Suhanya Raffel

Panel discussion moderated by Suhanya Raffel, Director, M+ Museum, Hong Kong, China.

Titled The 21st Century Art Museum: Is Context Everything? the CIMAM 2019 Annual Conference took place 15-17 November in Sydney hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.

Day 2: Saturday 16 November
The Future of Collections

Panel Conclusions by Suhanya Raffel

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The keynote to start the day was by Franklin Sirmans, Director of the Perez Art Museum in Miami followed by two-panel members: artist Lisa Reihana from Aotearoa/New Zealand and Hannah Mathews, Senior Curator from Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne. Together they presented three distinct views around the question of “The future of collections.”

Franklin Sirmans opened the day summarizing the context of primarily US museums, and the changes and shifts in collecting strategies taking place, as well as how funding relations have been evolving, the latter especially in relation to the expectations of a developing diversity in communities. Understood to be a part of engaging museum work, the relationship of audiences, institutions, and the collections have become more amplified and significant. The presentation included looking at the context of Miami, the role of the market through Art Basel Miami, and the mall and its intersections, or not, as audiences choose how to spend time and where. This was especially the case for millennials and how museums have been developing more dynamic engagement strategies around their collections, which seek to innovate and begin a meaningful dialogue with this generation. He also outlined how new acquisitions in his museum have been a successful strategy to address historical imbalance. The demographics of the city and the need to address the diversity that is Miami, with strong Cuban and Latin American communities, Afro-Caribbean communities, and the need to be alert to the needs of multilingual audiences were also understood within the framework of collection and collection displays.

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The two panelists provided specific, more in depth presentations on two particular areas. Artist Lisa Reihana spoke about working with new media and digital material, commissioning, and the museum. Her clear insight included outlining that the museum was now the most experimental space available to artists working in these media due to their ability to resource or seek partners to resource new work for artists like herself. The belief of the institution in the artist to deliver was key. The issues of sustainability were alluded to with discussion of the responsibilities resting with institutional protocol on how best to ensure visibility of the work into the future. Hannah Mathews provided a context to discuss performance and the art museum. She laid out three case studies through which ephemeral experiential experimental works were presented, and how the museum commissioned then accessioned this work. She provided examples of contracts. A fascinating presentation that included the points of tension between artist, institution, and the intention of the work as well as the role of audiences.

The importance of the question of sustainability was teased out during the Q&A, as well as the boundaries of museum work in relation to performance. That museums are very responsive institutions today was also understood and applauded as examples of this were presented by the floor as well as by the panelists during the morning sessions.

Suhanya Raffel's biography

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Suhanya Raffel was appointed Executive Director of M+ in November 2016. Her curatorial career began in 1984 and she has over 30 years of experience as a museum curator and leader.

A cornerstone of the ambitious West Kowloon Cultural District Project, M+ is scheduled for completion in 2020. As Hong Kong’s new museum for visual culture, it will encompass twentieth- and twenty-first century art, design, architecture, and moving image from Hong Kong, China, Asia, and beyond. The museum aims to document the past, inform the present, and contribute to the future of visual culture within an evermore interconnected global landscape. Prior to joining M+, Raffel was Deputy Director and Director of Collections at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia and Acting Director of the Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art, Australia.

She is a Trustee of the Geoffrey Bawa Trust and the Lunuganga Trust, and a member of the board of the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM).