The Museologist

Documents of Contemporary Art: The Archive

Posted in Texts by adevereux on November 26, 2009

This book is one from a series called Documents of Contemporary Art.  Specifically, it examines the archive, but it goes much further into archive theory than I ever expected the study extended.  I didn’t even realize there was such a thing as “archive theory”; I though archives were simply institutions that held books, manuscripts, and other documents for historical preservation and study.  Apparently, archives signify much more than that.

This book focuses much on the subjectivity of archives and our analysis of documents.  The book pulls texts from scholars including Freud, Foucault, and Richter.  Some of the essays (or sections from essays) are very dense and not easy to follow.  However, they are interesting in respect to museum exhibitions and the question of how we display material.  Who determines the meanings of these objects and documents, and what authority is required to classify artifacts from history?

According to the MIT Press, “In the modern era, the archive—official or personal—has become the most significant means by which historical knowledge and memory are collected, stored, and recovered. The archive has thus emerged as a key site of inquiry in such fields as anthropology, critical theory, history, and, especially, recent art. Traces and testimonies of such events as World War II and ensuing conflicts, the emergence of the postcolonial era, and the fall of communism have each provoked a reconsideration of the authority given the archive—no longer viewed as a neutral, transparent site of record but as a contested subject and medium in itself.”

I think anyone interested or concerned with the authority and subjectivity intrinsic to museum and archival work, as well as the scholarly research that takes place in those institutions, would enjoy reading this book.

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