Review Essays

Arte de los Pueblos de México: Disrupciones Indígenas; Arte Popular: The Creative and Critical Power of Latin Americans; Creating a Wellbeing Experience in an Art Gallery; Outwitting Knowledge Silos in the Museum; The Museum Is Dead, Long Live the Museum

in Museum Worlds
Author:
Anthony Alan Shelton University of British Columbia, Canada

Search for other papers by Anthony Alan Shelton in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
,
Laura Osorio Sunnucks Linden Museum, Germany

Search for other papers by Laura Osorio Sunnucks in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
,
Joanna Cobley Ara Institute of Canterbury, New Zealand

Search for other papers by Joanna Cobley in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
,
Hannah Star Rogers Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Search for other papers by Hannah Star Rogers in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
,
Adam Bencard Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Search for other papers by Adam Bencard in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
,
Andrea Krieg Independent Scholar, Freelance

Search for other papers by Andrea Krieg in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
, and
Ken Arnold Director, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Search for other papers by Ken Arnold in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close

Reviews are one of the chimeras that exhibitions leave behind along with, if we are lucky, archives, visitor books, and catalogs that record and imperfectly reinvoke their transient existence, the scholarship and resources that conjured them into being and the responses they elicited. Reviews have value, even when published after an exhibition closes, not only in its assessment, but as an integral part of its archive. The exhibition Arte de los Pueblos de México: Disrupciones Indígenas marks a turning point in public scholarship on the history and interpretation of what has variously been described as “artesanias,” “arte indigena,” and “artes populares,” which most assuredly warrants being widely recorded, remembered, argued over, and incorporated into the annals of critical museology, much as its curators, Juan Rafael Coronel Riviera, Octavio Murillo Álvarez de la Cadena, and Lucía Sanromán Aranda, and the director of the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Miguel Fernández Félix, surely intended.

Reviews are one of the chimeras that exhibitions leave behind along with, if we are lucky, archives, visitor books, and catalogs that record and imperfectly reinvoke their transient existence, the scholarship and resources that conjured them into being and the responses they elicited. Reviews have value, even when published after an exhibition closes, not only in its assessment, but as an integral part of its archive. The exhibition Arte de los Pueblos de México: Disrupciones Indígenas marks a turning point in public scholarship on the history and interpretation of what has variously been described as “artesanias,” “arte indigena,” and “artes populares,” which most assuredly warrants being widely recorded, remembered, argued over, and incorporated into the annals of critical museology, much as its curators, Juan Rafael Coronel Riviera, Octavio Murillo Álvarez de la Cadena, and Lucía Sanromán Aranda, and the director of the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Miguel Fernández Félix, surely intended.

Arte de los Pueblos de México: Disrupciones Indígenas is the first major exhibition on Mexican “popular” art that in part is organized as a critical history of past approaches to its display and interpretations, and in part as a comprehensive panorama of cultural and material expressions including recent texts, poems, songs, and soundscapes produced by Indigenous and African-descendent artists and knowledge holders. It breaks new ground as a trilingual exhibition in Spanish, Nahuatl (central Highland valleys dialect), and English (via QR codes), and, in addition, it further expands access by incorporating sign language. Indigenous makers and artists are named when known, and throughout the exhibition works made by historical makers intermingle with those by contemporary practitioners working in diverse media including ceramics, wood, basketry, textiles, poetry, painting, photographic prints, film, and more besides. Most significant of all, the exhibition is intended to signify a sea change in methodology and perspective, one, moreover, hosted by the nation's most prestigious art museum, backed by the Ministry of Culture, which many scholars and critics once thought would always be impervious to Indigenous arts.

The exhibition was timed, although a month late, to coincide with the bicentenary celebration of Mexican independence, and the centenary of the earlier, much acclaimed Exposición Nacional de Artes Populares that opened at 85 Avenida Juárez on September 1921. Like its predecessor, with which it establishes a dialog, the 2022 exhibition celebrates its own revisionist view of Indigenous creativity based on a rearticulation of the relationship between the state, national identity, and the role of the arts, while at the same time acknowledging México's irreducible cultural diversity, artistic originality, and the inalienable rights, including that to self-expression, of Indigenous people and descendants of the African diaspora.

The new approach is signaled immediately by the first work the public encounters and by a powerful series of subsequent Indigenous statements. Salvador Xharicata's installation, “Jakeúrakua,” a composition incorporating a simple altar on which lie different colored ears of maize juxtaposed against Yoreme, Yoeme, and Makurawe masks and a banner reading “No nacimos ayer, no nacimos apenas hoy: Nacimos antes” (We are not born yesterday, we are not born just today, we are born before). This clearly sets the discursive frame of the exhibition and proclaims the ancient origins of Indigenous cultures and civilizations and the preeminence of maize and its impact in shaping their mode of life and political and territorial struggles.

Following this powerful statement, there is a first-voice assertion by Teófila Palafox, an Ikoot (Huave) weaver and México's first Indigenous woman filmmaker: “A veces no somos reconocidos, estamos como un papel archivado en un lugar, no se dan cuenta de nosotros; necesitamos abrir ese archive” (Sometimes we are not recognized, we are like a document that has been archived somewhere, they don't recognize us, we need to open this archive). Her words could be understood as positioning the subsequent works as documents or records, and the exhibition itself as the archive finally prised open. This interpretation is backed by the P'urhépecha artist, Mario Augustín Gaspár, for whom: “El artisano es un historiador, pero no escribimos libros, escribimos la historia de nuestros pueblos en nuestros trabajos” (The craftsperson is an historian, but we don't write books, we write the history of our people through our works). The exhibition could be seen, therefore, to correspond to the role of an open archive embodying different Indigenous “things” and voices, although the curators are never far away, discreetly shaping its narrative structure. Interpretive texts clearly reinforce the desired paradigmatic shift, which at one point calls on Indigenous peoples to represent themselves from their own points of view and in their own voices. The search for the common spiritual essence, which its curators believed to lie beneath the diversity of the country's “popular” arts displayed in the 1921 exhibition and in its catalog, is here abandoned in favor of a historical and sociological appreciation of each community's singularity and the irreducibility of the experiences and creativity of their artists, writers, critics, and performers—although many such voices never escape from being imbedded and enunciated within a new curatorial narrative.

Some positions, like the rejection of the Western linear view of history, implicit in Salvador Xharicata's, Noé Martínez's, and other Indigenous works, go uncommented. Despite this, the sheer incommensurability and sense of historical bewilderment cast by some of the extraordinary, seldom seen objects, such as the Comcáac and Kumial capes and immense seed baskets, the Chapey Kwapa bark painting, and more remarkable still, the tunic made from six bird skins, collapses any simple timeline and sense of place some visitors might once have cherished. There are other inspired curatorial choices too, like the powerful wooden deities in a box from the Winik atel (Tseltal) and O'de pict (Zoque) regions of Chiapas, which, if not for the labels, would have defied many of us, myself included, to assign them provenance or date. This encyclopedic coverage of Mexican Indigenous art, displaying works from communities from the extreme north to the south of the country, was only dreamt of by Jorge Enciso, Roberto Montenegro, and Dr. Atl, the curators of the 1921 exhibition, who, with their own limited knowledge and the help of the ethnographer Miguel Orthón Mendizábal, were nearly entirely dependent on whatever information and goodwill state governments and local officials provided them. Having failed to present an encyclopedic coverage in the 1921 exhibition, scholars had to wait a century before Arte de los Pueblos de México achieved those grand ambitions. Through the intervening years, though, far from such a panorama supporting the then-illusion of their supposedly shared spiritual and aesthetic unity, the artists and curators of Arte de los Pueblos de México confirm instead their irreducible diversity.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Jakeúrakua, Salvador Xharicata. Courtesy of Anthony A. Shelton and Museo Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Citation: Museum Worlds 11, 1; 10.3167/armw.2023.110118

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Clay figures, Santa María Atzompa, Oaxaca. Courtesy of Anthony A. Shelton and Museo Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Citation: Museum Worlds 11, 1; 10.3167/armw.2023.110118

The exhibition, organized in a spatially confusing and disjunctive fashion, across four galleries on different levels, can be divided into two parts. The first part, divided into five periods, deconstructs what by now is a well-established periodization of the history of interpreting Mexican Indigenous arts and cultures. After providing a background summary of the Porfiriato (1876–1911), the exhibition focuses on five periods: first, the post-revolutionary period between 1917 and 1940; second, the period of Indigenismo during the decade of the 1940s, marked by the foundation of the Instituto Nacional Indigenista in 1948; third, the ethnographic turn, reflected in the opening of the Museo Nacional de Antropología in 1964; fourth, the decade of the 1980s and the surge of the vanguard movement represented by Guillermo Bonfil Batalla and the establishment of the Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares in 1982; and fifth, the period of acute commercialization characteristic of the last decades of the twentieth century.

During the Porfiriato, the government adopted an evolutionary model of development, based on progress, measured by European industrial, commercial, and scientific innovation and advancement. Evolutionism, when applied to culture, marginalized the achievements of all but Western civilizations, and in México also provided an argument for dissolving the legal foundation of Indigenous communities and denying their inhabitants’ artistic capabilities, while, paradoxically, it simultaneously instigated the beginning of scientific archeological excavations and exalted a romanticized image of the Indigenous past and its residual antiquities. This model was punctured by the Revolution (1910–1917), which, after the social and political violence had subsided, consolidated the power of new elites, some of whom worked on the much-studied formation of a national identity based on a pastoral image of Indigenous peoples and rural laborers. The beginning of the post-Revolutionary period began to revise the centuries of prejudice against Indigenous people. No longer, the 2022 exhibition argues, were the rural poor thought backwards or inferior, as their arts and social and religious organizations were redeemed to furnish the icons of national identity.

This change in sensibility was crystallized in the influential 1921 Exposición Nacional de Artes Populares, which recognized differences in aesthetics and values and interpreted works as the “life expressions of Indigenous peoples,” with the hope that some at least might be commoditized and become marketable. After the 1921 exhibition, smaller displays were mounted, especially in the US, to promote México as a secure and prosperous country, making it attractive to investors and tourists alike. This was also the period when painting, literary work, music, cinema, and photography in Mexico celebrated Indigenous peoples as “the heroes of history” and provided the inspiration for the muralists and other artists and movements. By the 1940s, the growth of Indigenismo, championed by the anthropologist and politician Manuel Gamio, refocused attention on ways of assimilating Indigenous people into the wider society, effectively depreciating their culture and exacerbating the transformation of their arts into marketable commodities. The state slowly established local museum networks, schools, workshops, competitions, and a chain of shops to market Indigenous works. Craftspeople were encouraged to sign their works, thereby differentiating them from one another, and qualitative “expert” evaluations were introduced, which substantially altered the production, quality, and sometimes the style of popular arts and converted them into more “beautiful” commodities and more appropriate “emblems of Mexico in a globalizing world.” It is worth noting that similar romantic notions of Indigenous civilizations were also being elaborated elsewhere at this time in the Americas, such as in Argentina, based on the folklorization of the Andes, and in the United States, focused on the exoticization of the Indigenous peoples of New Mexico and Arizona.

The exhibition's articulation of these initial two periodizations is evoked through pottery, photographs of the excavations sponsored by Porfirio Díaz, and early books on Mexican archaeology. These two sections are more fully captured in the reproductions of some of the vitrines of the 1921 Exhibition, which grouped objects by materials and techniques. The reproductions made for the 2022 exhibition often use similar contemporary pieces to those displayed in 1921, which are critically juxtaposed with original works and photographs of the original cases. Books are displayed to capture the era's excitement and achievements, including the highly influential works by José Vasconcelos, Manuel Gamio, Adolfo Best Maugard, and Anita Brenner, which established the intellectual legitimations and aesthetic style of Indigenismo. There are also idealized photographs of Indigenous people by Luís Márquez Romay, Edward Weston, and the later work of Graciela Iturbide and Ruth Lechuga. These, as well as paintings belonging to the same romantic genre by Julio Castellanos, Rosario Cabrera, Diego Rivera, Julia López, Olga Casta, María Izquierdo, and Luis Nishizawa, are shown with pottery from old established villages, such as Azompa, Coyotepec, Izúcar de Matamoras, Acatlán de Osorio, and Metepec in Oaxaca, Puebla, and México. Exhibits include beautiful trees of life by Aurelio Flores and a magnificent candelabra by Herón Martínez Mendoza, both now sadly deceased.

The ideological role of interpretation in these first three historical periods in which Indigenous arts were clearly appropriated and subordinated to political projects and different inflexions of modernism have long been accepted in academic literature but have seldom influenced exhibition narratives; neither have they been so clearly articulated and projected into the public sphere as they are in this exhibition. Furthermore, what makes the exhibition different from most of those that preceded it are the number of Indigenous voices, the inclusion of modern and contemporary artistic works to evoke eras, and the reproduction of vitrines from the 1921 exhibition, which taken together explain how Indigenous peoples and arts have been incorporated and rearticulated as part of wider intellectual and cultural configurations and subordinated to revolutionary nationalism.

The fourth and fifth periods treated in part one of the exhibition are understandably less conclusive than those that preceded them. They seemingly refer to the period between the 1960s and the final decades of the twentieth century, and set the scene for the exhibition's second half that focuses on unsettling these representations using subsequent Indigenous practices. These final two sections of the exhibition's first part aptly remind us of the hybrid nature of sixteenth-century Spanish society composed of Islamic, Judaic, and medieval Christian worldviews, values and technologies that were violently implanted in the Americas and informed what has become “Indigenous art.” Later, other outside influences were channeled, in part, through the galleons that ploughed the sea between Manila and Acapulco bringing exotic Oriental imports, which were sometimes copied or found their way into Indigenous manufactures. The forced contribution of Africa through slavery to the colony's arts and material cultures unfortunately receives scant attention, as does the slavery forced on native Americans. Instead, the curatorial narrative makes a long jump from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century to note that the end of Spanish colonialism coincided with the birth of the Industrial Revolution that converted the newly independent México into a market for European goods, forcing the Indigenous population to adopt their wares accordingly. The narrative in this section notes the common pre-Hispanic heritage underlying all Indigenous societies, but nevertheless acknowledges constant social flux and transformation and the transmission of materials, technologies, and iconographic motifs across cultural borders.

None of these perspectives are particularly new in academia, but their dissemination to a wider public is to be welcomed. That noted, the absence of documented examples or case studies leaves the vast generalizations less convincing and sometimes disappointingly glib. It is also somewhat false to invoke a common pre-Hispanic heritage, because societies ranged from cosmopolitan city states and subjugated metropoli to tropical riverine settlements and desert hunters and gatherers. What we are given in place of textual explanation is instead an assortment of exceptionally well made objects that demonstrate externally derived techniques, imported styles, and foreign iconographies all recast into superb pots baskets, stamps, painted and lacquered gourds, masks, images of saints, crosses, and musical instruments. Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder where are the objects not made for gods, markets, or homes, but which were forged in the heat of violent struggles to provide spiritual advantages (the talking crosses of the Yucatec Maya “guerilla” saints and protective images and the communicating apparatuses of prophets and seers), regalia, weapons, cartoons, counter hegemonic monuments, laser prints, photographs, and films?

The importance of indigenous agency, although on display throughout the exhibition, especially embodied in the contemporary artworks, is largely missing from the narrative. Market-oriented descriptions often surreptitiously insinuate a deterministic narrative, which I assume the exhibitionary approach would want to supersede? Perhaps, if the category of “Indigenous art” had been widened to include more overtly political works that express trauma, struggle, and loss, the vitality and agency behind a rather different genre of Indigenous art might not so easily have been lost or forgotten. An exception to this is Noé Martínez's two large drawings paired with poems in Spanish and Nahuatl, which are part of a series of 26 drawings and collages, Las razones de mi nombre (2021). Inspired by deep contemplation of the transformation of the Indian body and the way it has been trafficked for more than half a millennium (enslaved, exchanged for domestic animals, raped, and mutilated), the work further raises questions about the construction of history, the classification and naming of ethnicities, and the unacknowledged role of Indigenous slavery in building New Spain.

Behind what I take to be a second unintended effect of this revisionist curatorial narrative is a further equally serious ellipsis. I was unable to find any mention in this exhibition of the internal struggles within the new nation for Indigenous self-determination or their mobilization against imperial aggression. Neither, despite the concept having its origin in Rodolfo Stavenhagen's mid-1960s work, are the effects of internal colonization and the dependent relation between the Mexican state and Indigenous communities ever mentioned. While Teofila Palafox commends the exhibition on the Museum's official Facebook account and her work appears in the gallery, there is no mention of the current land problems and assassination of compatriots currently taking place in her natal community of San Mateo del Mar. This is disappointing, because having presented a critical history of the period 1876–1970s, the curatorial narrative seems to stutter, apart from a later reference to the influence of the Zapatistas, and lose much of its self-reflexivity and criticality when confronted with the last half-century and the continuing abuse of the rights of Indigenous peoples, even though in 2007 Mexico adopted the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). It is revealing that no mention of UNDRIP is made anywhere in the exhibition.

Before leaving the five historical sections contained in the exhibition's first part covered in galleries 1 and 2, exhibition text reaffirms the aesthetic independence of local artist-based practices and the important role of historical singularity and linguistic influences. Many languages, the exhibition texts reveal, have terms for similar aesthetic concepts as those in the European Greco-Roman lexicon, but they emanate from different lived experiences, different practices and alternative collective exchanges across cultural boundaries and between other knowledge holders and institutions. Beauty, the curators insist, resides in each case in a complex of interrelated factors and histories that are not easily accommodated in Western art history and have neither been synthesized or systematized by their own practitioners.

The second part of the exhibition opens with Arte para la vida. In this section the view is conveyed that art is made for life and not contemplation. This seems contradictory when compared to the ensuing statement that tells us Indigenous art is meant to be felt through all the senses, which instead suggests it provides one of the most intensively contemplative experiences possible. It is nature, not culture, it is argued, that is constantly active and is related to humans through principles of reciprocity. Objects have personalities and sacred essences but, as always, they may still be adapted to external markets and tastes. The next section presents the film by O'de pict artists Saúl Kak and PH Joel, Solos con Náwayomo (2021), described in label text as a “cinematic ritual” related to the torrential rainfall and the political effects of Hurricane Eta on parts of Chiapas in 2020. Other powerful works include the three deities in their wooden case (previously mentioned); a petrified Wixarika (Huichol) ancestor and an image of Tatewarí, their creator and fire deity; incense burners and candlesticks; and Náayari (Cora), Yokot'an (Chontal), and Nahua masks, including a COVID embroidered mask.

Figure 3.
Figure 3.

Las razones de mi nombre, Noé Martínez. Courtesy of Anthony A. Shelton and Museo Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Citation: Museum Worlds 11, 1; 10.3167/armw.2023.110118

The final gallery, Resistencia y Resonancias is in some ways the most disappointing. It begins with the promising affirmation that the arts have provided mediums for the expression of resistance, negotiation, and liberation. They have themselves been spaces of Indigenous struggle over how they are named, preserved, and used, and by whom. This is inscribed as a colonial struggle, again eluding the political and economic conditions of the Independence period, and especially the past 50 years with the Salinas and subsequent presidencies, when México embraced neoliberalism. All we are told is that, currently, the situation between neocolonial practices, corporations, and governments and the Indigenous struggle for collective rights and self-determination is “tense”—a massive understatement given the unending threats against Indigenous lives, properties, and rights over their own cultures. The narrative goes on to acknowledge that within the wider struggles for rights over land, language, and justice, precipitated by the Zapatista uprising (EZLN), Indigenous artists have appropriated hegemonic art practices that they have used for experimentation and innovation, which have enabled them to insert themselves into the Western art market. We are told they use disruptions and contradictions between and within Indigenous cultures and the wider world to confront the global art system, but in ways we are left to guess—in Carmen Vázquez Hernández's unfinished woven rebozo or Octavio Aguilar's wonderful, finely textured white “huipil de la reina” (the Queen's blouse). Other artists and practices are burdened with still heavier obligations, required to confront racism, discrimination, and exoticization, reject knowledge extraction and aesthetic appropriation, and provide alternative intellectual categories to Western binary and hierarchical classifications. Here we are presented with Elvira Palafox's powerful film exerpt, Teak Monterok, The Story of the God of Lightning, Hilán Cruz's digital images, and Baldomero Robles’ La casa del viento (the House of the Wind), but it is not always clear how all these works fulfill the weighty obligations assigned to them.

Without doubt, this is a broad and ambitious exhibition that, despite my more critical comments, should encourage the curation of new genres of Indigenous and multiculturally curated exhibitions and the development and growth of Indigenous art history in México. Without it, the questions others and myself have raised in relation to Indigenous arts might not have been articulated in the same way; ideas for some future exhibitions might never be stimulated nor promoted outside the acute problematics raised by Arte de los Pueblos de México, Interupciones Indígenas. Without doubt, the exhibition marks a turning point, but having failed to breach the division between art production and reception and politics, it falls short of presenting a wholly new paradigm, as it so yearned to achieve. In many ways, the exhibition should have begun with its final section, Resistencia y Resonancias, and then worked systematically to illustrate, using concrete examples, each of the important statements contained in this part of its narrative.

I am reminded of Laura Osorio Sunnucks’ 2018 exhibition, Arts of Resistance: Politics and the Past in Latin America (UBC Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver), whose curatorial project began by asking: what is popular art today, and what is its purpose and significance after globalization and President Salinas de Gortari's neoliberal reforms (1988–1994) that dislodged revolutionary nationalist ideology as the core of the nation's foundation myth and collective identity? Mexico's membership of NAFTA in 1994, the constitutional reform of article 27, in 1991–92 (which deregulated the protection of communal lands), and the almost three decades of neoliberal government, having broken with the previous nationalist regimes, has not only made the established cultural policies based on the singularity of the Mexican Revolution redundant, but also discarded the sentimental art history that had long supported it. Osorio began her analysis in Mexico and then extended it to Latin America. She incorporated the Oaxaca mural-artist collective Lapiztola, whose large-scale, stenciled installation with Indigenous women bearing guns protested the introduction of genetically modified maize; an amatl painter who focused on the preparations for an election, with lorries loaded with beer, drinking and dancing while the politician sits in the municipal hall collecting ballot papers; the so-called Codex Ayotzinapa, belonging to the families and friends demanding justice for their 43 disappeared children and friends; and two groups of Teloloapan and Tocuaro devil masquerades, each displayed on pink dissecting tables, to open discussion on attitudes to exploitative foreigners in Latin America. What, I wonder, would Arte de los Pueblos de México have looked like if it had been curated at a more critical cultural institution like the Museo Universitario del Chopo, or for that matter at the Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT) on the Mexican/US frontier, or even the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, renowned for its interdisciplinary critiques of institutional and political cultures, or better still if variants of the Palacio's exhibition, employing different curatorial teams, had opened in all three venues simultaneously?

Curiosity notwithstanding, I find this to be an astounding and important exhibition that clamors for a change in museum and gallery approaches, as well as for much more in-depth studies of distinct types of Indigenous arts in the context of their specific aesthetic systems and political histories. This is an exhibition that needed to be curated and has, as a result, made the discipline of museology more lucid and public awareness of Indigenous art more astute.

Anthony Alan Shelton

University of British Columbia

Arte Popular: The Creative and Critical Power of Latin Americans

MINPAKU National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan (9 March to 30 May 2023)

The promotional image for Arte Popular: The Creative and Critical Power of Latin Americans shows two black and golden eyes, set close together with serrated edging on a white background. This image was extracted from a wooden sculpture of a Nagual made in Oaxaca, Mexico that is displayed in the exhibition. Naguals are powerful ritual specialists who shapeshift in dream-states and—in so doing—inhabit nonhuman worlds. Theirs is a multiverse.

These eyes evoke the spirit of the exhibition, which explores popular arts from Latin America through various definitional lenses. In the first room the material is presented neutrally and is divided traditionally, into ceremonial, utilitarian, recreational, and decorative items. Following on from this brief survey, the critical narrative begins, in which the meaning of the words arte and popular are interpreted from diverse perspectives. The curator, Motoi Suzuki, first considers popular in reference to a common people who share material history and culture, where arte is taken to indicate the shared emotional qualities associated with that cultural history. This definition relates to ancestral culture—pre- and post-European colonization—as well as diverse cultural influences after the Spanish Conquest, namely those of Christianity and Afro-descendant and Asian diasporas. In the second section, popular is read as referring to state populations, with the implication that the term relates to national art production, as the display comprises the type of arts supported through governmental programs, predominantly in Mexico and Peru. The third shift of the lens is towards contemporary politicized content, where popular expresses the spirit of critique in Latin American art. A final section of the exhibition is dedicated to masks from across the cultural continent, and proposes that arte popular can be mobilized to create sensibilities towards cultural diversity in the region—and perhaps beyond.

Since Latin American popular arts have been widely represented worldwide, particularly by world culture museums, and considering the often problematic impact this context has had on many minoritized peoples in the region, it is important to find new politically engaged ways to mount such exhibitions (Osorio Sunnucks 2021). On this count, Arte Popular: The Creative and Critical Power of Latin Americans is successful. One of the major challenges with the display of—in many cases ancestral—artistic traditions is that they are frequently divorced from ancient “pre-Colombian” material. Because many Indigenous people assert that, in spite of the influences and obstructions of colonial projects, their creative material expressions are linked to millenary knowledge and religion, the common choice to divide the archaeological from the ethnographic has been widely debated (Bonfil Batalla 1987; García Canclini 1990). As such, the inclusion of archaeological material in this exhibition is welcome. Archaeological items, predominantly from Mesoamerica and the Andes, with examples from other regions, are presented before a number of evolving contemporary works from communities across the cultural continent. This choice of narrative reinforces the traditional linear temporality often employed in the display of popular arts, and implies that, while they derive originally from Indigenous ideas, they have continually adapted to new influences. It may be beyond the scope of this particular exhibition to critique representations of temporality, but the Ayotzinapa Codex on display later in the exhibition narrative might point the way to breaking down those traditional temporal depictions. This protest banner tells the story of 43 predominantly Indigenous students who were forcibly disappeared in 2014. It temporally distorts historical images through blatant anachronisms to critique and radicalize contemporary realities (Osorio Sunnucks et al. 2018).

Another small element of the exhibition that is arguably unsuited to the theory of the project is the inclusion of internationally renowned modernist Mexican painters, such as David Alfaro Siquieros, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and their contemporaries. The inclusion of such artists was likely on the basis of the unquestioned influence of popular art and creativity on their work, but also, presumably, to show how the endorsement of these artists by the erudite art community has affected the international reception of Latin American popular arts. While the links between post-revolutionary Mexican painting and popular arts are complex and interesting, this part of the exhibition—which fits into the section covering the impact of nation-building projects—is relatively depoliticized. By contrast, the section that follows shows how popular arts can channel hard political narratives that call out human rights violations. While activist arts are overtly critical of social injustices, many of the works on display in this exhibition also demonstrate multiple implicit, soft, or enciphered resistant art practices. One particular example of this kind of resistance is a collective of Guatemalan weavers who in 2022 submitted a bill to seek collective intellectual property for their traditional dress (see Figure 2). This group, the Movimiento Nacional de Tejedoras, seeks to prohibit design appropriations by international fashion franchises such as that in 2015 by Isabel Marant, who created a collection inspired, or stolen according to the group, entirely by the community of Santa Maria Tlahuiloltepec in Mexico (Panella 2018). Furthermore, their work demonstrates culturally specific aspects of creative and intellectual property—that is, collective creation. Arguably, the choice for minoritized or marginalized people to continue ancestral creative work without responding to extra-community narratives or economies is in itself an act of resistance. Since pockets of community creativity—in defiance of globalized appropriations and erudite endorsement—are so relevant to the appreciation of popular art, I felt that the inclusion of works by artists such as Kahlo diverged somewhat from the exhibition's main message.

The following section, however, dedicated to explicitly politicized popular arts (within which the Movimiento Nacional de Tejedoras is included) not only makes visible an important new movement in so-called popular and folkloric arts in Latin America, but also provides important political and social-economic context for the region. The aforementioned Ayotzinapa codex (see Figure 1), for example, which tells of the forced disappearance of a group of predominantly Indigenous teaching students during the government of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012–2018), is just one example of numerous similar human rights violations, in which the local and federal governments have been accused either of being specifically—or tangentially—complicit. Some may not consider the codex to be popular art, since it was created by a researcher at the INAH (Mexico's National Institute for Anthropology and History) and his son, who later donated the piece to the families of the Ayotzinapa victims to be shown at demonstrations. However, its inclusion is pertinent in showing how historical or ancestral images and styles can be adapted for contemporary uses. This is one of the aspects of the show that is consistently innovative, as it often pushes the boundaries of what is generally considered or exhibited as popular art. For example, two paintings by Laurent Casimir, which are commonly considered to be “primitive” art, are included. This ease with blurring the boundaries between genres—all of which are locally informed—is also reflected in the very structure of the exhibition, which, as explained above, plays with the words arte popular to allow us to question how and why genres are defined in the ways they are.

Among the various works on display in the critical or political art section are numerous references to women's artworks. The textiles made by the Movimiento Nacional de Tejedoras are one such example, but there are also some excellent examples of Chilean arpilleras made during the Pinochet regime. Arpilleras (patchwork textiles) were made by women during the dictatorship and express challenging living conditions alongside dissatisfaction with neoliberal policies. Many of these depict a traditional couple's dance in which the men are absent, calling out the forced disappearances of the era. In light of this clear interest in women's work, it is interesting that the first overt mention of feminism comes towards the end of this section of the exhibition, in the context of street art in Oaxaca, Mexico. A women's collective of woodblock print makers, Armarte, are showcased alongside a video of an interview with their president and artist, Celeste Santiago. On display is a large format print of various women, and this work 8m (March 8—International Women's Day) critiques the banner of feminism in that it fails to adequately reflect the diversity of women's lives and positions. The inclusion of this work in the exhibition is an innovative choice, in demonstrating that women's solidarity, activism, and intellectualism go beyond the terms commonly employed.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Display of the Ayotzinapa Codex, a protest banner (in case) alongside a digital reproduction (on the wall). Courtesy of the author and MINPAKU.

Citation: Museum Worlds 11, 1; 10.3167/armw.2023.110118

Another interesting aspect of the street art section is its reference to murals created by Mexican Americans in California, implying that the limits we understand by the term Latin America are not bound by national borders. The subject of Mexican migration to the US is later echoed in the display of a number of textiles depicting illegal border crossings made by the collective “Hormigas bordadoras de San Francisco Tanivet,” in 2018. As Figure 2 shows, very simple formal choices and short phrases evoke the extreme risks taken by many seeking a supposedly better life, and the tragedies that unfold as a consequence of their journeys. As the photograph shows, these textiles are displayed along with their price tags. Although the price was not actually visible, the audience is in this way reminded that the price of many of the works on display is not necessarily brokered by gallerists or auctioneers, as they are often sold cheaply in shops and markets.

The inclusion of this message is particularly astute, given that the market value of popular art in Latin America varies dramatically. State-sponsored arts, such as those displayed in the second section focused on works endorsed by national projects, often result in substantial and generationally sustained support for certain artistic communities, while many utilitarian independent arts—such as clothing—are sold at prices relevant to the local community and cheap tourism. The prices of artworks by artists such as Kahlo and Siquieros are on another scale, with a 1949 Kahlo self-portrait having been sold for $34.9 million at Sotheby's in 2021 (Sotheby's 2021). The fact that many of the artists exhibited in this (and other) Latin American popular art shows live in extreme economic precarity, while being exhibited for an international—at least intellectual—elite, is central to this project. The inclusion of the Ayotzinapa Codex, which was purchased by the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia from the families of the forcibly disappeared students, for example, constitutes an act of economic solidarity.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Textile by collective Hormigas Bordadoras de San Francisco Tanivet. Speech bubble reads “Come on baby, let's go to the US, see if we find a supposedly better life.” Courtesy of the author and MINPAKU.

Citation: Museum Worlds 11, 1; 10.3167/armw.2023.110118

For me, the most impactful installation of the show is the wooden sculpture from which the serrated eyes were extracted for the communication materials (see Figure 3). Made by Manuel, Angélico, and Isaías Jiménez in San Antonio Arrazola, Oaxaca, this kind of work is called an alebrije. Alebrijes are said to have been invented in the 1930s by Pedro Linares, who fell asleep with a fever and dreamt of fantastical hybrid animals shouting in the forest. This is a creative, and in a sense authorial, narrative for the genesis of alebrijes, but those familiar with Mesoamerican Indigenous religion and theory will recognize the nagual, or at least the evocation of the nagual. Naguals are practiced ritual specialists who, in dream or trance states, can transform into other entities and “walk with the gods” (Jansen and Pérez Jimenez 2017: 13). They are an example and manifestation of Indigenous logics concerning materials and personhood, and they demonstrate the diverse ways in which the world is considered and created, in this case in Mexico. Along with many other elements of minoritized religiosity in the region, nagualism has been consistently challenged, first by Catholicism, and now by Protestantism, Pentecostalism, and other related sects (Bartolomé and Barabas 2013; Norget 2021; Ruz and Navarro 2005). In the case of alebrijes, the story of their origin from Pedro Linares imbeds individual creativity into this context. The placement of this figure alongside two others made by the same family is particularly poetic in view of the surrounding items in this gallery. The room, dedicated to artistic programs that have been endorsed by national programs (of which alebrijes are an example), includes a tree of life from Metepec, Mexico (originally derived from didactic scenes of the garden of Eden) and a series of retablos (variations on altar pieces) from Ayacucho, Peru, among other works that show the intersection between popular arts and Catholicism. The naguals stand amid these works as a testament to the resilience of Indigenous, religious ontologies in the context of historical and ongoing religious missionizing.

Figure 3.
Figure 3.

Nagual alebrije made by Manuel, Angélico, and Isaías Jiménez. Courtesy of the author and MINPAKU.

Citation: Museum Worlds 11, 1; 10.3167/armw.2023.110118

The concluding section of the exhibition displays masks from the entire Latin American collection, in no particular order and with limited contextual reference, as a testament to the diverse expressions of popular art and the cultures that produce it in the region. The accompanying text references the use of three readings of the term arte popular in the exhibition, to suggest that this creativity in the region can hold answers in fostering tolerance for the world's diversity. The use of masks to make this point is apt, given that many of them form part of full costumes used in dance and carnival across the region. Although complex and contested, masks and masquerade are decidedly plural and evolving in their meaning, as well as highly political (Churampi Ramïrez 2020; Crumrine and Halpin 1983; Rodriguez Aceves 1988; Shelton 2021). Specifically, and although there are plenty of exceptions, masquerade has allowed marginalized identities to find expression and contest mainstream cultural narratives. Since masks make up a large part of ethnographic/world art/world collections in museums both in Latin America and internationally, although left unmentioned in the exhibition didactics, this last focus on masks makes a final important point: The identity of arte popular has been shaped by a history of cultural hybridity, by public policy, and by the spirit of critique in the region (Suzuki 2023), but it has also been shaped by museum collections and exhibitions.

Laura Osorio Sunnucks

Linden Museum, Stuttgart

References

  • Bartolomé, Miguel A. and Alicia M. Barabas, eds. 2013. Los sueños y los días: Chamanismo y nahualismo en el México Actual 111. Pueblos de Oaxaca y Guerrero. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bonfil Batalla, Guillermo. 1987. México profundo: Una civilización negada. Mexico City: Grijalbo.

  • Churampi Ramirez, Adriana. 2020. “Danzantes y polleras marcando el ritmo de la rebelión.” Paper presented at the “Trans”: Construction Culturelle: Transnationale dans la littérature et les arts Ibériques et Latino-Américains Conference at the Université Lumière de Lyon 2, Lyon, France, 13 March.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Crumrine, Norman R. and Marjorie Halpin, eds. 1983. The Power of Symbols: Masks and Masquerade in the Americas. Vancouver: UBC Press

  • García Canclini, Néstor. 1990. Culturas Híbridas: Estrategias para entrar y salir de la modernidad. Ciudad de México: Grijalbo.

  • Jansen, Maarten E.R.G.N. and Gabina Aurora Pérez Jiménez. 2017. Time and the Ancestors: Aztec and Mixtec Ritual Art. Leiden: Brill.

  • Norget, Kristin. 2021. “Popular-Indigenous Catholicism in Southern Mexico.” Religions 12 (7): 531. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12070531.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Osorio Sunnucks, Laura. 2021. “Reconfigurations of Time: Reflections on the Exhibition: Arts of Resistance; Politics and the Past in Latin America.” Museum and Society 19 (1): 118139.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Osorio Sunnucks, Laura, Gwyneira Isaac, and Diana E. March. 2018. “Documents of Dissent.” In Memory, ed. Philippe Tortell, Mark Turin, and Margot Young, 155163. Vancouver: Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Panella, Silvia Antony. 2018. “The (Unofficial) Verdict: Cultural Intellectual Theft in Marant vs. The Mixe Community of Oaxaca.Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative, 11 September. https://www.culturalintellectualproperty.com/post/the-unofficial-verdict-cultural-intellectual-theft-in-marant-vs-santa-maria-tlahuitoltepec.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rodriguez Aceves, Jesús. 1988. Danzas de moros y cristianos. Guadalajara, Mexico: Gobierno de Jalisco, Secretaría General Unidad Editorial.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ruz, Mario Humberto and Carlos Garma Navarro, eds. 2005. Protestantismo en el mundo Maya contemporáneo. Cuadernos del Centro de Estudios Mayas. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shelton, Anthony, A. 2021. Theatrum Mundi: Masks and Masquerade in Mexico and the Andes. Vancouver: Figure 1.

  • Sotheby's. 2021. “Auction Record Set for Frida Kahlo,” Sotheby's Press Release, 22 November. https://www.sothebys.com/en/press/auction-record-set-for-frida-kahlo.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Suzuki, Motoi. 2023. Arte Popular: The Creative and Critical Power of Latin Americans (catalog). Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology (MINPAKU).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

Creating a Wellbeing Experience in an Art Gallery

Peter Vangioni's Ink on Paper, Christchurch Art Gallery, Christchurch

Public mental health and wellbeing are very topical social issues right now. This exhibition review essay explores how an art curator's passion for printmaking fostered a most joyful exhibition experience, and in turn demonstrates how art helps sustain wellbeing at individual and community levels. Ink on Paper: Aotearoa New Zealand Printmakers of the Modern Era was an in-house exhibition curated by Peter Vangioni and held at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū from 11 February to 28 May 2023.1

What is Wellbeing?

Wellbeing theory stems from positive psychology and wellbeing means “feeling good and functioning well” (Mental Health Foundation 2023). So how do we get more of it? In general terms, the four components of wellbeing are mental, emotional, social, and physical, and each is interlinked. Furthermore, we use different terminology according to specific cultural contexts. In Aotearoa New Zealand, the Mental Health Foundation promotes five ways to achieve wellbeing: connect (me whakawhanaunga), give (tukua), keep learning (me ako tonu), be active (me kori tonu), and take notice (me aro tonu). The idea is that with the right tools and support environment we can cope better during tough times and moments of distress (Mental Health Foundation 2023), and can manage the pressures of everyday life better.2 Furthermore, wellbeing experts recommend to “start small,” and “work at it” (Ara Institute of Canterbury 2022; Mental Health Foundation 2023). With regular practice it becomes easier to integrate little restorative moments of wellbeing into your life.

Wellbeing and the Museum

Museums are good places for supporting and facilitating mental, emotional, social, and physical wellbeing. A recent pilot study led by John H. Falk addressed the question of how to demonstrate the value of museum experiences. This study involved several museums in Canada, Finland, and the US. Based on a survey of museum visitors, findings reported that “their [museum visit] experiences resulted in enhanced wellbeing,” this sense of which lasted days and even weeks after the visit (Falk 2022: 456–457). The study concluded that the true value of museums lies in how and why they are used, and by whom. Considering Falk's 2022 study, this exhibition review sets out to demonstrate how the Mental Health Foundation's five ways to wellbeing could easily transfer into an art gallery visit. Ink on Paper became the site for my experiment in practicing wellbeing. This was a solitary visit by a local resident best described as a frequent visitor. The visit took place on a Friday, just before lunch during the school holiday period.

Keep Learning Me Ako Tonu

Reading is a useful method to calm down the mind. Another benefit gained by reading is learning something new. In this instance, by reading information on the exhibition labels, the exhibition catalogue, and the website, the art gallery visitor will discover there is much to learn about New Zealand printmaking in the modernist era. Curator Peter Vangioni explains how he used the Christchurch Art Gallery print collection from the 1910s to the 1950s as his starting point (Vangioni 2023). Then, in order to fill the gaps in the exhibition narrative, he approached other museums, galleries, and private individuals from around New Zealand to lend artworks. The exhibition highlights many different printmaking techniques, including etching, linocutting, lithography, woodcutting, and even the potato-cut printing method. Colin McCahon's miniscule potato-cut print, Hoeing Tobacco (1944), made visitors chuckle, perhaps because of its simplistic cartoon-like style (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Colin McCahon, Hoeing Tobacco, 1944, potato cut, Hocken Collections Uare Taoka o Hākena, University of Otago. Photo courtesy of the author.

Citation: Museum Worlds 11, 1; 10.3167/armw.2023.110118

Taking a chronological approach, the exhibition covered three good-sized rooms. The exhibition story starts in the early 1900s when New Zealand artists trained or travelled overseas to broaden their education. For example, Raymond McIntyre studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, and the exhibition's curator suggests he was influenced by the Bloomsbury Group artists (see Figure 2). New Zealand–born women artists also undertook cultural exchanges, such as Rhona Hazard and Juliet Peter, who exhibited in overseas exhibitions. Peter's 1954 lithograph, W9, captures a woman walking two dachshund dogs down a street of terraced houses; it is an autumn scene with a limited color palette using deep brown and dark aquamarine (the same colors appear in her Canterbury landscape paintings). W9 is a large print, and as people gathered around, someone commented that it looked very much like an illustration for a children's book.

One important feature in the exhibition narrative was the role of printmaking in New Zealand education; several artists worked as teachers (teaching printmaking) or made illustrations for the school journal (featuring printmaking as a medium). In 1942, Harry Vye Miller wrote about the value of teaching linocutting in the landmark magazine Art in New Zealand (Vangioni 2023: 70). Miller migrated to New Zealand under the La Trobe scheme, which started in the early 1920s and was named after the influential education administrator William Sanderson La Trobe (Arnold 2017). The La Trobe scheme imported overseas art teachers—particularly from Europe and the UK—to build capacity in the training of artists in New Zealand (Fell 2012). Another artist who migrated to New Zealand under this scheme was British artist Francis Shurrock (Vangioni 2023: 70). Shurrock's vivid red, green, and black Poppies linocut and watercolor, ca.1929, is showcased on the exhibition's webpage.3 Today, the poppy is synonymous with remembering New Zealand's WWI experience on Anzac Day, 25 April; however, in the 1920s, the ritual was still being worked out (along with the idea of the Anzac biscuit with recipes appearing in community cookery books in the 1920s). Due to the fragile nature of works on paper, some of the exhibits, such as Shurrock's Poppies, required specialized conservation care before going on display (Vangioni 2023).

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Raymond McIntrye (1879–1933), Untitled, ca.1917, lithograph, collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū; Street Scene, ca. 1917, etching; and Landscape with Two Figures, ca. 1917, woodcut, both in the collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Photo courtesy of the author.

Citation: Museum Worlds 11, 1; 10.3167/armw.2023.110118

A second important feature of the exhibition narrative is that Vangioni draws particular attention to less well-known yet important printmakers, including Hinehauone Coralie Cameron, whose woodcuts capture unique Māori content not covered by other artists. A third feature of the exhibition was how the exhibition labels held just enough information to make them easy to read from a distance at a slow walking pace.

Be Active Me Kori Tonu

Being active helps improve one's mood. Therefore, moving the body around artworks is another wellbeing benefit gained by visiting an art gallery. Research shows that ease of visitor movement in an exhibition space is important and, furthermore, neglecting the spatial factors affecting visitors’ behaviors has negative effects on the level of museum visitor satisfaction (Hood et al., 2022). In the center of the Ink on Paper exhibition were four display cases. I noticed that when too many people clustered around a particular artwork, these cases served as useful crowd control devices. Some display cases contained tools of the trade and instruction manuals, while another included artists’ work reproduced by New Zealand publishers such as Caxton Press and Mermaid Press. One display case featured Cameron's artist's book of wood engravings and linocuts (see Figure 3), where Vangioni reminds visitors that her works are very rare. Some display cases also held working proofs and wood blocks, as seeing the tools of the artistic process is vital to understanding these techniques. A copy of the exhibition catalogue was placed on a seat in one of the galleries for visitors to browse through. The front cover of the catalogue featured Cameron's work. The catalogue was easy-to-read, and included beautiful reproductions of artworks printed on buff-colored paper. I thought it would make a great inspirational source for teaching art in schools.

Figure 3.
Figure 3.

Hinehauone Coralie Cameron, Dance at Te Ore Marae, Masterston, 1937, linocut. Collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington. Photo courtesy of the author.

Citation: Museum Worlds 11, 1; 10.3167/armw.2023.110118

Take Notice Me Aro Tonu

Most of the images in the Ink on Paper exhibition were small, which invited intimate and up-close viewing. Slowing down and engaging the senses are key to practicing mindfulness. Adele (Adela) Younghusband's 1938 linocut of the Sydney Harbour Bridge sparked the greatest little moment of joy during my 30-minute tour (see Figure 4). Younghusband was a professional photographer and artist, and in 1937 she travelled to Australia to exhibit and study (Ringer 1998). Titled Illuminations, the artwork celebrates industry; with a large brick building in the foreground, and an enormous ship berthed mid-distance with the iconic bridge behind. Yet it was the way that Younghusband made each object twinkle brilliantly in the evening light that caught my attention so that I dwelled there a little longer than the average visitor.

From a community wellbeing perspective, the gallery's front reception desk held some giveaway cards that offered tips to encourage tamariki (children) to look at art. In fact, one card encouraged visitors to “go slow” and “take your time looking” at the artworks. Another card said that when it comes to understanding art, it's best to “relax” and interpret what you see based on your own ideas and experiences. An important aspect of wellbeing practice is self-knowledge (McAuliffe and Chenoweth 2005, 139; Thomson 2015). Self-knowledge includes how we feel and what our intentions and purpose are in our work, our relationships, and our daily activities.

Figure 4.
Figure 4.

Adele Younghusband, Illuminations (also known as Illuminations, Syndey), 1938, linocut. Collection of the Whangārei Art Museum, gift of the artist. Photo courtesy of the author.

Citation: Museum Worlds 11, 1; 10.3167/armw.2023.110118

Connect Me Whakawhanaunga

Being connected “to our thoughts and feelings and to the world around us boosts our wellbeing” (Mental Health Foundation 2023). While a solitary gallery visit was satisfying, research shows that group activities provide useful social benefits. For those interested in strengthening their social networks and fostering a sense of belonging, joining the local friends of the art gallery group or attending scheduled gallery events are good options, as any form of “positive social interactions make us feel happy, connected and secure” (Mental Health Foundation 2023).

Give Tukua: Concluding Comments

This exhibition review touched on how art museums contributed to individual and community wellbeing. A future path for the wider museum and heritage sector is to engage with public health agencies and socialize the idea that museums are safe spaces. For example, within my own teaching praxis, I can encourage the current student cohort of health and wellbeing support workers at Ara Institute of Canterbury to include art gallery visits as part of their own wellbeing practice and, if appropriate, when working with clients. Given that support workers, after nurses, are the second largest employment group in the health sector (Brian Mariner, personal communication, May 2023), they have great capacity to integrate Māori and Pasifika health and wellbeing models in the art gallery space while also helping clients address real life problems such as housing poverty, depression, anxiety, and addiction. After all, “helping others, sharing our skills and resources” gives us a sense of purpose and is linked with “feeling good and functioning well” (Mental Health Foundation 2023).

Joanna Cobley

Ara Institute of Canterbury

Acknowledgements

I wish to thank Freedom Preston, Director Safety, Health and Wellbeing, and colleagues who participated in the Ara Institute of Canterbury wellbeing workshop in May 2023, in which I came to appreciate that “wellbeingness” involved daily practice. Thanks also to the peer reviewer for their comments on an earlier draft of this review.

Notes

1

Exhibition website: https://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/exhibitions/ink-on-paper (accessed 30 May 2023).

2

Those recovering from deep trauma, however, require additional professional psychological care.

3

Ink on paper, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu. https://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/exhibitions/ink-on-paper (accessed 30 May 2023).

References

  • Ara Institute of Canterbury. 2022. Five Ways to Wellbeing. Internal Document.

  • Arnold, Rollo. 2017. “La Trobe, William Sanderson.” Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996, updated June, 2017. https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3l1/la-trobe-william-sanderson (accessed 30 May 2023).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Falk, John H. 2022. “Making the Case for the Value of Museum Experiences.Museum Management and Curatorship 37 (5): 455470. https://doi.org/10.1080/09647775.2021.2023906

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hood, Louisa, Adrian R. Bailey, Tim Coles, and Emily Pringle. 2022. “Liminal Spaces and the Shaping of Family Museum Visits: A Spatial Ethnography of a Major International Art Museum.” Museum Management and Curatorship 37 (5): 531554. https://doi.org/10.1080/09647775.2021.2023897

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • McAuliffe, Donna, and Lesley Chenoweth, 2005. The Road to Social Work and Human Service Practice. Albany, North Shore: Cengage Learning New Zealand.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mental Health Foundation. 2023. “Five Ways to Wellbeing.” https://mentalhealth.org.nz/five-ways-to-wellbeing (accessed 30 May 2023).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fell, Georgina. 2012. “History of New Zealand Painting: Influence of European Modernism.” NZHistory. https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/nz-painting-history/european-modernism-influence (accessed 30 May 2023).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ringer Mim. 1998. “Younghusband, Adela Mary.” Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4y4/younghusband-adela-mary (accessed 17 August 2023).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Thomson, Neil. 2015. Understanding Social Work: Preparing for Practice. London: Palgrave.

  • Vangioni, Peter. March 2023. “Cut it Out: Taking a Look at Aotearoa New Zealand's Hand-made Modernist Prints.” Bulletin (B.211), 28 February. https://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/bulletin/211/cut-it-out.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

Outwitting Knowledge Silos In The Museum

Life Eternal, Nobel Prize Museum at Liljevalchs, Stockholm (1 October 2022 to 29 January 2023)

With the rise of interdisciplinary collaborations, museums have become platforms for exploring the possibilities of integrating knowledge from different fields. The recent exhibition Life Eternal, held at Liljevalchs art gallery in Stockholm, Sweden, was a showcase of such interdisciplinary collaboration, curated by Clare Åhlvik and her team at the Nobel Prize Museum. From 1 October 2022 to 29 January 2023, the exhibition explored the theme of bodily existence from multiple disciplinary perspectives, including science, art, and cultural history. Rather than a traditional object-based catalogue, the curator commissioned essays from many different disciplinary perspectives on the subject of eternal life (Åhlvik and Gradvall eds, 2022). This article discusses the challenges and possibilities of interdisciplinary exhibitions in museums and reflects on the curatorial strategies employed in Life Eternal.

What do we learn from the different ways art and science approach cultural concepts? Many exhibitions have attempted to illuminate either important artworks using science, or difficult science and technology subjects using art, although fewer have attempted to take on broad cultural concepts (Rogers 2022). Life Eternal sets out to accomplish the latter, more ambitious task, utilizing an innovative interdisciplinary mixture of science, art, and cultural history and involving institutional collaboration. The show investigated the possibilities and limitations of bodily existence, a theme that lent itself to a variety of disciplinary perspectives ranging from deep time to poetic engagements with the body.

Institutionalized Knowledge

Interdisciplinary exhibitions are relatively new and many museums have attempted to mix art and science to provide fresh perspectives on different subjects. For example, the recent renovation of the Musée des Confluences in Lyons takes a maximalist approach to these issues by using themes to organize collections that might previously have fallen into different divisions. In this case, natural history, art, and cultural artifacts are mixed in galleries that cover themes such as “origins of the stories of the world” and “species, the mesh of life.” In another example, our own Medical Museion in Copenhagen created an exhibition for the contemporary museum Charlottenborg called The World is in You, which explored how we shape our world and, in turn, how the world shapes our bodies as seen through biomedical research.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Installation of Tables for Hands and Minds. William Kentridge, Journey to the Moon, 2003. Life Eternal, Nobel Prize Museum at Liljevalchs, Stockholm. Courtesy Nobel Prize Outreach and Jean-Baptiste Béranger.

Citation: Museum Worlds 11, 1; 10.3167/armw.2023.110118

Life Eternal frames multidisciplinary objects and approaches to exploring eternal life by mixing knowledge from the expertise of Nobel Prize winners with the quest for longevity of our species and our planet. One gallery was filled with the desks of prize winners, inviting investigations via interactive components as simple as notes and as complex as videos triggered by opening drawers (see Figure 1). One desk belonged to the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his promotion of human rights and efforts to end apartheid in South Africa. Recorded testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, triggered by interaction with the desk, invited listeners to understand the social damage caused by segregation. A room containing poetry panels from literary winners invited visitors into a space for contemplation around Tropisme, Julian Charrière's contemporary frozen artwork (see Figure 2), a collection of plants encased in ice, possibly preserved for future use. Many subject area experts’ voices were heard across the galleries with biology, medicine, agriculture, space science, visual art, and poetry being the most prominent subject areas, situated in philosophical and historical contexts.

Positioning Art and Science in Curatorial Spaces

Art and science exhibitions are numerous, and all face the difficulties of positioning the value of different types of knowledge to convey the intended message or theme. The display at Life Eternal, in the context of the rise of exhibitions that explicitly mix art and science, stands out as an exhibition which has good institutional reasons for this inclusive knowledge display. The theme of eternal life and humanity's quest for it can be found in both art and science, and Nobel Prize winners have made great strides toward that end; we memorialize ourselves in our art, and we use science to prolong our physical lives.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Installation of Regeneration. Julian Charrière, Tropisme, 2014. Life Eternal, Nobel Prize Museum at Liljevalchs, Stockholm. Courtesy of Nobel Prize Outreach and Jean-Baptiste Béranger.

Citation: Museum Worlds 11, 1; 10.3167/armw.2023.110118

Life Eternal addresses the social relations around creating, critiquing, and safeguarding the future of humanity. In one sense, this theme, and its attending institutional collaborations, are surprising: there is, after all, no Nobel Prize in visual art. There are any number of successful interventions where artists make work based on literary winners’ narratives, linguistic gestures, and scientists’ ideas, and images are turned into artworks ranging from the communicative to the philosophically complex. There are moments when the efforts of exhibition designers can be interpreted as clashing with the efforts of installation artists, compelling observers to ask if a particular assemblage is a work of art or “just” part of a highly hybrid show. Nevertheless, the objects on display, especially the desks, are of a sufficiently high degree of interest to fully absorb the attention of the viewer.

Power Dynamics and the Three-Legged Stool

The comingling of art and science in the Life Eternal exhibits was intended to provoke conversations around potentially oppositional disciplinary assumptions, and the Nobel Prize Museum is surely an appropriate venue for such discourse. To be sure, complications can arise in this type of exhibit around the perceived dominance of science as the arbiter of collective social knowledge. Fortunately, the curators of Life Eternal do much to situate scientific and technological claims in an historical context, illuminating the possibilities and limitations involved in each work.

How science and art are understood in relationship to each other seems to have been a major aim of the show. While the curators resolutely do not want to unbalance the power of art and science as ways of knowing, there are moments when the potential for a technologically framed future shines through. The fascinating agricultural displays are examples of where the balance could be perceived to favor one discipline. Two exhibits, the hydroponics and lab-selected ecosystems, imply that these energy-intensive practices may be one of our potential collective futures. This hydroponic display focuses on how these technologies might be helpful, without supplying much cultural context; indeed, our focus is drawn primarily to the sculptural futurist aesthetics of the installation. One place where this is nicely countered is in a satisfying installation featuring Oscar Nilsson's sculpture of the humanoid Josie inspired by the novel Klara and the Sun (2021) written by Kazuo Ishiguro, the 2017 Nobel Prize laureate in literature.

In general, artistic and installation design contexts have been carefully chosen in Life Eternal to turn us toward a view of the galleries that value disciplinary difference while maintaining the position that neither art nor science will have the last word. That history, or at least the archiving of the notable scholars of various disciplinary legacies, does in some way have the last word, and is perhaps a clever curatorial move that importantly sets up the satisfying finality of the retrospective without making a choice among the disciplinary methods, so that viewers can feel they benefit from all aspects. The curatorial design team worked diligently to render non-art objects art-like for the installation and to identify provenance, reminding visitors via brass plaques that they are looking at displays originating from another institution (the Nobel Prize Museum) with very different collecting practices. Those practices are on display in an installation by Mark Dion that offers a behind-the-scenes aesthetic to show shelving where personal items from Nobel Prize winners are collected. Other highlights of the exhibition include the centrally placed frozen botanical work, Tropisme, by environmental artist Julian Charrière, which provides a physical tension with the poetry texts that surround it in a small dedicated gallery. Connecting historical medicine to current biomedical research and visual understanding of the body were two notable works: Anna Dumitriu offered her memorable Hypersymbiotics,TM a medicine box from the future, which was juxtaposed with Laura Splan's Doilies, a delicate series of digitally fabricated lace sculptures, which represent the structure of viruses, including SARS, HIV, and influenza, and which explore the “domestication” of biomedical imagery in the quotidian landscape.

Conclusion

Life Eternal challenged notions of a knowledge hierarchy by presenting scientific objects and concepts alongside artworks and literary texts, and by highlighting the ways in which different forms of knowledge can complement each other. However, the exhibition also recognized the potential for power imbalances between different forms of knowledge. The curators were careful to situate scientific and technological claims in historical contexts, and to highlight the limitations of scientific knowledge. This approach helped to balance the power dynamics between art and science, and to promote a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between these forms of knowledge.

The exhibition design created a space where different forms of knowledge could coexist, without any one form of knowledge dominating the others. The historical and philosophical contexts provided by the curators helped to create a level playing field for different forms of knowledge, and to highlight the limitations and potential of each. The three-legged stool approach also allowed for a deeper understanding of cultural concepts related to the body and eternity. The exhibition presented a range of perspectives, from the scientific to the poetic, allowing visitors to engage with the theme in a variety of ways. The integration of different forms of knowledge created a space for dialogue and reflection and challenged visitors to think critically about their own beliefs and assumptions.

Life Eternal's major strength was its ability to integrate different forms of knowledge in a cohesive manner. Exhibition design also played an important role in creating a unified experience for visitors, with different installations and spaces designed to highlight different aspects of the theme. The success of this show is in its contrasts: moments when disparate materials come together in form, color, placement, or under an idea that binds seemingly different disciplinary networks into a single pathway. The biggest joys from the show were those confusions exposing how the cultures of art and science are indeed cultural, with all the beauty and blind spots such constructs imply. The interdisciplinary approach of the Life Eternal exhibition raises important questions about the value of different forms of knowledge and the role of institutions in promoting interdisciplinary collaborations. The exhibition showed that cultural concepts can be approached from different disciplinary perspectives, and that the integration of these perspectives can lead to a richer and more nuanced understanding of the theme. This approach challenges traditional notions of disciplinary boundaries, and highlights the potential for interdisciplinary collaborations to drive innovation and creativity.

Hannah Star Rogers

Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen

Adam Bencard

Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen

Andrea Krieg

Independent Scholar

  • Åhlvik, Clara, and Jan Gradvall, eds. 2022. Evigt Liv. Stockholm: Nobel Prize Museum.

  • Ishiguro, Kazuo. 2021. Klara and the Sun. New York: Knopf.

  • Rogers, Hannah Star. 2022. Art, Science, and the Politics of Knowledge. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • The World is in You. 30 September 2021 to 16 January 2022, Medicinsk Museion, Københavns Universitet.

The Museum Is Dead; Long Live the Museum

The Museum of Other People by Adam Kuper and Why the Museum Matters by Daniel H. Weiss

Museums are in trouble. The original owners of their contents clamor for repatriation; much of their funding, it turns out, comes from organizations and individuals with dubious morals and pasts; many of their stories are riddled with prejudice, perpetuating the winners’ view of history; fussy environmental requirements commit them to gobbling up unsustainable amounts of energy. And so on. Whose stuff? Who goes? What's shown? Who pays? At what cost? To some, at least, this steep and stinky pile of difficult questions amounts to nothing short of an existential crisis.

And yet, and yet: museums seem still to promise optimistic futures, where culture and curiosity, dialog and self-understanding, community, enlightenment and even spiritual enrichment can all be cherished and widely shared. Also, despite all the worries, the global boom of investment and visitation that museums have enjoyed during the last couple of decades shows little signs of abating. As Dickens may have put it: “[It is] the age of wisdom, it [is] the age of foolishness, it [is] the epoch of belief, it [is] the epoch of incredulity, it [is] the season of Light, it [is] the season of Darkness, it [is] the spring of hope, it [is] the winter of despair.” It is a time that demands comprehension through a “superlative degree of comparison only.” (Dickens 1993: 3)

Two recent books—one focused on metropolitan museums of art, the other on museums of “other people”—sit at the fulcrum of this topsy-turvy moment in museum history, offering us opportunities to do that comparison. Both provide insights into where these institution types have come from, how well they are now grappling with pressing challenges, and what sorts of futures might lie ahead.

Daniel H. Weiss, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is author of one. His subject—extensively based on how the world appears from his, presumably substantial, desk—is the encyclopedic art museum found in most Westernized capitals and substantial cities, with a particular focus on American examples. His first three chapters deliver a “selective history,” tracing their origins to “first millennium BCE city-states [that] were gradually reentering the light of civilization … [by establishing] historic collections of art and relics, often placed within purpose-built structures designed for public access.” Already in these proto-art-galleries Weiss detects two core and complementary impulses: “to explicate specific themes—often religious, tribal, or nationalistic—that shaped narratives of collective identity; and to build community by contributing to the public good—through ideas, inspiration, knowledge, and pleasure.” Following the analysis of nineteenth-century anthropologist and librarian Gustav Friederich Klemm, he next plots their Christian sublimation into churches—the “museums” of the Middle Ages. And after that, he picks up their reemergence in early modern European capitals, where their revival was energized during the Renaissance and then disciplined during the Enlightenment (Weiss 2022: 12, 16, 22, 24).

His story slows down when we reach the modern era, where his own institution, the Met, figures prominently. Inspired by European models, the powerful NewYork attorney John Jay played a key role in giving the American version of the grand civic art museum a new twist. Opened in 1872, the Met was to be “a cultural institution to serve the public good.” The goal, Weiss tells us, “… was to create a ‘department of knowledge’ rather than a collection of masterpieces.” It also established “the [synergistic] relationship between collection growth and audience expansion …; new collecting areas led to larger and ever more diverse audiences, which gradually shifted the emphasis of most museums from a focus exclusively on objects to also consider the experience of visitors and their various modes of engagement.” In America, this new type of museum was well on its way to becoming a place of self-discovery and collective identity through “great art” (Weiss 2022: 43, 137–8).

Weiss skillfully employs this historical background to contextualize the contemporary issues that bombard his inbox daily and with which Why the Museum Matters is principally concerned. Indeed, both books share a similar structure: where-have-they-come-from narratives are followed by more thematic analyses and contemporary reflections. In Weiss's case, this concerns how the giants of the museum world can provide “places of consequence,” “fora for ideas,” “enterprises for community,” and “sources of identity.” I'll come back to these optimistic-sounding ambitions as well as his overriding claim: that such museums can still “bring us together in a shared, uplifting purpose by also offering us perspectives that are larger than our own and that might help us to navigate toward a more just and equitable future” (Weiss 2022: 6). Some of the same aspirations, though fueled by distinctly less optimism or indeed institutional wherewithal, circle around the museums of other people with which Adam Kuper is concerned.

Kuper is a Centennial Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics whose book is a thorough scholarly investigation (twice as long as Weiss's) of how his subject emerged, evolved, and then crashed, as well as how it is now facing up to a wide range of considerable challenges. No museum, as far as I know, actually uses “other people” in its title, but the term is well chosen, helping him frame, without committing himself, the knotty problem of what these museums should actually be called. Writing in 1956, Nelson Rockefeller described how “the name ‘indigenous’… doesn't seem to convey anything to anybody except a few professionals.” He decided instead that his own considerable private museum would be one of “primitive art”—a collection which was subsequently transferred to the Met (Kuper 2023: 271–2).

From their origins over a century earlier, this genre of museum was effectively defined by what it was not: a foil for “Museums of Civilization.” Central European intellectuals preferred the less imperial implications of Kultur, or maybe Volk, with its gesture towards some indivisible link imagined between blood and soil. For the French novelist and art theorist André Malraux, it made more sense to bundle up “l'art nègre” with the expressive work of children and the insane as “arts outside of history and chronology.” Every conceivable identifier has been tried and all have, at some point, faced severe criticism. It's not such an original observation, maybe, but one conclusion Kuper's book inevitably points to is just how enduringly difficult it has been to say what these museums are about, and indeed what they should contain (Kuper 2023: 5–9, 281).

Separate displays of peoples who lived far away or long ago were conceptualized as early as the 1830s. Kuper points to a publication by engineer and cartographer Edme-Francois Jomard as the earliest blueprint he has come across. Others followed, but not all to Jomard's specifications. An alternative approach was put forward by Dutch doctor Philipp Franz Bathasar von Siebold. He advocated a classification based on objects made in particular regions, while Jomard preferred to focus on their function. Intriguingly, the doctor prioritized a scheme based on geography, while the cartographer was drawn to a methodology closer to physiology. The tussle between the two—ethnography's geographical plan and ethnology's developmental rationale—has continued to fuel theoretical and practical debates ever since, many of which have turned into bitterly fought disputes. Attempts at the Smithsonian in the 1880s to combine the two in an elaborate double grid display (ethnography on one axis, ethnology at ninety degrees) don't seem to have caught on (Kuper 2023: 1, 5, 42–3, 149).

Kuper's approach to his own subject starts in ethnographic mode, describing sequentially how museums of other people were established in Britain, Germany, and France, before giving us four American chapters with tighter focus on institutions in Washington, New York, Boston, and Chicago. The final part of his book—“Divesting and Reinventing the Museum”—switches to a more ethnological style of analysis, in which thematic etiologies come to the fore. In ways that resemble the struggles of the curators he describes, his own classificatory scheme turns out to be hard to police, with geography and history inevitably animating and complicating his synchronic analysis of the troublesome topics that beset these museums today: human remains, colonial loot, the instinct to aestheticize, and the pressure to foreground issues of identity.

His history is littered with choice riches, a number of individual efforts providing longue-durée, maybe even timeless, museological lessons—for example, Marcel Mauss's meticulously detailed “record everything” approach at the Musée de l'Homme, summed up in his belief that “one can never be sure what might turn out to be important,” and Paul Rivet and Henri Riviére's oversight of the wildly unconventional Trocadéro museum (of human evolution) in 1920s Paris, which showcased Josephine Baker's performance in Revue négre alongside “the stuff of everyday life,” as Kuper puts it. His description of the Museum of Mankind (the British Museum's ethnographic branch) provides another recollection of just how interesting and inventive groups of adventurous curators drawn to “other people” could be, as well as reminding us what a shame it was, “that the experiments of the Museum of Mankind had come to an end,” and were replaced by far more predictable displays set up by re-institutionalized departments of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas (Kuper 2023: 89, 92–3, 320).

For much of their more recent history—though in truth seeded long before—the answer to the intractable problems faced by these museums was often profoundly to redefine themselves as something else entirely. Maybe it was never going to be possible to study “other people” without inadequately or harmfully “othering” them. For many, the answer has been to recalibrate these institutions around the lived concept of identity; others have concluded that art and aesthetics provide easier and more popular conceptual categories for analysis and display; while others still have abandoned their investigative mandate, finding it far more productive to work in university departments.

Kuper exemplifies the rise of identity museums through the stories of national museums in Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro, as well as two mall museums in Washington—the national museums of the American Indian and of African American History and Culture. The approach of the former he describes as multivocal leading to a “national tribal museum,” which he contrasts with the adoption of a more singular narrative in the latter. The second has, he explains, proved more popular with press and public alike. In all these examples, he witnesses the rise of insider authority increasingly being given precedence over academic expertise. “Can only the Native speak with authority about the Native?” he wonders (Kuper 2023: 305, 344).

Chapter 12 is titled: “But Is It Art?” The contest for territory between art and anthropology is exemplified in another series of case studies, including, for example, the less well-known ethnographic collections in Denmark's national museum. Here, during the early 1990s, the anthropology exhibitions were redisplayed as galleries of art. Kuper quotes former director Ulf Dahner's explanation: “Everyone felt so guilty about telling other people's stories, so they decided not to tell them at all.” To the question: “So what is primitive art?” Kuper concludes: “The stuff that isn't in a museum of anthropology” (Kuper 2023: 288–289).

And finally, the flight from museum to university is emblematized in the latter part of Franz Boas’ career. After wrestling with the Smithsonian over various issues of principle from his own position in New York, he decided to retreat from museum ethnography altogether—departing the American Museum of Natural History to take up a professorship at Columbia University in 1905. His rationale, which as Kuper shows, glossed over a much more complicated story, came out of his gradual realization that museums were simply not up to grappling with the full subject of human activity: a focus on material objects could never capture “language, thought, customs, and I may add, anthropometric measurements” (Kuper 2023: 188–9).

The second halves of both books explore the flush of troubles that I began this piece with, both throwing in a few other more specific ones along the way. In his chapter “Bones of Contention,” for example, Kuper describes how, as “racial studies fell out of favour, anthropology museums were stuck with their collections of skulls and skeletons,” and how some have gone on to agree, or proactively sought, to bury or repatriate medical and scientific collections of human remains (Kuper 2023: 201) Weiss, on the other hand, takes up the furor surrounding the support that his and many other mostly-art museums have received from the disgraced Sackler family and funds, and how they are now attempting to deal with the fallout. One can detect some squirming between his lines here, as he defensively seeks to combine lofty ideals with the more procedural pragmatics that inevitably govern the running of a gigantic, semi-corporate entity like the Met.

Both authors have interesting points to make about the shared issue of appropriation and restitution. “Even the word loot [Kuper reminds us,] was appropriated [looted]. It comes from lut, the Hindi word for plunder” (Kuper 2023: 11). Weiss's historical account of the Louvre inevitably describes the flow of cultural property to Paris during Napoleonic times, the scale of which had not been seen since the coercive actions in antiquity of Nebuchadnezzar and Titus (Weiss 2022: 38–40). Perhaps a less well-known part of the story is the subsequent restitution agreement brokered by eminent sculptor Antonio Canova, with half the works of art taken from Italy during the Napoleonic conquest being returned. Weiss concludes that the “recognition that cultural property should be governed by laws as much as by Enlightenment values is perhaps Napoleon's most enduring, if inadvertent, contribution to the field of museums.” Arguably, the most significant national attempt to deal with these same issues in recent times has also emerged from France, with Macron's government's commissioning of the Sarr/Savoy report—The Restitution of African Culture Heritage: Toward a New Relational Ethics—published in November 2018.

Few reading this review would quibble with Weiss's opening sentiment: “that museums matter … The cultural life of every city, [he carries on] … is in large part defined by museums,” though less confident souls might substitute “guided” or “thoroughly enhanced” for “defined.” Maybe he is also right to find some crumbs of encouragement in its contemporary troubles: “If one really didn't care what museums did, there would be little reason for such impassioned criticism and call for change” (Weiss 2022: 1). But how to build on that sense of significance and put to good use the trust that a lot of people clearly do place in museums?

Many of the buildings that house the institutions these books are concerned with were built to last, while ICOM's recently revised definition of museums—much debated, of course—still holds on to a notion of permanence, placing it only shortly after the insistence that they should be “not-for-profit.” (ICOM 2022). The idea of museums is indeed well into its third millennium. “Forever” is a daunting concept, but it provides a crucial point of reference—a polestar—in guiding efforts to rebuild our semi-broken institutions. To be clear, this is not just a dogged determination to stick around come what may, through thick and thin, but rather a commitment of faith to the value of longevity for its own sake. The dream that museums should always be part of human culture sets its own agenda, with the implication that much of what happens there, particularly with their collections, has consequences well beyond our own lifetimes.

It also suggests that museums might not need to be entirely governed by our immediate concerns and context. Of course, they should be enough of the world to be relevant, but they also should be enough out of it to be meaningfully distinctive. The problem with an agenda that is dominantly, exclusively, focused on finding and outing past wrongs, is that it leaves us with a blank sheet and the overwhelming task of starting again from scratch. With an eye to long, very long-term outcomes, the task of reform shifts instead to a more manageable agenda of judicious evolution. But it also encourages us to choose what elements can remain relatively unchanged for now. Even if Hegel was right that the only thing that we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history, we can nevertheless surely gain courage and wisdom from looking back at where museums have come from, and particularly how they have previously been refashioned.

Precisely because they are principally concerned with explicating the paths along which museums have arrived at their current predicament, both these books offer us some ingredients with which to make progress. One of the historical characters that appears in Kuper's tome—American museum-maker and man of ideas George Brown Goode—provides a highly suggestive premise with which to begin a recipe for revision. Addressing an audience in 1891, he bemoaned the plight of any supposedly finished museum, which he declared “is a dead museum, and a dead museum is a useless museum.” He, too, had his sights on transformation, particularly at the Smithsonian in Washington, which he was eager to convert from a “cemetery of bric-a-brac into a nursery of living thoughts. The museum of the future should, [he declared,] be much more than a house full of specimens in glass cases. It should be a house full of ideas” (Kuper 2023: 136–7).

To Goode's houses full of objects and ideas, we must add the key psychological and social roles that museums play. In part, they do this by providing places of relative peace and stability, sanctuaries where we can allow ourselves to imagine worlds different to our own, and in the process understand ourselves a little better. For many people, Weiss rightly insists, “the museum is a place for self-discovery” (Weiss 2022: 73). This can happen in the context of community, of city or region, of nationality, but also at the even bigger scale of continent. Łucja Peikarska-Duraj's recent book The Invisible Hand of Europe: The Museum as a Civilizing Tool is an elegant exploration of a variety of ways in which European museums enable such experiences of transnational belonging. In them, she suggests:

One could say that visitors can either consume heritage (without any consequences) or become responsible for the museums/exhibitions they have seen … The narrativity of European heritage makes us believe that not only is the past translated in the form of storytelling, but also those who listen to the story are transformed by it and—in a way —take personal responsibility for the consequences of hearing it. (Peikarska-Duraj 2020: 24, 197)

For the philosopher Karsten Harries (another of Weiss's sources of wisdom), museums can thereby become “ethical works of architecture,” “help[ing] us understand our place in the world, to activate shared values, and, along the way, to inspire the best in us” (Weiss 2022: 73, 137–8).

Alongside opportunities for self-reflection and self-fashioning, Weiss also has a more controversial proposition: that museums should give space to prejudice. To mount his case, he quotes from American author Jonathan Rauch's book Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought (Rauch 1995). Rauch asserts that an enlightened and efficient intellectual regime “lets a million prejudices bloom, including hateful ones. It avoids any attempt to stamp out prejudice, because stamping out prejudice inevitably means making everybody share the same prejudice” (Weiss 2022: 79). Certainly, museums have a significant role as places where we can come across different ideas, some of which should surely surprise and maybe even shock us. It also provides a place to encounter other people, mostly complete strangers, who might well be (who hopefully are!) having completely different reactions to the art, the exhibits, the experiences that we nonetheless share with them. To help us here, Weiss has lined up another heavyweight social thinker, German sociologist Jürgen Habermas, who held that public spaces such as museums, universities, and libraries help foster free and open “discourse” by making sure there was “no hierarchy of opinion, no topics off-limits, and no restrictions on who gets to participate” (Weiss 2022: 25, 53–4, 73, 78–9, 138).

Here, then, are some possible ingredients to work with in adjusting these venerable and long-lived institutions: houses full of things but also ideas; places for self-discovery, where visitors share in the responsibility for the stories being told; and maybe even a bit of room for prejudices, in the name of nothing-off-limits and no one restricted. I for one am looking forward to pouring new wine into these wonderful old bottles.

Ken Arnold

Director, Medical Museion; Professor, Public Health Department, University of Copenhagen and Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research

  • Dickens, Charles, 1993. A Tale of Two Cities. London: Everyman's Library.

  • ICOM, 2022. ‘Museum Definition’. https://icom.museum/en/resources/standards-guidelines/museum-definition/.

  • Kuper, Adam, 2023. The Museum of Other People: From Colonial Acqusitions to Cosmopolitan Exhibitions. London: Profile Books.

  • Peikarska-Duraj, Łucja. 2020. The Invisible Hand of Europe: The Museum as a Civilizing Tool. Berlin: Peter Lang.

  • Rauch, Jonathan. 1995. Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Weiss, Daniel H. 2022. Why the Museum Matters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

  • Collapse
  • Expand

Museum Worlds

Advances in Research

  • Figure 1.

    Jakeúrakua, Salvador Xharicata. Courtesy of Anthony A. Shelton and Museo Palacio de Bellas Artes.

  • Figure 2.

    Clay figures, Santa María Atzompa, Oaxaca. Courtesy of Anthony A. Shelton and Museo Palacio de Bellas Artes.

  • Figure 3.

    Las razones de mi nombre, Noé Martínez. Courtesy of Anthony A. Shelton and Museo Palacio de Bellas Artes.

  • Figure 1.

    Display of the Ayotzinapa Codex, a protest banner (in case) alongside a digital reproduction (on the wall). Courtesy of the author and MINPAKU.

  • Figure 2.

    Textile by collective Hormigas Bordadoras de San Francisco Tanivet. Speech bubble reads “Come on baby, let's go to the US, see if we find a supposedly better life.” Courtesy of the author and MINPAKU.

  • Figure 3.

    Nagual alebrije made by Manuel, Angélico, and Isaías Jiménez. Courtesy of the author and MINPAKU.

  • Figure 1.

    Colin McCahon, Hoeing Tobacco, 1944, potato cut, Hocken Collections Uare Taoka o Hākena, University of Otago. Photo courtesy of the author.

  • Figure 2.

    Raymond McIntrye (1879–1933), Untitled, ca.1917, lithograph, collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū; Street Scene, ca. 1917, etching; and Landscape with Two Figures, ca. 1917, woodcut, both in the collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Photo courtesy of the author.

  • Figure 3.

    Hinehauone Coralie Cameron, Dance at Te Ore Marae, Masterston, 1937, linocut. Collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington. Photo courtesy of the author.

  • Figure 4.

    Adele Younghusband, Illuminations (also known as Illuminations, Syndey), 1938, linocut. Collection of the Whangārei Art Museum, gift of the artist. Photo courtesy of the author.

  • Figure 1.

    Installation of Tables for Hands and Minds. William Kentridge, Journey to the Moon, 2003. Life Eternal, Nobel Prize Museum at Liljevalchs, Stockholm. Courtesy Nobel Prize Outreach and Jean-Baptiste Béranger.

  • Figure 2.

    Installation of Regeneration. Julian Charrière, Tropisme, 2014. Life Eternal, Nobel Prize Museum at Liljevalchs, Stockholm. Courtesy of Nobel Prize Outreach and Jean-Baptiste Béranger.

  • Bartolomé, Miguel A. and Alicia M. Barabas, eds. 2013. Los sueños y los días: Chamanismo y nahualismo en el México Actual 111. Pueblos de Oaxaca y Guerrero. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bonfil Batalla, Guillermo. 1987. México profundo: Una civilización negada. Mexico City: Grijalbo.

  • Churampi Ramirez, Adriana. 2020. “Danzantes y polleras marcando el ritmo de la rebelión.” Paper presented at the “Trans”: Construction Culturelle: Transnationale dans la littérature et les arts Ibériques et Latino-Américains Conference at the Université Lumière de Lyon 2, Lyon, France, 13 March.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Crumrine, Norman R. and Marjorie Halpin, eds. 1983. The Power of Symbols: Masks and Masquerade in the Americas. Vancouver: UBC Press

  • García Canclini, Néstor. 1990. Culturas Híbridas: Estrategias para entrar y salir de la modernidad. Ciudad de México: Grijalbo.

  • Jansen, Maarten E.R.G.N. and Gabina Aurora Pérez Jiménez. 2017. Time and the Ancestors: Aztec and Mixtec Ritual Art. Leiden: Brill.

  • Norget, Kristin. 2021. “Popular-Indigenous Catholicism in Southern Mexico.” Religions 12 (7): 531. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12070531.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Osorio Sunnucks, Laura. 2021. “Reconfigurations of Time: Reflections on the Exhibition: Arts of Resistance; Politics and the Past in Latin America.” Museum and Society 19 (1): 118139.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Osorio Sunnucks, Laura, Gwyneira Isaac, and Diana E. March. 2018. “Documents of Dissent.” In Memory, ed. Philippe Tortell, Mark Turin, and Margot Young, 155163. Vancouver: Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Panella, Silvia Antony. 2018. “The (Unofficial) Verdict: Cultural Intellectual Theft in Marant vs. The Mixe Community of Oaxaca.Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative, 11 September. https://www.culturalintellectualproperty.com/post/the-unofficial-verdict-cultural-intellectual-theft-in-marant-vs-santa-maria-tlahuitoltepec.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rodriguez Aceves, Jesús. 1988. Danzas de moros y cristianos. Guadalajara, Mexico: Gobierno de Jalisco, Secretaría General Unidad Editorial.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ruz, Mario Humberto and Carlos Garma Navarro, eds. 2005. Protestantismo en el mundo Maya contemporáneo. Cuadernos del Centro de Estudios Mayas. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shelton, Anthony, A. 2021. Theatrum Mundi: Masks and Masquerade in Mexico and the Andes. Vancouver: Figure 1.

  • Sotheby's. 2021. “Auction Record Set for Frida Kahlo,” Sotheby's Press Release, 22 November. https://www.sothebys.com/en/press/auction-record-set-for-frida-kahlo.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Suzuki, Motoi. 2023. Arte Popular: The Creative and Critical Power of Latin Americans (catalog). Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology (MINPAKU).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ara Institute of Canterbury. 2022. Five Ways to Wellbeing. Internal Document.

  • Arnold, Rollo. 2017. “La Trobe, William Sanderson.” Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996, updated June, 2017. https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3l1/la-trobe-william-sanderson (accessed 30 May 2023).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Falk, John H. 2022. “Making the Case for the Value of Museum Experiences.Museum Management and Curatorship 37 (5): 455470. https://doi.org/10.1080/09647775.2021.2023906

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hood, Louisa, Adrian R. Bailey, Tim Coles, and Emily Pringle. 2022. “Liminal Spaces and the Shaping of Family Museum Visits: A Spatial Ethnography of a Major International Art Museum.” Museum Management and Curatorship 37 (5): 531554. https://doi.org/10.1080/09647775.2021.2023897

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • McAuliffe, Donna, and Lesley Chenoweth, 2005. The Road to Social Work and Human Service Practice. Albany, North Shore: Cengage Learning New Zealand.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mental Health Foundation. 2023. “Five Ways to Wellbeing.” https://mentalhealth.org.nz/five-ways-to-wellbeing (accessed 30 May 2023).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fell, Georgina. 2012. “History of New Zealand Painting: Influence of European Modernism.” NZHistory. https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/nz-painting-history/european-modernism-influence (accessed 30 May 2023).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ringer Mim. 1998. “Younghusband, Adela Mary.” Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4y4/younghusband-adela-mary (accessed 17 August 2023).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Thomson, Neil. 2015. Understanding Social Work: Preparing for Practice. London: Palgrave.

  • Vangioni, Peter. March 2023. “Cut it Out: Taking a Look at Aotearoa New Zealand's Hand-made Modernist Prints.” Bulletin (B.211), 28 February. https://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/bulletin/211/cut-it-out.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Åhlvik, Clara, and Jan Gradvall, eds. 2022. Evigt Liv. Stockholm: Nobel Prize Museum.

  • Ishiguro, Kazuo. 2021. Klara and the Sun. New York: Knopf.

  • Rogers, Hannah Star. 2022. Art, Science, and the Politics of Knowledge. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • The World is in You. 30 September 2021 to 16 January 2022, Medicinsk Museion, Københavns Universitet.

  • Dickens, Charles, 1993. A Tale of Two Cities. London: Everyman's Library.

  • ICOM, 2022. ‘Museum Definition’. https://icom.museum/en/resources/standards-guidelines/museum-definition/.

  • Kuper, Adam, 2023. The Museum of Other People: From Colonial Acqusitions to Cosmopolitan Exhibitions. London: Profile Books.

  • Peikarska-Duraj, Łucja. 2020. The Invisible Hand of Europe: The Museum as a Civilizing Tool. Berlin: Peter Lang.

  • Rauch, Jonathan. 1995. Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Weiss, Daniel H. 2022. Why the Museum Matters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 760 760 47
PDF Downloads 257 257 22