has had on vast sections of the population and the convergence of artistic, philosophical and political expectations of its creators in the 1930s (see Karsenti 1997). This article explores the influence of the Durkheimian school of sociology in the shaping of the so-called 'myth of primitivism' (Rubin 1984; Hiller 1991). It also addresses the meaning and significance given to objects and to collections in the avant-garde circles close to the Musée de l'Homme and notably amongst the immediate friends and collaborators of the French museologist, Georges Henri Rivi´re. It was an ideology that could be characterized as an object-based and philosophically inspired anthropology shaped by the unique convergence of multiple and often conflicting politico- and socio-cultural streams existing in the France of the Third Republic. This article also focuses on the epistemological con-sequences of a museology of 'presence' in the context of a growing heterogeneous society and of an aesthetic of collage 'that valued the fragmented, curious collections, unexpected juxtapositions, that works to provoke the manifestation of extraordinary realities drawn from the domains of the erotic, the exotic and the unconscious' (Clifford 1994:118).