Archive for the 'Exhibitions' Category
Sunday, January 8th, 2012
On June 10 last year I reported that the first part of Understanding Museums: Australian Museums and Museology, edited with Leon Paroissien, had been published as an e-book by the National Museum of Australia.
Late in the year the remaining essays were published. The complete e-book includes 25 separate essays covering everything from a review of the Pigott Report, developments since 1970 in museums generally through progress in art, science and history, education and touring exhibitions, digitisation and social media.
Following a consideration of the recent history of museums in Australia by Des Griffin and Leon Paroissien, Anne-Marie Condé of the National Museum reviews the important Pigott Report into museums and national collections which reported ot the Australian Government in late 1975. Ian Cook, inaugural Director of the State Conservation Centre of South Australia (later called Artlab Australia) and colleagues describe advances in collection conservation, Tim Hart from Museum Victoria and Martin Hallett from Arts Victoria recount the revolution in technology in museums. Des Griffin considers the very recent advances in technology and social media.
John Stanton of the Berndt Museum writes on ethnographic museums and Bernice Murphy, presently National Director of Museums Australia discusses Indigenous art and art museums whilst Michael Pickering of the National Museum and Phil Gordon of the Australian Museum review repatriation.
Discussions of History and museums are provided by Peter Stanley of the National Museum, Tim Sullivan of Sovereign Hill Museums Association, Margaret Anderson of the South Australian History Trust, Kevin Jones of the South Australian Maritime Museum and Viv Szekeres, formerly director of the Migration Museum in Adelaide.
Daniel Thomas, one time director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, provides an overview of art museums. Caroline Turner, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Humanities and the Arts at the ANU recvounts the expansion in international exhibitions and independent consultant Anne Kirker reviews paper conservation in art museums.
Natural history museums and their challenges are discussed by Doug Hoese, onetime head of science at the Australian Museum. Michael Gore, foundation director Questacon in Canberra, and Susan Stocklmayer, director of the ANU Centre for the public Awareness of Science review science centres.
Regional Museums are considered by Margaret Rich, former director of the Art Gallery of Ballarat and by museum and heritage consultant Kylie Winkworth. Representatives of various regional museum organisations consider developments in many of the states of Australia.
Lastly, education and the visitor experience in museums, one of the fields in which there have been significant advances, is addressed by Jennifer Barrett of Sydney University who describes museum studies at universities, Barbara Piscitelli, researcher on young children and museums, who focuses on the relationship that children have with museums, Janette Griffin of the University of Technology Sydney who reviews school students’ learning in museums and Lynda Kelly of the Australian Museum who discusses family visits.
Sunday, June 14th, 2009
- OWL’S HOOTS NO. 9 – June 15th, 2009
- Exhibitions at museums around the world cancelled or postponed, a review of developments in schools and education and conferences and reports on global climate change highlight urgency of meaningful and immediate response but conference in Bonn makes little progress. And specific initiatives mentioned by President Obama concerning relations between the USA and the Arab World.
OWL’S HOOTS NO. 9 – June 15th, 2009
Exhibitions at museums around the world cancelled or postponed, a review of developments in schools and education and conferences and reports on global climate change highlight urgency of meaningful and immediate response but conference in Bonn makes little progress. And specific initiatives mentioned by President Obama concerning relations between the USA and the Arab World.
Museum exhibitions casualties of recession: In “Eight museum exhibitions you won’t be seeing in L.A. anytime soon“ David Ng reports in the Los Angeles Times June 8 2009 that scores of museum exhibitions around the world have been cancelled or postponed. “As the recession continues to inflict damage in the well-appointed halls of the museum world, one of the most noteworthy side effects — on top of layoffs, ticket hikes and reduced hours of operation — is the cancellation and postponement of major exhibitions.”
They include “Subversion of the Images: Surrealism and Photography,” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston scheduled for spring 2010, “Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia” at the Field Museum in Chicago scheduled for 2009-10, “Imperial Mughal Albums From the Chester Beatty Library” scheduled for July 2009 at the Denver Art Museum and “Indian Contemporary Art” at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, postponed from 2010.
Yet more on education and schools: By now it must be obvious to the reader that I think the research on education and all of the related issues in the US is really outstanding. One of the most excellent summaries of the issues was given in the address by Stephen W. Raudenbush, Lewis-Sebring Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Sociology and chair of the Committee on Education at the University of Chicago, at the American Education Research Association (AERA) conference last year 2008. This address “The Brown Legacy and the O’Connor Challenge: Transforming Schools in the Images of Children’s Potential” is truly stunning! It is available as a pdfÂ and webcast .
It is clear to me that there is more than sufficient information available from peer reviewed research to make the right decisions on education and schooling from early childhood to university. The problem is that most people in positions of influence are wedded more to idealogy and belief in the rightness of their own experience rather than to finding genuine solutions.
Best practice does not involve league tables, private schools (or charter schools as in the US ““ though they are less hidebound by bureaucracy – or academies as in the UK) rather than public schools, performance pay, high stakes testing, closing schools that don’t perform, sacking principals, control by large central bureaucracies or any of the other often mentioned “˜solutions’. In the case of schooling they involve the best possible support for teachers and attention to best teaching practice and the aspirations of students, continually encouraging belief that the students can succeed, peer review of teaching practice and ongoing professional development for teachers as well as respect for the work of teachers within the community. It also involves a focus on schools which are “in need” for reasons such as low socio-economic status.
Global Climate Change: In the last couple of weeks, there were three major events concerning climate change. One conference and a report emhasized the urgency of signficant action but a conferenceÂ preparing for the meetings of governments in Copenhagen to chart a post Kyoto future made little progress. These events, concerning one of the one or two most important issues facing humanity, received scant attention. Instead, news broadcasts reported the upgrading to pandemic status of swine flu, an illness which presently poses virtually no threat at all!
Global Humanitarian Forum:Â Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s think-tank, the Global Humanitarian Forum, reported “change is already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and is affecting 300m people, according to the first comprehensive study of the human impact of global warming. By 2030, climate change could cost $600bn a year. By 2030 there will likely be increasingly severe heatwaves, floods, storms and forest fires responsible for as many as 500,000 deaths. Economic losses due to climate change today amount to more than $125bn a year “” more than all the present world aid. You can read more in John Vidal’s article in The Guardian.
UN Climate Conference: The UN Climate Conference in Bonn closed Friday (June 12th) after a “12 day marahon”. As reported by D-W World , “with no deal on CO2 emission targets the delegations failed to achieve any major step towards a successor to the Kyoto Protocol… The goal was to work towards a draft of a new treaty to combat global warming – but many analysts say they’re disappointed with the meagre results. At the end of the negotiating sessions, the rift between industrial and emerging nations seemed bigger than before. And even within those two blocs, there was little agreement except on the fundamental fact that action is needed.”
St James’s Palace Memorandum: Prince Charles recently hosted a meeting of 20 of the World’s Nobel Prize Winners including the heroic Kenyan Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. The St James’s Palace Memorandum calls for a global deal on climate change that matches the scale and urgency of the human, ecological and economic crises facing the world today. It urges governments at all levels, as well as the scientific community, to join with business and civil society to seize hold of this historic opportunity to transform our carbon-intensive economies into sustainable and equitable systems. “We must recognize the fierce urgency of now.”
The statement also says this: “The robust scientific process, by which this evidence has been gathered, should be used as a clear mandate to accelerate the actions that need to be taken. Political leaders cannot possibly ask for a more robust, evidence-based call for action.”
And this: “Decarbonising our economy offers a multitude of benefits, from addressing energy security to stimulating unprecedented technological innovation. A zero carbon economy is an ultimate necessity and must be seriously explored now.” You can read more in another article by John Vidal in The Guardian.
President Obama in Cairo ““ the future of relations between the West and the Arab World: In the reportage of PresidentÂ Obama’s address from Cairo University much has been made of the six issues he raised – violent extremism,Â relations between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world, nuclear weapons, democracy, religious freedom, women’s rights and economic development and opportunity.
In pursuit of these he specifically said, “On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. And today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.”
I didn’t hear any mention of these promises in any of the commentary. David Frost on Al Jazeera (“Frost over the World”) features interviews on reactions to Obama’s speech. There is a huge amount of superficial clap trap on various blogs and websites in response to this speech!
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
Sunday, January 20th, 2008
In an article in the November/December 2007 issue of Museum News published by the American Association of Museums (p 57-62, 68-73) entitled â€œVisual Velcro: Hooking the Visitorâ€, Peter Samis, associate curator of interpretation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) develops a very interesting metaphor to describe the way visitors to museums engage with art. The article contains an excellent summary of the latest thinking about interpretation, especially the use of electronic devices such as audio guides, PDAâ€™s and mobile phones.
A Velcro patch (originally inspired by a burr caught in dog fur or velvetâ€™s fuzzy surface) consists of a strip of tiny loops. Samis asks us to imagine that the visual impression an artwork creates is like Velcro. Unless â€œit has a hook that can fit into one of the loops on your specific Long Term Memory (LTM) â€œpatch,â€ it will glide right by and be forever forgotten. If there is something in the artwork, however, that strikes youâ€”a figure, a vivid color, a bodily sensation resulting from the artworkâ€™s massive or minuscule scale, a memory trigger or implied narrative connectionâ€”then we can say that artwork has â€œVisual Velcro.â€ It has hooked into your cognitive structure and stands a chance of remaining in your memory.â€
Samis goes on to summarize how technologies can help the hooks of artworks engage with the loops of our LTM. It is well understood that interpretive plans have to acknowledge not just who the visitors are â€“ their identity â€“ in terms of background and entrance narratives. In using the increasingly common analog and digital devices it is essential to understand what each kind of device delivers and what the visitor expects. (As he says in his concluding comments, this does not mean that text on the wall is not useful.)
Samis sets out to answer the questions about state-of â€“the-art interpretation, to what end various devices would be used, how visitors respond and how the visiting experience can be augmented most meaningfully and at the same time least intrusively. Very interesting examples are given from many different art museums. According to Samis, the watchword in planning would be â€œDesign for Experience, Not for Hardwareâ€.
Continue to article.
Thursday, August 9th, 2007
Two new publications have appeared in the last few months.
2007: With Janette Griffin, Lynn Baum, Jane Blankman-Hetrick, Julie I Johnson, Christine A. Reich and Shawn Roe, Optimizing Learning Opportunities in Museums: The Role of Organizational Culture. Pp 153-165 In John H. Falk, Lyn D. Dierking and Susan Foutz (editors) In Principle, In Practice. Lanham MD: Altamira Press. (Go to Publisherâ€™s site.)
This chapter, in a volume which comes from a conference organised by the Institute for Learning Innovation in Annapolis MD, explores the relationship between successful exhibitions and the culture of the museum, the proposition that a cohesive organisation is significantly more likely to produce better exhibitions. The proposition is almost naÃ¯ve yet not frequently explored and not an approach to which much attention seems to be paid in museums themselves.
There has been great attention recently to exhibitions however. One of the more interesting is the volume â€œAre we there yet? Conversations about Best Practices in Science Exhibition Developmentâ€ (K. McLean and C. EcEver (eds). San Francisco, CA: The Exploratorium). When the Exploratorium brought people together to discuss â€œbest practice” in science exhibition development, Kathleen McLean made the point that while various items could be identified which characterised good exhibition development, ones which promoted good outcomes for the visitor, these could not be considered a checklist for success or a panacea for exhibition development. Jay Rounds (University of Missouri, St Louis) pointed out, “a rigid standardisation of practice is a recipe for disaster. What worked yesterday probably will not work tomorrow and we have no reliable way of predicting what will. Such times call for experiments and innovations that might work well in the new environment we need strategies that can counter these initial tendencies and foster innovation, exploration and discovery of new possibilities”.
2007: with M. Abraham, The Effective Management of Museums: Cohesive Leadership and Visitor Focused Public Programming Chapter 7 in Richard Sandell & Robert R. Janes (editors), Museum Management and Marketing. Leicester: Routledge. (Reprinted from Museum Management and Curatorship 18 (4), 335-368 (2000): go to Publisherâ€™s site.)
This paper was the final paper in the series dealing with the study of some 30 museums around the world which aimed to find what characterised the â€œmost effective museumsâ€. The study is summarised elsewhere on this site.