The Museologist

Judging Exhibitions

Posted in Exhibitions, Texts by adevereux on December 23, 2009

I’ve recently been introduced to an exhibition interpretation/evaluation method called the Judging Exhibitions Framework tool.  It comes from Beverly Serrell’s book “Judging Exhibitions: A Framework for Assessing Excellence.”  In her book, she offers 4 criteria that are necessary for an “excellent” exhibition: it must be 1) Comfortable, 2) Engaging, 3) Reinforcing, and 4) Meaningful.  Ideally, the broad goal for educational museum exhibitions is free-choice learning on the part of the visitors.  The exhibition should get visitors to pay attention, spend time, become engaged, and be changed by the experience.

This peer review tool encourages professional museum practitioners to stand in a visitor’s shoes and evaluate a given exhibition.  The point of this tool is “to identify important characteristics of educational museum exhibitions and to assess the degree to which those traits are present in a given exhibition in a way that encourages and increase in those characteristics in future exhibitions.”

I question whether museum practitioners should be the ones conducting these evaluations.  Clearly, a museum professional does not represent the same mindset or knowledge of museum practices that a regular visitor to a museum would possess.  Also, I think the criteria are a bit obvious.  Is it comfortable: well does the gallery have benches to sit on? Is it engaging: does the material have any relevance to the everyday person? Is it reinforcing: does the exhibition make clear it’s message/narrative? Is it meaningful: see engaging.

Nonetheless, I think that these criteria are often missed in exhibitions.  It is not to say that curators should dumb down their shows, but too often an exhibit has no narrative, message, or relevance to an everyday audience.  I’d be interested in anyone’s comments on exhibitions that have met these criteria, or completely ignored them. Were these shows “excellent” under either circumstance or less than satisfying?

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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.

Inside the White Cube

Posted in Texts by adevereux on November 23, 2009

This collection of 3 essays was originally published in Art Forum Magazine.  It is a quick read and an excellent intro into the topic of museum studies.  In this book, Brian O’Doherty examines the role and the experience of the museum visitor within the gallery space.  He discusses  traditional display conventions and how the context of the museum space becomes the content, or the message, of the exhibit.  This got me wondering: is there such thing as an objective gallery space? In other words, how much of what we view/read/experience in a museum is dictated by the subjective values of the curator and museum executives?  Is the “white cube” environment supposed to act as a blank slate, a tabula rasa, for the art and artifacts to tell their own story? Or is that idealized white cube itself a highly subjective museum convention?