Collecting New Media

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Archive for the 'Museums' Category

15 April
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post Post (articles on a new online archives/museum practice forum)

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Post is a new online initiative produced by the minds behind Triple Canopy ( a great digital art/culture magazine/research/website/non-profit thing) and the Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives in a Global Age (C-MAP) research group housed at MoMA. There is a lot of vaguery even in the description of the parties involved, but suffice to say post is a website. Post is an interesting website where individuals in the field of museums and archives present ideas.
(phew)

I wanted to highlight two articles that touched upon the questions raised by the variable media readings this week–perhaps these could be seen as additional case studies.

In 2009 the MoMA acquired the Silverman collection–a very large, very comprehensive collection of  posters, newspapers, editions, films, and photographs, and who-knows-what-else dedicated to Fluxus art.  An international art movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Fluxus—whose name was based on the Latin word flux, meaning constant flow or change—brought together artists working in music, poetry, film, theater, and the visual arts. The movement challenged the commodification of art and favored nontraditional modes of expression, such as collective performances, inexpensive publications, and unlimited editions of small objects. (Yoko Ono was a Fluxus collaborator)

Upon arrival at the MoMA, the Silverman collection was processed and distributed to the various medium-specific departments of the Museum. The result is that much of the collection – including printed works on paper and photographic documentation of performances found its home in the museum archive, not the art collection.  In Watch Out! All Is Not What It Seems to Be curator Jon Hendricks writes about the challenges of this treatment.  Specifically he notes that works classified as “non-art” receive very different preservation and treatment. They also tend to be displayed in vitrines in the library–not in the gallery. This small change in presentation has a huge impact on the public impression of the meaning and importance of a particular work.  The presentation and preservation of variable artworks has the potential to ghettoize these new mediums unjustly. Hendricks says, ” Throwing things into preconceived categories obscures potential experience of art — understandings of art. “Archival” and “curatorial” might be better thought of as convenient holding bins — locations that can be fluid and shifting as we gain better understanding of artists’ intent, and as we disrobe accumulated prejudgment.”

Next, a post by Uesaki Sen, an archivist designing repositories for Japanese post-war art (which can be characterized as frequently employing non-traditional mediums and performance/time-based art) captures the desire of an archivist to present his collection outside of these representational categories. In a somewhat looping essay, Sen describes producing a large poster containing images and information about every work in the collection–an attempt to show how selections fail to represent a full weight of an archive.  “our interest focuses on the difference in the degree of fictitiousness between representation that emerges from a selected list and documentation that emerges from a comprehensive list.” He goes on to discuss the inclusion of a bean-sprout seed on an invitation, which reminds readers the need to never assume that materials are comprehensive

The Sogetsu Art Center and the Matter of Printed Matter: The Sugiura Kohei / Yoko Ono Bean Sprout Invitation

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08 April
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Future Memory and Monuments in Digital Space

    FMP

We have been discussing how and if an institution or individual can archive or preserve art forms that are inherently transient – dance, mostly. But we have also talked about things that are not dance and things that we don’t know what they are. Some of these “things” are born-digital (like the Lizzie Bennet Diaries) and others are real flesh and blood performances (like dance) that can benefit from being recorded or archived or preserved using digital media.

Performance defies preservation by its very nature. It is meant to be transitory. The Future Memory Pavilion in Singapore was also meant to be transient. The FMP was a month-long installation, located at the Singapore National Museum. It was designed by Pernilla Ohrstedt and Asif Khan and commissioned by the British Council Singapore, the Royal Academy for the Arts in the UK, and the Monuments Preservation Board of Singapore. It was erected in October of 2011. And, it doesn’t really exist anymore.

You can “see” the “monument” at the Future Memory website.  The theme of Future Memory was inspired by a series of lectures hosted by the Royal Academy of Arts in Britain, and the pavilion was an artistic expression of some of those themes. The FMP could be called architecture, art, installation, a monument. It is meant to represent the past as well as the future of Singapore. While the FMP no longer exists architecturally it does exists in the form of a website with video, images, blog posts, etc.

I don’t really know what it means for a monument to exist on the web. And, I don’t really know if a monument can be born digital, or if it has to slide into digital life like the FMP has done. Many monuments have websites. The Statue of Liberty, for example, has a website run by the National Park Service. This site is largely utilitarian; it exists to provide information to visitors. I like the FMP as an example because a whole universe of digital objects surrounding the project came into existence before, during, and after the FMP was on display. In fact, the blog posts and podcasts about Future Memory are an integral part of the project. Is the FMP a monument? It was partially commissioned by the Monument Preservation Board of Singapore (a fact I find delightfully ironic).

When I hear the word “monument” or “monumental” I immediately imagine a structure that is large and permanent that carries some memorial function. The Washington Monument, Trajan’s Column, the Wailing Wall are all monuments to my mind. So, I hesitate to even call the FMP a monument, because it seemed so delicate and short lived.

A quick web search for “digital monument” uncovered The Digitaal Monument Joodse Gemenschap in Nederland

The site seeks to be a memorial for Dutch men, women, and children who were persecuted under the Nazis during WWII in the Netherlands. The site specifically cites the homepage as the actual “monument.” It is explained this way on the site:

“The home page is the actual ‘monument’, consisting of a screen with thousands of tiny coloured bars. The bars are grouped together in blocks, with each block representing a family and each little bar within a block representing someone who died in the war.”

Clicking on the visualization on the homepage will bring you to a page about the individual person that that space on the memorial represents. It is reminiscent of lists of names on physical monuments, and it also allows for a greater amount of detail about each individual. Unlike the FMP, the DMSGN has no physical counterpart. It is a powerful visual, and an evocative way to create a memorial on the web. Is it a monument?

 

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04 March
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The Weird, Wacky, and Wonderful

Despite its name, thisbelongsinamuseum is a blog that highlights already functioning museums all around the world, each with it’s own unique collecting scope. But these are not museums in the sense of the cultural heritage institutions of authority that tell visitors about undeniably significant parts of human history, the natural world, or scientific discoveries. They’re more like the Museum of Jurassic Technology profiled in Weschler’s article; their use of the title ‘museum’ is more than a little cavalier and their holdings can not necessarily hold up under scrutiny. And yet, I’m having a similar reaction to their collective “ironylessness” that Weschler described having as he began delving deeper into the MJT.

Among my favorites from the blog’s archive are the International Coffee Cup Museum (Finland), the Riverside History Center (Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk, Iowa), and the London Sewing Machine Museum.

Each of these, and indeed each of the museum featured on the blog, have such specific collections that at first blush don’t seem like there would be enough material to fill an entire museum’s worth (even if that museum were very small). But going through the blog’s posts and seeing the various collections that have been selected, it’s amazing to see the sheer amount of stuff that exists. Not only that, but the sheer number of variations on a single item (like coffee cups, clocks, marbles, wax figures of prominent African-Americans, Heinz bean cans, and many many others) that exist that a museum dedicated to a single subject is possible.

Not every museum can attain the Platonic ideal of the museum: that authorial cultural heritage institution that preserves and educates the masses on our history, culture, the natural world, or scientific discovery. I think that’s what makes these bizarre, out-of-the-way, breaking the mold of the conception of ‘museum’ important. They may be borrowing the title of museum and interpreting it very loosely, but that someone has the time, energy, funds, and dedication to not only collect but display for the public a fraction of the weird stuff that we’ve produced over the centuries is astonishing. In some small way they are contributing to the preservation of the cultural record. Especially since the preservation of “high culture” is more often than not an easily arguable public good, and therefore undertaken by the traditional cultural heritage institutions. The preservation of pop culture, on the other hand, is more difficult because of the sheer variation that exists and it’s harder to argue its future importance.

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03 March
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Collecting Heartbreak

The readings this week made me consider the importance of collections. Is the objects that matter or is it the stories they represent? And what happens when the story is ambiguous?

Although this happens all the time in history museums with certain often “controversial” topics (which story will a museum tell about slavery, for example), one museum that actively pursues these types of objects and stories is the Museum of Broken Relationships in Croatia.

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The museum collects items from donors past failed relationships. These items can be anything from a wedding photo album to an axe that was used to chop up an ex-girlfriend’s furniture after the break-up. The objects themselves are neither rare nor particularly interesting, but when they are connected with the relationship stories, they become markers of a larger story.

So what exactly is this museum collecting? I would argue that while it is physically collecting objects, the Museum of Broken Relationships is really an institution that collects emotional responses. The objects in the physical collection act as markers of the donors’ past emotional outbursts while also acting as triggers to make the visitors feel a connection to those same uncomfortable emotions. Visitors do not come to this museum to learn about any one particular object, but rather to feel and commiserate with the donors or to reflect on the nature of relationships in general.

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There is often a lot of concern about a museum telling the “true” story, as museums are seen as trusted educational institutions. In a museum about break-ups though, the visitor should already know that there is no one truth in relationships. Because this museum is freed from the responsibility of telling an absolute truth, the collection can more comfortably focus on emotions and human responses than other museum’s collections. Visitors come in ready to feel and experience, rather than expecting to be instructed.

Is it important to have a space that collects the cast-offs from old relationships? What can this offer? Is it just a place for people to work through their mostly private emotions in a public way, or is it an institution that allows visitors to see how connected we all are in our experiences of pain?

I don’t have the answer to any of those questions, but I do think that they’re worth considering. As museums grow and change with the advent of new media, we will be seeing less of the traditional museum model. The Museum of Broken Relationships has markers of the old style of museums as it houses actual objects, but it also can be considered to be a new type of museum as what it is actually collecting is intangible. The melding of the two makes a unique space that acts as a space for reflection about emotions. And when it comes down to it, isn’t that what many good museums are?

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01 March
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MOMA Exhibition: Applied Design

Beginning tomorrow the MOMA will offer an exhibit featuring works of applied design. The pieces on display combine beauty with utility in a way that makes them works of art. This semester I am in Digital Media Collections, and one of the questions we are continually asking in that class is, “is design art”? I think this question is also relevant to our discussion of new media in this class. Should we collect designs as art, or should we collect design at all? Below are a few examples from the exhibition.

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This is the “Mine Kafon Wind Powered Deminer” by Massoud Hassani. The designer was born in Afghanistan where he was often exposed to dangerous mine fields. He later attended school in The Netherlands, where he got this idea. The ball rolls across a mine field, powered by wind, exploding mines in its way. Even though it has a practical purpose, it is also esthetically pleasing, so can it be practical and still be art?

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This is called “The Honeycomb Vase” by Tomas Gabzdil Libertiny. He constructed beehive scaffolds in the shape of this vase and then simply let the bees do the work. This vase was worked on by about forty thousand bees.

The Collection also consists of several well known images from popular games including Pac Man and Tetris.

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Are these video games art? and if so how can we properly collect them?

I think this exhibition raises some interesting questions about the boundaries of art and new media. If we are setting parameters for a collection of art, would these things make the cut? I think that they can and should. A lot goes into a design.  Pac Man and Tetris are examples of artistic design in the way that they grab the player. The designers have created something visual that stimulates interest, I think that is art.  The bee hive vase and deminer are both esthetically pleasing, but the designers are also using them to communicate with the audience. The beauty of the deminer seems odd when its purpose  is revealed.  This discomfort leads the audience to think about the issue of unexploded mine fields. The bee hive vase represents a stark contrast to the manufactured world we live in, where things are made cheap and fast. Both are practical, but also beautiful and carry a strong message from their creators. I think that is the very definition of art.

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28 February
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Digital Slide Library of America

The Digital Public Library of America, an initiative launched out of the Berkman Center to unite the existing digital library hubs at existing institutional collections just announced a collaboration with ARTStor- the dominant digital art image library in the US.  Art scholarship, and the services that address the needs of art historians and art academics are generally niche products dominated by a few early entrants into the market. When instituions began to digitize their slide archives, ArtStor was formed as a nonprofit consortium to provide a shared online image library accessible to educational institutions. The idea was to avoid redundant scanning and cataloging of slides.

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Of ARTstor’s existing 1.4 million slides, 10,000 high-quality images from six leading museums will be available via DPLA.  Here’s the catch.  ARTstor  presents their collections as expansive (and implicitly, exhaustive) but is actually strongly biased toward paining, sculpture, photography and architecture. The interface only displays static images, and primarily images from old slides so ARTstor focuses on works easily represented by a single, static image.

Every tool has limitations, and I understand if collecting examples of media work is outside of ARTstor’s mission.  I worry, however, that they have simply sidestepped an entire substantive chunk of 20th century art making simply out of fears of copyright or technical limitiations.  Moreover, because ARTstor presents itself as the canon,  I wonder if it is not further shortchanging students live off-axis to major art centers.

I wonder if ArtStor actually .  Back in the day, when slide libraries were the means by which students accessed art images, there was an implicit understanding that these were not really comprehensive. Plucky students knew that they had to travel to access larger, more comprehensive slide libraries or look to other sources if they wanted to see more contemporary work.  ARTstor partners with contemporary-focused institutions and living artists to digitize their collections.  There is the appearance that the service is up-to-date.

On the contrary, they pick and choose to represent their own strengths. For example, of the MoMA’s expansive collections, only two departments- “Painting and Sculpture” and “Architecture and Design” are included.  Forgotten are huge Departments of Film, Media, even Prints!  The exemption of huge swaths of the MoMA collection would be evident only to someone familiar with the museums organizational structure.  Not particularly likely for an undergrad–ARTstor’s primary user.

This bias is present in individual artist selections.  Elizabeth Peyton, a figurative painter working today was recently added.  Her long-time domestic partner, Rirkrit Tiravanija, arguably a much more important 20th century artist was not.  Ririkrit’s sculptural installations are activated by participation with the audience.  These works may not be as easily captured as Peyton’s paintings, but they do have extensive photo documentation.

The gap between what is being studied and exhibited and what Artstor presents is truly great. In fairness, ARTstor has just begun to collaborate with Rhizome to catalogue still images from their collection of new media art. Still, this is a tiny portion of a broader landscape of global media work.

I guess what I am getting at is that the Digital Public Library promotes itself as a champion for free and open access, we have to remember that any institution build on existing collections will possess the biases of that old collection. Moreover, digitization can actually slow or stop an existing workflow that enabled new media to enter circulation.

Tiravanja

 

 

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18 February
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Curating objects as instruments

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I want to take Usai’s Charter of Curatorial Values as a jumping off point to introduce a few other models / conversations around curatorship in visual art and popular culture.   The word  curator has steeped, perhaps a bit to deeply into our everyday life.  “Curate your Facebook profile like you curate your life,” a recent NY Times article suggests.  In keeping with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s notion that objects solidify and project the power of a fragile and variable individual self — popular media has been inundated with the notion of a ‘well-curated’ life.  Popular ‘curators’ in fields from music to art, fashion to beauty present themselves as emulatedable object selectors, taste-makers for an overabundant world.  To mind come names like Taavo Somer, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, and Danielle Rubi-Dentzel. Often the selections are heightened by a rarified or hand-made quality and the curation extends into the most banal arenas of life, invisible to outsiders – toothpaste and soap come to mind.

Tavi Gevinson, teen blogger of Style Rookie and now online Rookie Magazine was catapulted to fame  not simply for her artful writing on fashion, but for her own depictions of herself in stylish outfits and her presentations of collections of artifacts (both physical and digital) that depict an idealized adolescent bedroom.   Style Rookie elevated the teen bedroom to a curated space.  I argue that this represents a move away from traditional fashion media as well as from the creative production of teens because the thrust of the bloggers activity is to project an image of self, rather than to produce art or comment on fashion.

Csikszentmihalyi argues that the way to get beyond materialism is to use objects “as instruments rather than projections of our selves.” Might it be possible to make the argument that a ‘curator’ used in the broad pop-media context, might be using objects/artifacts as instruments? Does this appellation extend to both curators in institutions and lifestyle curators on blogs?

Curatorial work in the visual arts has exploded with the exponential growth of the contemporary art market since the late 1990s.  In this context, the figure of the curator-as-artist has been debated widely. Usai seems to land on the side of the curator as artist – as capable of creating new works. “New works may be created through the use of one or more existing items in the collections (something whichshould always be encouraged by curators who believe in the archive or museum as a catalyst of invention).”

I am more inclined to agree with the depiction of the curator as a cultural producer–this incompasses a wide-swath of curatorial duties. Both the traditional duties of an arbitor looking down from the ivory tower determining merit, but also allows for the essential role of uniting a creative team and guiding ideas to fruition.  Nato Thompson and Michelle White address this perspective remarkably well in an interview for artlies. Nato and White discuss the possibilities of curatorial work to upset and engage with the matricies of social, cultural, and monetary capital through collective curatorial work.  In effect, to answer my own question, I believe they would be inclined to agree with Csikszentmihalyi that objects are best used as instruments not projections of self, but that collecting and arranging objects – or experiences of artifacts – can be a great disruptor of materialist power.

I want to end by citing the intro to their interview…

In 1934, during Hitler’s ascendance to power, Walter Benjamin gave a lecture called “The Author as Producer,” at the Institute for the Study of Fascism in Paris. With urgency, Benjamin questioned the role of the author and the artist. He felt that it was their job to not just respond to what was going on from a removed observational vantage point but, as a “producer,” to engage and actively change the course of social politics. Part of being a producer is letting go of individual conceit. Revolutionary power is the autonomy of the collective idea—not the autonomy of an individual.

 

 

 

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17 February
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I went to D.C. and played Pac-Man

I was particularly happy to see that Paolo Cherchi Usai used the game Pac-Man as an example of a well-loved game that is difficult to emulate in his article, “A Charter of Curatorial Values,” published in Journal of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 2006. This past May I traveled back to Virginia to attend a friend’s wedding. While I was in the neighborhood, I managed to sneak in a day trip to Washington D.C. and visit the The Art of Video Games: from Pac-Man to Mass Effect, an exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. You can watch an interview with the curator and a trailer for the exhibit here. The exhibit followed a roughly chronological path – beginning with a showcase of games and game consoles from the 1970s and 80s, before moving into a large, dark space where several screens were set up, and visitors could play a different game at each screen.

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Here I am playing Pac-Man. 

I miss Pac-Man. When I was growing up a neighbor of ours had a two-player Pac-Man table.

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It looked like this.

I loved it. My sister loved it. My mom loved it more than any of us, and she was better at it too. She could beat the pants off of anyone. Her high scores were sacrosanct. She said she used to play for hours in the basement of her dorm building in college, waiting for her laundry to be dry. Then, she stopped doing laundry at all, so she would have more quarters to feed Pac-Man. As I stood in the darkened gallery of the Smithsonian, playing one of the most beloved games of my youth and my mother’s collegiate years, I was incredibly grateful to have played Pac-Man on the big, brown, clunky table (which I think was a Special Anniversary release?). Playing at the Smithsonian was fun. I definitely got that apprehensive sensation you get when there are a big line of kids behind you eagerly waiting for you to die so that they can get their turn. And, it was very, very cool to see a dad show his how to play. But, the controls had a very different hand feel from the original, the screen was enormous, and I was in the Smithsonian, which felt surreal, and weird, and also awesome.

Overall I think it was a success. The exhibit was small. I am sure that more could have been done with greater funding, support, etc as is always the case. I found it especially interesting that many of the older consoles that were on display (like the Commodore 64) were on loan from private individuals, did not belong to the Smithsonian, and were not being donated to the Smithsonian. Game collectors wanted their stuff back, and our national museum had to beg, borrow, and plead to use the items for the show. They had not started collecting when the getting was good, maybe now they will.

You can read more about the show in this volume.

 

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03 February
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Julia Child’s Kitchen — Cooking Relics

I’ve been thinking a lot about modern day relics after our readings last week. The idea of a chunk of bone being loaded with so much meaning and power used to seem laughable to me, and then I realized that we still do this today.

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One example of a collection of modern day relics is the Julia Child’s Kitchen exhibit at the Smithsonian. The exhibit consists of Child’s kitchen from her Cambridge, MA home, complete with the original appliances, cabinetry and gadgets. Although some of the items in the exhibit are unique to Child’s kitchen (for example, the countertops were custom made for a woman who was 6’2″), many of the more than 1200 objects could be found in any kitchen. A copy of The Joy of Cooking, saucepans, and even a salad spinner are on display, all of which are items that I can find in my mom’s kitchen.

When so much of the exhibit is ordinary, what is it that makes this exhibit one of the more popular attractions at the Smithsonian?

I would posit that, just like the religious relics of hundreds of years ago, the objects in Julia Child’s Kitchen have been loaded with cultural meaning that goes beyond the everyday use of the simple items.

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Although Child may not be a spiritual figure, she attracted a huge following of amateur chefs through her television shows and cookbooks. By demystifying the art of French cooking to the average home cook, she made herself a friendly presence in the kitchen. Her boisterous, down-to-earth good humor (and her very unique voice!) made many viewers feel as though they had a personal connection with her. If Julia could make boeuf bourguignon, then gosh darn it, so could they.

Devoted Julia followers who visit this exhibit will not see the saucepans as average saucepans you could find almost anywhere. Instead, they see the saucepan as a vessel that Child used to help Americans to learn how to make intimidating French sauces. The saucepan acts as a culturally meaningful item, as it represents both a celebrity chef and also a shift in the way American food was prepared. A saucepan is just a saucepan, unless Julia owned it. Then it is a marker of a larger food experience. This is the same phenomenon as a bone being a bone, unless it belongs to a saint. Then it is a marker of God’s power.

As cooking food often takes place in the home, everyone has their own personal experiences with that process. In an interview with PBS, a curator of the exhibit stated, “This particular exhibit is very dynamic. People want to talk to each other, share memories.” The items in this exhibit are not special in their uniqueness, but rather in their relatability. This exhibit not only gives visitors a chance to reflect on Child, but also on cooking in their own lives.

As with relics of the past, I wonder how the cultural meaning of this exhibit would have to be re-constructed if moved to a different country. Julia Child is beloved here, but would she have the same impact if moved to Costa Rica, for example? How would curators reconstruct her importance? How would it suffer if it didn’t invoke the personal memories of the visitors?

And as a fairly off-topic treat:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80ZrUI7RNfI

 

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28 January
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Baltimore’s Chamber of Wonders

Meant to be a fantastical microcosm, Cabinets of Curiosity in early modern Europe attempted not to explain the natural world but document the full breadth of it. Describing the collection accurately, with an eye towards scientific classification was not as important to these early collectors as it became later. The collections of traditional museums, often based on one or two donated private collections, evolved from these early collections and changed to place their emphasis on completeness and the creation of a cohesive narrative. The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore has returned again to these early collections and developed a permanent exhibition room, dubbed the Chamber of Wonders, that was meant to instill in its visitors a similar sense of wonder and curiosity that gripped western Europe in the so-called Age of Exploration.

Based on the painting “The Archdukes Albert and Isabella Visiting a Collector’s Cabinet,” which had been in the museum’s collection of 17th century Dutch art since 1948, the Chamber of Wonders is a faithful recreation of a cabinet of curiosity.

The Archdukes Albert and Isabella Visiting a Collector’s Cabinet, Hieronymus Francken II and Jan Brueghel the Elder, ca. 1621-1623, oil on canvas

Read more…

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