Ivan Karp, co-editor of Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display (Smithsonian, 1991).
In the Days of the American Museum, by Robert Edric (Picador UK, 1992). "In the mid-nineteenth century, P.T. Barnum ran a museum in New York City which was a combination freak show, cabinet of curiosities, and traditional display. This novel is an extraordinary account of the human exhibits in that museum, told from their point of view. The front-stage part of his story explores what it is like to be a human being and an exhibit at the same time. The back-stage part contains unstinting descriptions of the exhibited people's passions and feelings. But Edric points out that museums are frequently the only places where human products can be saved for posterity and shared with a broad audience."
Svetlana Alpers, professor of art history at UC Berkeley and author of the forthcoming The Making of Rubens (Yale).
On The Museum's Ruins by Douglas Crimp (MIT Press, 1993). According to Alpers, Crimp presents a uniquely American bill of complaint--that musuems fail to "represent a spectrum of identities." Ironically, she adds, "the people who make this argument seem to want in to that institution, just as they're calling for its end." And the ironies don't stop there: "Critics and postmodern artists are expressing grave doubts about the museum's continued usefulness at the very same moment that so many new museums are being built."
Spencer Crew, director, National Museum of American History, Washington, DC.
History Museums in the United States, by Warren Leon and Roy Rosenzweig (Illinois, 1989). This book is an attempt to get historians and museum scholars to "talk together about the key issues: the role of urban history museums in big cities, the importance of the Walt Disney company, the role of feminism in the presentation of women's history, and so on." Leon and Rosenzweig conclude that museum presentations are keeping up with recent developments in the historical profession, but "with a considerable time lag."
Curtis Hinsley, professor of history at Northern Arizona University and author of The Smithsonian and the American Indian (Smithsonian, 1994).
In the 1980s, scholars became sensitive to the hubris of museums. Museums and Communities (edited by Ivan Karp, Steven Levine, and Christine Mullen Kreamer; Smithsonian, 1992) "deals specifically with the volatile issue of giving back what was previously taken from a community: how to find a compromise between the desire to preserve behind glass and the desire to make artifacts available to the outside world. The contributors' goal is to have museums perform an ongoing function in a living community and to carry on traditions (in altered forms) rather than to set them aside as static objects of observations."
Guerrilla Girls artists' collective, self-described "Conscience of the Art World." Authors of the forthcoming Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls (HarperCollins).
"For ten years, Guerrilla Girls has proved over and over again that the small group of people who run the world of high art and its museums are biased against women and artists of color. Therefore, we hesitate to recommend any book that pays homage to museums, even if indirectly by way of critique. Instead, we ask readers to seek out books about the art one cannot find in them. Women, Art and Society (World of Art) by Whitney Chadwick (Thames and Hudson, 1990) shows the extent to which women artists throughout Western history have been disenfranchised. Maria Robusti is a perfect example. Her father, Tintoretto, forbade her to become a painter in the Spanish court as he needed her services in his own atelier. After her tragic death, in childbirth at age thirty, his production mysteriously declined."
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