Archive for the 'Art' Category
Friday, June 10th, 2011
Des Griffin and Leon Paroissien (eds), 2011, Understanding Museums: AustralianÂ Museums and Museology, National Museum of Australia.
The first part of a volume on developments in museums in Australia since the 1960â€™s has just been published as an e-Book on the web site of the National Museum of Australia.
Museums were established across many parts of the Australian continent during the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century. However it was in the latter part of the twentieth century that the greatest burgeoning of museums occurred. These decades also witnessed the consolidation of a sophisticated museum profession, the creation of a single national professional association “Museums Australia” and an active participation of Australian museum professionals in the international museum context. The essays in this section jointly seek to present a scholarly study of museums and museum practice that is also accessible to people outside the museum profession, who daily demonstrate their active interest in museums and their programs.
There are 11 essays in five sections.
Museums in Australia by Des Griffin and Leon Paroissien
Conservation in Australian museums by Ian Cook et al.
Ethnographic museums and collections by John E Stanton
Transforming culture by Bernice Murphy
Repatriation by Michael Pickering and Phil Gordon
War and Australia’s museums by Peter Stanley
History in the new millennium or problems with history? by Tim Sullivan
Art museums in Australia by Daniel Thomas
International exhibitions by Caroline Turner
Collecting works on paper by Anne Kirker
Museums and the environment by Douglass F Hoese
The second part to be published in late June or July will include further essays on history and science museums. Additional sections will deal with education programs and regional museums and there will be essays on museums and digitisation and social media.
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009
Hoots No. 11 – 23 September 2009: The Future of Museums: an interview with Thomas Campbell of the Metropolitan Museum in New York; Darwin Centre opens at The Natural History Museum in London.
The Art Newspaper recently published a long interview with Thomas Campbell, recently appointed director of the Metropolitan Museum succeeding Philippe de Montebello. The interview gives interesting insights into the future of one of the most prestigious museums in the World. The Met has had to cut back some of its staff after it lost 25% of its endowment in the GFC.
Campbell intends to form a programmatic committee including representatives from departments beyond the curatorial to advise him on exhibitions, replacing the former Council of Advisors comprsing heads of curatorial departments.
Campbell also responds to some comments by Tate Director Serota and British Museum director MacGregor to the effect that British Museums respond more directly to the public than do American museums.
Campbell’s plans offer an interesting counterpoint to the comments made recently in the two part “Future of Museums” program on ABC Radio National’s program ‘Future Tense’ on September 3 and 10.
I have previously commented on Thomas Campbell whose appointment as director of the Met I consider to be one of the most signficant of senior appointments at any museum in the last decade. Remember that Campbell is a specialist in tapestries, not notable for fundraising or managerial ‘wizardry’ and had been a curator at the Met for several years and that when asked why he was appointed, the Chair of the Board referred to Dr Campbell’s “great passion for art”.
The Art Newspaper: How do you think your leadership of the Met may differ from Philippe de Montebello’s?
Thomas Campbell: I came to the museum because it was an incredibly exciting place to work as a scholar in my field. Philippe was a major contributor to the environment that made it such an exciting place and I have every intention of sustaining and developing the strengths of this institution: maintaining a dynamic exhibition programme, the award-winning publication programme, continuing to acquire masterpieces, but also to expand study collections where it”s appropriate, and continuing to place the emphasis on the encounter of our visitors with the objects, trying to really create the environment for that direct experience without bells and whistles. Will I be introducing change? I guess it”s evolution rather than revolution.
TAN: Will your leadership style be the same as his?
TC: “I am who I am. I’m certainly not going to try and adopt a grand-style persona…
In terms of actual leadership style, this institution is quite feudal. We have 17 curatorial departments, many of which are equivalent to medium-size museums. One reason we are a place bursting with ideas and initiatives is that Philippe allowed and encouraged ideas to bubble up through the departments and he was very supportive of initiatives brought to him from his curatorial staff. Having experienced the benefits of that myself, I very much intend to maintain it.
One of the steps I will be taking this autumn is formulating a programmatic committee that will act as a forum … Up until this point the way exhibitions have been approved is that curators or department heads would bring a proposal to Philippe and he would say yes or no. I will still be the person who makes that decision, but at a time when we have got to make less go further, and I can’t green light everything, this is a forum in which the curatorial body itself – it will also have representatives from editorial, operations, education – will have to take a bit more responsibility for what is brought forward. But I see it as a constructive dialogue that I trust will make sure that projects that might be considered as cross-departmental have their possibility fully airedâ€¦
TAN: You want to maintain the direct encounter with a work of art, but people demand information. Is there enough information in the galleries?
TC: We need to find the right balance between creating a direct and meaningful encounter with a work of art without there being the impediment of an overly didactic contextualisation. At the same time, much of our audience is very sophisticated and wants a lot of information. .. We are at an exciting time because new technology does give us the opportunity to deliver all sorts of different levels of information to different audiences in a very discreet way. I think handheld devices and audio tours have huge potential beyond where they are now .. I don’t want to be overly typecast as being wonkish on technology, but I think it is one of the major frontiers at the moment because it has the potential to so enrich and transform the visitor experience.
The Met has put a lot of effort into the audio guides it supplies to exhibitions, and we have a certain amount of audio guide information for our permanent collections, but that is an area that needs to be hugely expanded. Then we need to enrich the different levels that people can get to. We also have to think of different languages so that our large international audience is properly catered to. The National Gallery in London, the Tate, the Louvre are all experimenting with devices that besides delivering an audio tour will deliver visuals on a handheld device. The danger is that there’s something so compelling about a digital image that all too quickly the object in front of you becomes an illustration to the narrative you’re holding in your hand.
TAN: British Museum director Neil MacGregor and his counterpart at the Tate, Nicholas Serota, recently differentiated US museums, deemed in thrall to their moneyed boards, from European and particularly British museums, which they maintain serve the public more directly.
TC: … At the end of the day, the Met has bought more objects, has organised more exhibitions, has undertaken more scholarly publications than any other museum in the world as a result, simply because of the enthusiastic support of the donors and our trustees. There’s this caricaturish notion that people fall back on … but my experience of our board is that it is comprised of individuals who take their role extremely seriously in terms of both advice or financial support.
… This is a great institution because of the farsighted support over so many years by individuals who are consciously contributing to build it and make it better.
The impression they were giving was that there was some sort of constraint. We are not constrained. On the contrary we have got the ability to go out and fundraise and find support for different initiatives that allow us to do things that very few European institutions are able to.
The Art Newspaper also published on its Museums page on 16 September a short article on the new Darwin Centre at The Natural History Museum in London.
In The Guardian for 17 July Maev Kennedy wrote, “One of the most startling additions to any British museum, the new £78m “cocoon” at the Natural History Museum in London – an enigmatic white blobby form eight storeys high and 65m long inside a giant glass box – will open to the public on 15 September, it was announced yesterday. Michael Dixon, the director of the museum, said he hopes the new building – properly known as the Darwin Centre, but dubbed the cocoon even by staff – will leave visitors “with a real sense of awe and wonder at nature”.
Further information is available at the Museum’s own website.
Those with a long memory might recall the bitterly critical comments which greeted the appointment and announced corporate plan of former primatologist and Open University Professor Dr Neil Chalmers, appointed director of the Museum in 1989. The Darwin Centre – this is Stage 2 – was a major project of (now) Sir Neil Chalmers who retired a couple of years ago to become Warden of Wadham College at Oxford University .
Here are some extracts from the commentary from that time. We can wonder how reliable the opinions and forecasts of doom were.
(I have put an article from 1990 about this issue in the essay section.)
In the 3 May 1990 issue of Nature, Henry Gee (“Taxonomy pays for bad image”), wrote, “Researchers at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London went on a one-day strike on 24th April to protest against the museum’s controversial 1990-95 corporate plan, which proposes the loss of 51 out of 300 research and curatorial posts during the next two years. Many of the tenured posts are to be replaced with short-term fellowships (see Nature 344: 805, 26 April 1990) a move that will improve the NHM’s financial health but may threaten its standing as a taxonomic research centre. On 26 April, the researchers resolved to strike again tomorrow (Friday, 4 May) if the museum’s director, Neil Chalmers refused to withdraw the plan.
“Scientists at other UK museums are concerned at the damage that might be done by the new plan.Â Taxonomic research, in which the NHM is pre-eminent, is “deeply unsexy”, according to Simon Conway Morris of the University of Cambridge, but is the “bedrock” of all biological research, and in the light of concern over decreasing global diversity the cuts come at “just the wrong time”. Andrew Knoll, of the Botanical Museum of Harvard University, finds it “a little sad” that the study of biodiversity in the United Kingdom is thought so marginal that the NHM will close departments “in which they have been major contributors”. Ken Joysey, curator of the Museum of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, condemned the cuts as “ludicrous”.
The issue was raised in the British Parliament: In the adjournment debate in the House of Commons on 21 June, Tam Dalyell MP pointed out that the real threat to Britain is not “the armies of Mr Gorbachev”, but global warming, the destruction of the ozone layer, acid rain and other environmental problems.Â He told the House how the Museum provides “crucial raw material for the battle against that threat”.
During the half hour allowed for the debate, Shadow Arts spokesman Mark Fisher MP joined Dalyell in pressing Richard Luce on funding for the Museum. Whilst supporting the approach set out in the Corporate Plan, Luce revealed that the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government is in discussion with the Director and the Chairman of Trustees about its wider implications.
An editorial in Nature on 2 August 1990 said, among other things, “The British Natural History Museum has taken too short and too jaundiced a view of it’s own future as a research institution. It should mend its ways, and quickly… What emerges most clearly from the long controversy is that the corporate plan .. was a serious error of judgment. Faced with the prospect of a nasty financial squeeze … the museum plumped for the wrong solution, that of cutting back on an already inadequate intramural research programme…. It would have been possible to cut back instead on the museum’s second function of mounting attractive public exhibitions…”
The editorial went on to repeat some of the claims about “unfortunate” language of the corporate plan, expresses doubts about whether the emphasis on ‘front of house’ activities would save the museum “from the troubles that lie ahead” and observed that entrance charges would not pay the extra cost of the exhibitions envisaged as bringing more visitors and therefore earnings. It asked, “should not the museum be making the case for relief from [further financial] squeezes [two or three years from now]?… It should also do more than has yet been done to show that there is substance in its hope that support for research at the museum will indeed be provided by the research councils..”
Two months later, 4 October 1990, a letter in Nature from Dr Colin Patterson and many distinguished scientists representing the “science defence committee” (of which Patterson was chairman) said, “The crisis at London’s Natural History Museum … has now lasted more than four months and shows no sign of ending.Â The essence of this crisis is that the plan will result… in narrowing the span of taxonomic and systematic research in this museum. .. About a thousand letters of protest have been sent to the relevant minister by our colleagues from all over the world who recognise that this museum is the world centre for taxonomic expertise… There have been two days of strikes; and there has been a storm of press comment, nearly all of it critical of the plan.
“A new management structure, with imposed separation of curation from research for some 150 people, has been forced down our throats, as has also a brutal system of short-term contracts for researchers. And our prizewinning design team is still threatened with extinction.Â Moreover, the director’s main response to the letters of protest is blandly to point out their usefulness in the search for funding, since they demonstrate that the taxonomic community of the whole world is interested in the fate of the Natural History Museum ..”
Some of these issues remain with us in various museums 20 years later. The Natural History Museum recovered to be one of the strongest museums in the World; the list of scientific publications by Museum staff for 2008-09 runs to 73 pages. Some other museums faced with reductions in funding and a lack of recognition by governments of the importance of taxonomy and evolutonary studies to the understanding and sustainability of biodiversity have not recovered!
Monday, June 22nd, 2009
- OWL’S HOOTS NO. 10 – June 20th, 2009
- The new Acropolis Museum opens in Athens, the British Museum should change its name and appoint a board representing the nations whose ancestors created the collections it holds; the education system is anaethsitizing children and stifling creativity, according to Sir Ken Robinson, educator and expert on creativity. And in New South Wales, more pointless reorganisation of the public service.
OWL’S HOOTS NO. 10 – June 20th, 2009
The new Acropolis Museum opens in Athens, the British Museum should change its name and appoint a board representing the nations whose ancestors created the collections it holds; the education system is anaethsitizing children and stifling creativity, according to Sir Ken Robinson, educator and expert on creativity. And in New South Wales, more pointless reorganisation of the public service.
The tenth “Hoot” gives me the opportunity to talk about two issues of the greatest interest to me, cultural property and its contribution to our past and our view of ourselves, and education and learning and creativity.
Parthenon sculptures and the new Acropolis Museum in Athens: The new Acropolis Museum, designed by Bernard Tschumi, looking out on the Acropolis and the Parthenon, opened 20 June. The third floor features a reconstruction of the entire Parthenon frieze, the plaster casts of the sculptures (removed by Lord Elgin) held in the British Museum’s Duveen Gallery differentiated from the genuine sculptures by their white colour.
In “Majestic in Exile” in the New York Times of June 18, 2009 Nikos Konstandaras (managing editor of the Greek daily Kathimerini and editor of the English-language weekly Athens Plus) writes, “I have no doubt that one day all the Parthenon Marbles will be reunited in the New Acropolis Museum….
“Meanwhile, if the British Museum wants to be true to its self-appointed task of serving as curator of the world’s civilizations, and if it really does not recognize the geographic, national or ethnic origins of its masterpieces, then it should have the grace to acknowledge this in practice. It should drop the possessive adjective from its name and call itself simply “The Museum.” And its board of government-appointed trustees should be replaced by representatives of the nations whose ancestors created the works that it displays.
“This would mark the end of colonial and imperial provenance of acquisitions and open a new era of exchange and cooperation between the world’s museums. Questions of ownership would be secondary in this new dialogue of free and equal nations. The Parthenon’s sculptures have the power to transform those who gaze on them.”
In a report on the opening on ABC Radio’s Correspondents Report on 21 June Helena Smith reported on the opening. Introducing the report Elizabeht Jackson observed, “Activists, including David Hill, the former managing director of the ABC who heads the Sydney-based Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, hope the new museum will reinvigorate the campaign to bring back the Elgin marbles – the artworks that have been displayed in the British Museum since Lord Elgin removed them from the Acropolis over 200 years ago.”
Creativity and Education: Sir Ken Robinson, former professor at Warwick University and speaker on creativity and education, has just published a book (authored with Lou Aronica and published by Allen Lane) entitled “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything”, stories of people who found passion in areas of life that were not the focus in traditional schools. In 1998 Robinson chaired a Committee which produced the report, “All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education (the Robinson Report)”. The Times said: â€˜This report raises some of the most important issues facing business in the 21st century. It should have every CEO and human resources director thumping the table and demanding action’.
Robinson argues that current education practices stifle creativity and are a “turn off” for thousands of young people very much because they don’t give enough attention to subjects in the arts. Education is founded on two premises, the enlightenment idea of (rational) economic man and the need for cultural identity. It’s value is seen in how well it prepares people for work.
Robinson was in Australia in the last couple of weeks and was interviewed extensively on the ABC (730 Report on TV1 on 16 June and 17 June , Margaret Throsby’s Interview on ABC Classic FMÂ and “Life Matters” on Radio National) ; several other interesting people with innovative approaches to education were also interviewed on “Life Matters” in the week starting 15 June.
In one of Robinson’s celebrated lectures, available on the web at TED, he makes a number of points common to all his talks.
“What’s it for, public education? I think you’d have to conclude — if you look at the output, who really succeeds by this … who are the winners — I think you’d have to conclude the whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors. Isn’t it?”
“Children starting school this year will be retiring in 2065. Nobody has a clue .. what the world will look like in five years’ time. And yet we’re meant to be educating them for it.
“Every person’s intelligence is distinct.”
Referring to Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” and the environmental crisis, Robinson talks of an education crisis. “Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children. There was a wonderful quote by Jonas Salk, who said, â€˜If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.'”
In a more recent talk (at the Royal Society of Arts) Robinson quoted anthropologist Robert Ardrey, “But we were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles, and our irreconcilable regiments? Or our treaties whatever they may be worth; our symphonies however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams however rarely they may be accomplished. The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses.”
In the second part of the interview with ABC TV1’s presenter Kery O’Brien, Robinson said the following: “What I find is that head teachers are critical in schools, like college presidents are essential in universities and in political systems. Leadership is really important from every point of view. I mean, look what’s happening in America at the moment: that shift from the last presidency to the current one. There’s been a total change of mood because people take their cue from the tone of the leadership. And it’s true in every system I know. If you find a school where a head teacher gets it, anything is possible, and I mean that literally.”
In New South Wales, Premier Nathan Rees has announced that the departments of government will be amalgamated into eight “super departments” with the aim of delivering better services for the people of NSW. dollars.
“I am determined to have the best structure to deliver better services for the people of NSW,” Mr Rees said. “These changes are designed to ensure a greater focus on our clients, better integration of public services and to cut internal Government red tape.”
The reforms will, according to Premier Rees, “Improve service delivery, better align a sprawling bureaucracy; and ensure the best value for taxpayers”.
All this ignores the evidence that restructuring achieves little benefit unless a lot of effort is put into explaining t he benefits and justifying them and providing resources to see thought the adjustments which will have to be made. It remains true that what makes the difference is how decisions get made and how leadership is practised. Coordination and â€˜alignment’ require oversighting which carries with it al the problems of restricting innovation and suppressing dissent.
In 30 years governments almost everywhere have failed to understand best practice as seen in the most successful organisations and have merely created an unsustainable level of inaction and confusion.
Numerous articles on this site deal with this.
Remember this quotation, usually (but wrongly) attributed to Petronius: “We trained hard … but every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganised.Â I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising … and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing inefficiency and demoralisation.” (1)
More quotations are to be found here.
(1) According to Wikipedia, the actual author of this piece of wisdom was the American writer Charlton Ogburn Jr. (1911-1998), in an article published in Harper’s Magazine in 1957 which recounted his experiences as a junior officer in the famous WW2 US Army unit known as ‘Merrill’s Marauders’, and the quoted passage referred to his somewhat chaotic early training.
Friday, May 15th, 2009
- Owl’s Hoots No. 6, 15 May 2009: Education and schooling, teaching and assessment: what is the unique value of museums in education? And European Space Agency launches not one but two giant telescopes into space. Another astounding recording from Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela! And museums in Chicago: new buildings and miserliness.
Owl’s Hoots No. 6, 15 May 2009: Education and schooling, teaching and assessment: what is the unique value of museums in education? And European Space Agency launches not one but two giant telescopes into space. Another astounding recording from Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela! And museums in Chicago: new buildings and miserliness.
Education and learning, early childhood intervention and performance assessment: I was fortunate in April to attend the recent conference of the American Education Research Association in San Diego, California – 18,000 or so delegates, up to 90 concurrent sessions over five days from 7:30am to 6:00pm! Leading researchers dealt extensively with standards of education, assessment of students and teachers, the development of brain function and cognition and many other important issues.
In asserting that the high stakes testing regime, so common in the USA and some other countries in the last decades, has narrowed the mind, Professor David Berliner of the University of Arizona quoted a letter from John Adams (1735-1826; second President of the United States) to Abigail Adams in 1780, “I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.” Â Berliner asserted that students were learning what Adams’ sons and not what his grandsons were to learn.
Intervention in early childhood education is amongst the most important issues but is not receiving the attention it ought to. Orla Doyle of University College Dublin and others including Nobel prizewinner in economics James J Heckman of the University of Chicago (“Investing in early human development: Timing and economic efficiency”, Economics and Human Biology 7 (2009), 1-6) point out that research has shown that “intervening in the zero-to-three period, when children are at their most receptive stage of development, has the potential to permanently alter their development trajectories and protect them against risk factors present in their early environment.
“Children from poorer households also have lower verbal and cognitive ability and more emotional and behavioural problems on average. Parental education, particularly that of the mother plays a major role in the child’s development as educated parents are, in general, better equipped to provide stimulating home environments. ..Early investment in preventive programmes aimed at disadvantaged children is often more cost effective than later remediation.”
Linda Darling-Hammond (who was on President Barack Obama’s transition team) and Elle Rustique-Forrester of Stanford University in reviewing the consequences of student testing for teaching and teacher quality (in chapter 12 of the Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education vol 104/2, p 289-319, June 2005) note that the centerpiece of state educational reforms over the last decade has been the development of educational standards to guide school practices and investments. “The central assumption is that by holding students, teachers, schools, and districts responsible for results on standardized achievement tests, expectations for students will rise, teaching will improve, and learning will increase. [However] while tests might be levers for greater equity, they have long been used to keep students separate and to exclude students from educational curricula, programs, and opportunities.”
The important conclusions are that “… assessment systems in which teachers look at student work with other teachers and discuss standards in explicit ways appear to help schools develop shared definitions of quality. Evaluating work collaboratively rather than grading students in isolation helps teachers make their standards explicit, gain multiple perspectives on learning, and think about how they can teach to produce the kinds of student work they want to see.”
Our understanding of learning and what advances it, has changed radically in the last several decades but the appropriate strategies for education authorities is far from agreed. Similarly, many museums are approaching their education function as if the responsibility is only to schoolchildren in class excursions (or field trips)and giving them lectures and handing out worksheets for completion by each child individually. In doing so they are ignoring their unique ability to provide free choice learning opportunities.
Huge telescopes launched into space: On May 14 the European Space Agency (ESA) launched two powerful new flagship telescope observatories, Herschel (containing the largest mirror ever carried into space) and Planck. An Ariane 5 rocket carrying the two observatories blasted off from the ESA’s launch centre in French Guiana in South America. On the BBC Jonathon Amos reports (in several items with videos) that the observatories will study space and time in more detail than in the past and give scientists a better and clearer window on the universe. The rocket will take the observatories out to a position some 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, an ideal station from which to view the universe. The launch comes during the International Year of Astronomy. The event is covered by other media including Deutsches-Welle World on line.
Another magnificant Simon Bolivar Orchestra performance: I have previously written, talking about “quality”, of Venezuela’s youth orchestra movement and the conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Their recording of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and Francesca da Rimini has just been released. The Times of London’s review of the live performance of the symphony at the 2008 Salzburg Festival read, “In Tchaikovsky’s allegros you imagine steam rising from the fiddlers’ flying fingers. The gorgeously played horn solo in the slow movement was as melancholic as anything in Dostoevsky..”
In the liner notes interviewer David Nice asks Dudamel if his [horn] soloist (in the symphony’s second movement) is the same horn player heard “executing the obligato in the scherzo of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony so brilliantly”. Dudamel replies, “No it’s the other principal horn player. Of course we have quite a choice, because there are 16 horns in the orchestra”. Remember that when Dudamel was auditioned for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the orchestra’s president reported the remarkable reaction of the players, “We had combustion”. The performances on this album are truly outstanding! It is more than youthful enthusiasm.
Miserly Museums in Chicago: In the Chicago Tribune for May 14 (“City culture scourges“), Mara Tapp, organiser for “Cool Classics!”, a book-based art-and-culture after-school program,Â writes, “When the Chicago Public School year ends June 12, elementary students will not be able to visit for free the Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium, the Museum of Science and Industry — because none offer free days until September. Let’s call them the Truly Miserly Museum Corps.”
The New Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago designed by Renzo Piano is written up in the Art Newspaper and the New York Times May 13 (with pictures).
Next week: More on education and schooling, learning and cognition and another quote from John Adams. Perhaps some comments on advances in museums in Australia after the Museums Australia conference in Newcastle this coming week.
Thursday, May 7th, 2009
Owl’s Hoots No. 5, 6 May 2009: The “Universal Museum” again, global climate change and the utility of the Nation State. And do financial markets still have credibility?
Who owns Antiquity?: In previous articles I have commented on the proposition that so-called “universal museums” which hold cultural material representative of many nations are of great value because the visitor can thereby compare the development of many peoples. James Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, has gained publicity by claiming, amongst other things, that countries such as Greece, Italy, Turkey and China advance claims for return of cultural property in order to bolster notions of national identity. Author, art expert and student of the Renaissance Ingrid Rowland wrote a significant criticism of Cuno’s claims.
In the Guardian of 27 March newspaper columnist and former editor of The Times Simon Jenkins (“This hoarding of treasures is a scandal. They belong to the world”) surfaces the usual arguments that countries claiming return of cultural property are now populated by citizens who can with difficulty claim relationship with those peoples who created the items in question. The Scottish (Lewis) chessmen are Scandinavian, “the so-called Priam’s treasure, looted from Troy by the German archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, has met with successive claims from Turkey, Greece, Germany and Russia, where it now resides”.
Referring to the “Declaration of the Universal Museum” proposition that collections are for the “public as a whole” he then proceeds to assert that this has become “code for curatorial belief that that anything hidden in a curator’s store was better off there than when shared with the public”.
What of the huge number of travelling exhibitions circulating around the world’s museums which have brought treasures to millions of people? Museums can’t win in the eyes of some: “blockbuster” exhibitions are criticised for diverting attention from the museum’s own collections.
In “Who Should Own the World’s Antiquities?” (New York Review of Books Volume 56, Number 8 May 14, 2009), Hugh Eakin of the New York Review‘s editorial staff reviews Cuno’s “Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage” and the related volume edited by Cuno, “Whose Culture? The Promise of Museums and the Debate Over Antiquities” (Princeton University Press). He also recounts the astonishing story of the false bid for the Chinese Bronze Heads offered at Christie’s auction of the Yves Saint Laurent collection in Paris in February. (Dr Kwame Opoku has posted an extensive response to the note on Cuno and includes material concerning the Report of the American Association of Art Museum Directors’ Task Force on the aquisition of Archaeological materials and ancient art which is referred to below. Opoku, “a retired legal advisor”, has commented on Cuno’s views and reviews of his book on several other sites.)
Eakin writes, “Last June, the directors of the leading art museums of the United States agreed to limit their acquisitions of antiquities to works that have left their “country of probable modern discovery” before 1970, or that were exported legally after that date. On the face of it, the decision, issued by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), did no more than update guidelines for ancient art-one of a number of such policy refinements by the association in recent years. In fact, however, it announced a tectonic shift in museum thinking about collecting art and artifacts of the distant past, a change that was unimaginable even five years ago.”
Eakin concludes, “In contrast, lending can work both ways: the rich diversity of American, British, French, and German museums can be seen in countries that do not have international art of their own, even as loans from archaeological countries, like those in the Babylon show, provide Western museums with what can no longer be acquired outright. Rather than a threat to the cosmopolitan ideal, then, the new dÃ©tente between foreign governments and American museums should be seen as an essential step in confronting the urgent problem of the destruction of archaeological sites. For the most crucial challenge is not the aggressive nationalism of some countries or the voracious appetites of some museums: it is the disappearance of the ancient past so coveted by both.”
Global Climate Change and the Nation State: In the view of many, many people around the world, the changes to the World’s climate linked to the increasing emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases since the industrial revolution is the major problem facing everyone. More extreme weather conditions, rising sea levels, declining river levels, acidification of the oceans leading to decline of coral reefs, extinctions of more animals and plants threaten humans in near innumerable ways.
For decades a number of people have advocated measures to reduce emissions including greater efficiency, reduction in energy demand, increasing public transport, investment in renewable energy generation. Much of the focus is on reduction in “carbon pollution” emissions through taxation measures or trading in carbon emission permits, co-ordinated at least at a national level. Whilst many experts and commentators have drawn attention to such measures being a source of increased employment and even a way of reversing the present financial turmoil, others continue to claim that huge numbers of jobs will be lost, especially in industries emitting substantial emissions.
After a disastrous refusal by the US under the Bush administration to take any action that country, led by President Barack Obama, is now taking a major role. In an outstanding article in The Monthly for May (No. 45, p12-15), Tim Flannery and Nick Rowley (a director of climate-change firm Kinesis and former advisor to Tony Blair) write, “confusion over the CPRS reveals that tackling the climate problem requires an absolute clarity of political purpose and leadership. We were at the second meeting of the Copenhagen Climate Council, at the Royal Institution in London, with Steven Chu, now the American secretary for energy. He spoke compellingly of how he and President Obama have the job of helping to stimulate and shape the political momentum to cut carbon emissions. There is no constituency to be satisfied in the US, but rather a constituency to be established by explaining the urgency of the problem and the environmental, economic, moral and societal wisdom of developing policies to tackle it. [My emphasis]
“As Chu made clear, this requires a more engaged, positive and intelligent political leadership, for small-minded politics magnifies failure – both real and imagined – and the media primes the public to be highly intolerant of it.”
All of this – leadership in difficult times, the establishment of a constituency – seems beyond the Rudd Government. I do not have words for the position adopted by the Liberal-National Coalition and spokespersons like Andrew Robb. Distinguished commentators such as Ross Gittins (“It’s gamesmanship, and we all lose“, Sydney Morning Herald May 6) and Marianne Wilkinson (“Climate deal will depend on others, so why not call Rudd and Wong’s bluff?“, Sydney Morning Herald May 7) have clearly stated the utter folly of the situation!
In “Quarry Vision: Coal, Climate Change and the End of the Resources Boom” (Quarterly Essay 33-Black Inc; March 2009) climate policy analyst Guy Pearse writes, “No matter what happens in 2009, Australians will still be conscripts on the wrong side of a “coal war” with climate change, a costly and disastrous proxy war on behalf of our coal industry. The industry may prevail, but we will lose, as will the planet – it is merely the extent of the loss that is uncertain”.
The Australian Museum has just opened a new exhibition: “Climate Change Our Future Our Choice”.
The veracity of economists: In one of the essays in The Monthly for May responding to the essay by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on the global financial turmoil, which along with Monthly editorial board chair Professor Robert Manne has been the subject of extraordinary debate, Charles R. Morris (lawyer, banker and author of “The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown”) observes, “The Wall Street Journal recently published a ranking of the leading American economic forecasters on the accuracy of their 2008 economic predictions. The two key data points were the 2007-08 fourth quarter to fourth quarter real growth in GDP and the 2008 end-of-year unemployment rate. There were 51 economists in the sample, form all the major financial institutions and forecasting firms. Of the 102 forecasts, all were wrong in the same direction. Only one economist had the correct sign of the quarter to quarter change in GDP. Almost all the others thought that, while 2008 would see some disruption, it would be on the whole a rather decent year.”
The one economist who was correct in his forecasts was Goldman Sachs economist Jan Hatzius (see “Bears Top List of Economic Forecasters”, WSJ 13 February). “The bulk of prognosticators were pessimistic going into 2008, but they weren’t pessimistic enough. The economy would slow, they thought, but only Mr. Hatzius thought it would contract. He also foresaw a steep increase in the unemployment rate, moderate inflation and a Federal Reserve that would be busy cutting rates.”
Can we see any acknowledgement of these serious errors in the current comments by financial commentators? One senior economist in Australia recently – in commenting on the forthcoming Federal budget – suggested that “financial markets” would have to be satisfied about the Government’s policies. I had thought that financial markets had lost most of their credibility! I have drawn attention to this already, specifically referring to Nassim Taleb’s “Black Swan” and the discussion with “the World’s leading psychologist” (and Nobel prizewinner in economics) Daniel Kahneman.
Next week: Education and schooling, teaching and assessment