Collecting to Exhibit? The Narratives of Art Between Collection and Exhibition

Seminar, 20 January 2016, ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Denmark

Daniel Spoerri: Tableau pi?ege. 1972. Mixed media. ARoS Aarhus Museum of Art. Photo: Ole Hein Petersen

Daniel Spoerri: Tableau Piège. 1972. Mixed media. ARoS Aarhus Museum of Art. Photo: Ole Hein Petersen

Today, museums are caught between widely differing ideas and expectations of how to narrate art, how to collect and how to exhibit. Where the task of exhibitions was to perform the stories of art, the collection has traditionally been seen as the chief resource for present and future activities. New demands and new types of exhibitions have – in practice – contributed to a rapid transformation in priorities. Increasingly, the museum narrative of art is based on temporary structures, sometimes immaterial objects and various loans that are brought into the institution for shorter periods of time. The continued vitality of the permanent collection feels today uncertain.

 

The one-day seminar COLLECTING TO EXHIBIT? provides a forum for examining and discussing art collections and their use for museum exhibitions. Of particular concern is the link between current or historical presentations of art and the acquisition, management and planning of what goes/does not go into collections. These complex relationships vary and span from the famous, historical collection museums such as the Frick in New York – where collection, exhibition, buildings and institution seamlessly merge – all the way to the heterogeneous public gallery of today tasked with showing temporary and permanent exhibitions on top of building collections with a view to the future.

A chief aim for museums is still to narrate about ‘art’, and every institution builds its activities on a particular identity made up of its history, individual expertise and – often enough – a vision and mission statement expressing a unique purpose. But what are the connections between a museum’s many-facetted identity, its collections and the actual narratives of art formed by its exhibitions? How does any kind of collection contribute to or delimit institutional identity and the stories of art that are performed? In what differing ways are narratives expressed through the use of available collections, loans and temporary structures? Can we learn about the future of the museum collection by looking to its uses in the past?

To facilitate extended discussion, these questions are addressed from a historical and contemporary perspective by four keynote speakers: Chris Whitehead (Newcastle and Oslo University), Jeremy Braddock (Cornell University), Hans Hayden (Stockholm University) and Rune Gade (University of Copenhagen). The seminar concludes with a number of short reflections on the theme of ‘collecting to exhibit’ by museum and university staff.

 

All parties with an interest in art, museums, collections and exhibitions are invited to participate in the seminar and discussion.

 

Generous support has been given by

Oticon Foundation, Ny Carlsberg Foundation

 

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Programme

20. January, 2016
ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Denmark
www.aros.dk

 

10.15 welcome and introduction

10.30 first session: collections and narratives of art in history

Chris Whitehead, professor of museology, Newcastle and Oslo University
Visitor Behaviour and Recollection of Permanent Collection Displays

Jeremy Braddock, associate professor in English, Cornell University
Provisional Institutions: Barnes, Phillips, Broad

discussion

12.30 lunch

13.30 second session: collections and narratives of art, today and in the future

Hans Hayden, professor of art history, Stockholm University
Myth Making Strategies: On the Normalization of the Avant-Garde in Post War Exhibition Practices

Rune Gade, associate professor in art history, University of Copenhagen
Collecting for Eternity: Uncertainties, Paradoxes and Challenges in Collecting Contemporary Art

discussion

15.30 coffee break

16.00 third session: working with collections and narratives

cases from museum and university

16.50 closing remarks

 

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Abstracts

Christopher Whitehead, professor of museology, Newcastle University
Visitor Behaviour and Recollection of Permanent Collection Displays

This paper presents research undertaken at the Danish National Gallery in Copenhagen and the Discovery Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne (UK). The research pioneered a new method of first-person digital video capture of people’s experiences of permanent displays. Visitors were equipped with video-glasses and recorded their perambulations, leading to new insights about the mechanics of the museum visit and to the role of personal identity in people’s engagement with displays and the curatorial choices and narratives that they embody. For example, we learned more about the ways in which people undertake investigations in response to curiosity prompted by displays, and about the gulf of difference between curatorial representation and visitor reception. The research also provided understandings about people’s (literal) recollection of their visits, adding complexity to the interlinked notions of the ‘collection’, ‘permanent’ and ‘memory’.

Jeremy Braddock, associate professor in English, Cornell University
Provisional Institutions: Barnes, Phillips, Broad

The years before the founding of the Museum of Modern Art saw a period of institutional growth and experimentation during which individual collectors of modern art elaborated alternative, socially engaged modes of exhibition and display that attempted to change the face of institutional culture and cultural practice tout court. My talk will examine two contemporary, competing forms of the private collection as “provisional institution” during the 1920s: the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and the Phillips Memorial Gallery in Washington D.C. Each was responsive to the question of the role of art in a democratic society, but each understood differently the relation of the permanent collection to the meaning of its exhibitions. Phillips anticipated the contemporary culture of the temporary lending exhibition, Barnes insisted more stridently upon the integrity of the permanent collection, and upon the meaning of its specific arrangement. Surveying this agonistic relationship in the context of a shared, cooperative advocacy of modernism within public culture will provide a salient context through which to understand the recent, highly publicized opening of the Broad Museum in Los Angeles this September, based in the challenging late-20th century collection of the philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad.

Hans Hayden, professor of art history, Stockholm University
Myth Making Strategies: On the Normalization of the Avant-Garde in Post War Exhibition Practice

This paper will examine the normalization of the Avant-Garde the West after Second World War through the case of an interplay between exhibition practices and textbooks. During this period a decisive change in the understanding and formulation of modern art entailed: that this was the period in which modernism was institutionalised in earnest in the dominating culture system of norms. As implied already by the terms “normalisation” and “institutionalisation”, the post-war period entailed a social, discursive, intellectual and historiographic shift in the conditions of modern art. The institutionalisation involved not only a few aesthetic criteria and stylistic idioms but a significantly broader and more guiding, ruling interpretation of art in the modern era – in the contemporary period and historically. Moreover, this normalisation involved not only the laying down of a particular approach in the normative system of the dominating culture, but also that a certain representation/narrative has eventually come to be taken for granted as a premise whose ideological criteria and historically specific conditions are obscured by the assumption that it is universally valid.

Rune Gade, associate professor in art history, University of Copenhagen
Collecting for Eternity: Uncertainties, Paradoxes and Challenges in Collecting Contemporary Art

Focusing on contemporary art this paper discusses the function and rationale of acquisition strategies in Danish art museums. How are curators connecting acquisition strategies to the past, the present and the future? Are acquisitions determined by the existing collections and thereby informed by anachronistic notions of art? Or, are acquisitions instead based on ideas about an unknown future and its emerging ideas about art? What are the responsibilities of museums towards the contemporary art world as it unfolds in the present? What are the obligations of museums towards a public that expects still more influence and interaction?

 

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Keynote biographies

 

Chris Whitehead is Professor of Museology at Newcastle and Oslo University. He has trained and worked as an art historian and art curator, but his broad research activities today encompasses museums of different types – especially history museums – and heritage, with particular emphases on the cultural politics of memory, display, knowledge construction and interpretation. Whitehead is currently working on political uses of the past, time and place and contested histories and heritages where these relate to contemporary social tensions and conflict. Whitehead has special interests in social constructionism, theories of representation, cultural cartography, art theory, epistemology and Turkish, Italian and Scandinavian museum and heritage politics. He has also been involved in a series of projects relating to European identities. Alongside these activities, he maintains research interests in the general areas covered in the monographs on the 19th Century Art Museum (Ashgate 2005), Museums and the Construction of Disciplines (Bloomsbury 2009) and Interpreting Art in Museums and Galleries (Routledge 2012). His most recent book is the edited volume Museums, Migration and Identity in Europe (Ashgate 2015).

Rune Gade is Associate Professor in Art History at the University of Copenhagen, specializing in contemporary art. His research areas include theory of photography, museum studies, visual culture and gender theory. He has published and edited several books, mostly in Danish but some in English: Symbolic Imprints: Essays on Photography and Visual Culture (Aarhus University Press 1999), Performative Realism: Interdisciplinary Studies in Art and Media (Museum Tusculanum Press 2005), Performing Archives/Archives of Performance (Museum Tusculanum Press 2013). Gade’s latest Danish publication was the edited volume Cybermuseologi – kunst, museer og formidling i et digitalt perspektiv (Aarhus University Press 2015) on museology and digital media, which came out in February 2015. Gade was a member of the board of PSi (Performance Studies international) from 2006-2010 and is series editor (together with Professor Edward Scheer) of In Between States, which is being published in collaboration between PSi and Museum Tusculanum Press. Beside his academic practice Gade has also for more than twenty years worked as a freelance art critic for the Danish national newspaper Information.

Hans Hayden is J.A. Berg Professor in Art History at Stockholm University. As a scholar, he has specialized in the historiography of art history, the history and theory of interpretation, and the history and theory of 20th century art. Hayden has worked on reformulating the historiographic perspective as an active dialectical and intertextual relationship to scholarly traditions in order to situate and to achieve a critical reflection upon one’s own position and its intellectual conditions. These efforts can be noticed in the book Modernismen som institution. Om etableringen av ett estetiskt och historiografiskt paradigm (Modernism as Institution: On the Establishment of an Aesthetic and Historiographic Paradigm, Symposion 2006), currently being translated to English. This theoretical framework will be further elaborated in his forthcoming book The Politics of Interpretation. Other books include the edited volume 8 kapitel om konsthistoriens historia i Sverige (Raster 2000) and Perspektiv på samtiden/samtida perspektiv: Forskning om det sena 1900-talets och det nya millenniets konst och visuella kultur (Eidos 2002).

Jeremy Braddock is Associate Professor and director of Graduate Studies in English at Cornell University, specializing in modernist art and literature. He has worked extensively with black and African American, modernist culture, the literary anthology and the collecting of modern art, and his studies on the Barnes Foundation are the first to successfully interpret the famously idiosyncratic structure of the museum. All his prime research subjects meet in his book Collecting as Modernist Practice (Johns Hopkins UP 2012) for which he received the Modernist Studies Association Book Prize and was a Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 2012. Other books include the edited volumes Paris, Capital of the Black Atlantic: Literature, Modernity, and Diaspora (Johns Hopkins UP 2013) and Directed by Alan Smithee (U Minnesota P 2001).

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Registration is now closed, to inquire for last-minute participation, please use the contact form for Dansk Kunsthistoriker Forening