Readings recommended by CIMAM

19 February 2024

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Monday, February 19: This week, CIMAM recommends the article "The reinvention of the museum, from mass tourism to the political trench: "They are not a trophy or a building, they are an activity" by Vanessa Graell for El Mundo, the article "Year in Review: How Community Museums Continue to Serve as Models for Local Engagement", by Melissa Smith for ARTnews, the article "Should Museums Show Art Owned by Patrons? It’s Tempting. It Can Also Blow Up" by Katya Kazakina for Artnet, the book "Decentring the Museum" by Nina MöntmannI, published by Lund Humphries, and a CIMAM member recommendation, the book "Gender Trouble by Judith Butler", by Judith Butler and published by Routledge - don't miss it!

Article: The reinvention of the museum, from mass tourism to the political trench: "They are not a trophy or a building, they are an activity".

Written by Vanessa Graell, Photographs: Carlos García Pozo, originally published on El Mundo (Spain) on Thursday, 8 February 2024

Museums are reinventing themselves as public squares, breaking visitor records and jumping into politics with debates such as decolonization. Their challenges: massification and the temptation to fall into the mainstream.

André Malraux, author of the canonical and philosophical The Imaginary Museum, warned in the 1970s: "Let's be careful with the word museum. It has acquired a halo of luxury, of collection, of necropolis... it seems a bit bourgeois, why not reactionary?". A warning he made once he left the post of Minister of Culture in the era of Charles de Gaulle. At the same time, art critic Brian O'Doherty popularized the notion of the white cube that would dominate the following decades with New York's MoMA as a beacon of modernity.

Half a century later, most museums have outgrown that "halo of luxury", the idea of art storage and the cold white cube. And what happens in 2024? Never before have museums registered such visitor records, from Madrid to Seoul, from Bilbao to Paris. Spanish museums have closed their best year in 2023, a global trend that marks a turning point after the pandemic of covid, while bursting into politics with unusual force with debates such as "decolonization" that drives the minister Ernest Urtasun.

"After the closure and the contraction comes an expansive stage," says Vicent Todolí about the record number of visitors. "Tourism is back, and there is a need to make up for lost time. Museums are a way of traveling and also inspire travel," he adds.

You can access the full content of the article here

Article: Year in Review: How Community Museums Continue to Serve as Models for Local Engagement

Written by Melissa Smith and published originally on ARTnews, December 27, 2023

In 2022, the International Council of Museums (ICOM), a membership association that creates ethical standards for museums, adopted a definition for museums that such institutions should “operat[e] ethically, professionally and with the participation of communities,” hewing closely to a concept French historian Hugues de Varine, a former ICOM director, proposed decades ago: that at the center of a museum lies “not things, but people.”

A year later, mainstream museums are still grappling with this shift, as they have indeed historically prioritized the study, display, and preservation of objects in their care, and not the communities that surround them. Exceptions to these are community museums, which arose from a desire for museums to put people and local communities first, which can take the form of building collections or organizing exhibitions together.

In the US, the foundations of these museums date back to the late 1960s, when three now prominent community museums—the Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D.C., (in 1967), the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle (1967), and El Museo del Barrio in New York (1969)—were founded as dedicated spaces for communities marginalized by mainstream institutions in their respective cities. 

“You had all these social movements from the Civil Rights and Black Power movements to the antiwar movement, to the Women’s movement, really challenging all kinds of American institutions, and museums were no exception to that,” Samir Meghelli, the Anacostia’s chief curator, said in 2019.

Below, a look at how these three community museums, as well as the ever-thriving National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago (founded 1987) and the recently reopened Buffalo AKG Art Museum (the sole mainstream institution discussed here), are continuing to move on the needle on the how museums can create community-centered, hyper-local programs.

Access the content of the article on ARTnews

Article: Should Museums Show Art Owned by Patrons? It’s Tempting. It Can Also Blow Up

Written by Katya Kazakina and originally published on Artnet on February 16, 2024

Tickets sold out for the opening weekend of the Brooklyn Museum’s latest exhibition, “Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys,” and the opening party was a love fest, with goodwill and mezcal flowing. Instagram lit up with group shots of revered artists that the celebrity couple has championed, like Kehinde Wiley, Amy Sherald, Mickalene Thomas, Jordan Casteel, and Derrick Adams. The Black figure, long excluded from the canon of art history, is front and center in the show of 100 works by 37 artists.

For Anne Pasternak, the museum’s director, it was a moment of celebration—of “Black struggle, joy, pain, and triumph,” as well as of the collecting philosophy of Keys and Swizz Beatz (born Kasseem Dean): “Artists supporting artists.”

But while “Giants” looks like a slam dunk now, Pasternak, a veteran arts nonprofit administrator, knew she had to be cautious in order to avoid a blowback over at least one red flag: Until three months before the show opened, Swizz Beatz was a trustee of the Brooklyn Museum, a role he assumed in 2015.

Historically, exhibitions drawn from private or corporate collections with financial ties to museums have faced criticism—especially when those collections are not donated to the institutions. Public museums, critics argue, need to guard their curatorial independence and should not be used by wealthy patrons to boost the value of their holdings.

Read the full article on Artnet

Book: Decentring the Museum. Contemporary Art Institutions and Colonial Legacies

by Nina MöntmannI, published by Lund Humphries on September 2023

Nina Möntmann's timely book extends the decolonisation debate to the institutions of contemporary art. In a thoughtfully articulated text, illustrated with pertinent examples of best practice, she argues that to play a crucial role within increasingly diverse societies museums and galleries of contemporary art have a responsibility to 'decentre' their institutions, removing from their collections, exhibition policies and infrastructures a deeply embedded Euro-centric cultural focus with roots in the history of colonialism. In this, she argues, they can learn from the example both of anthropological museums (such as the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne), which are engaged in debates about the colonial histories of their collections, about trauma and repair, and of small-scale art spaces (such as La Colonie, Paris, ANO, Institute of Arts and Knowledge, Accra or Savvy Contemporary, Berlin), which have the flexibility, based on informal infrastructures, to initiate different kinds of conversation and collective knowledge production in collaboration with indigenous or local diasporic communities from the Global South.

For the first time, this book identifies the influence that anthropological museums and small art spaces can exert on museums of contemporary art to initiate a process of decentring.

Book: Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

By Judith Butler and published by Routledge

Recommended by a CIMAM member :)

One of the most talked-about scholarly works of the past fifty years, Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble is as celebrated as it is controversial.

Arguing that traditional feminism is wrong to look to a natural, 'essential' notion of the female, or indeed of sex or gender, Butler starts by questioning the category 'woman' and continues in this vein with examinations of 'the masculine' and 'the feminine'. Best known, however, but also most often misinterpreted, is Butler's concept of gender as a reiterated social performance rather than the expression of a prior reality.

Thrilling and provocative, few other academic works have roused passions to the same extent.