Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Nothing to See Here

No post this week or next, due to the holidays. Be back soon!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Black Atlantic

I just finished writing a historiographical paper on the "Black Atlantic," a.k.a. the community of Africans who traveled throughout the Atlantic world in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. These men and women were sailors, slaves, abolitionists, writers, and others. Their contributions to the economic, sociopolitical, and intellectual world of the Atlantic have become the focus of the recent work of historians.

The idea of the Black Atlantic has also inspired artists, as I found out in my research. Here is an exhibition review from 2005 that looked at a "Black Atlantic" themed art exhibit (from whence came the above image). The exhibit was held at the Haus der Kulkturen der Welt (House of World Cultures) in Berlin. It's an interesting look at how four German artists used the framing device of the Black Atlantic and interpreted it in new ways.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Local Focus

Last week, I promised to focus on smaller museums after writing a bit about the re-opening of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. So, to that end, I decided to write a bit about my new hometown, Portsmouth.

Portsmouth is a city with a fascinating history & there are many organizations in town to tell that history. Here are the results of a Google search for "portsmouth nh museums." In some ways, the fact that there are so many museums & historical organizations in town can be tricky. All of these institutions rely on the same population for membership & fund-raising, for example.

However, in many ways, the benefits of the diversity and wealth of historical organizations in this city outweigh the downsides. For example, staff at many of the organizations are planning a city-wide exhibit on textiles for 2009. This collaborative effort will make it possible for some of the best pieces throughout the city to be displayed. More importantly, the educational and programming supplements to the physical exhibits will showcase some of the interesting research that is being done in Portsmouth.

From a more practical perspective, the cross-marketing of the year-long event will benefit all of the organizations involved, from the smallest historic house museum to the largest institutions. If you work for a smaller museum in a city rich with other historical institutions (I'm thinking of places like Salem, Gloucester, Portland, Providence, etc.), it's worth looking into the possibilities opened up by collaborative work. And be sure to come to Portsmouth to check out the upcoming "NeedleArts" exhibits and let us know what you think!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving

Short post this week due to the holiday, but here's the New York Times' review of the re-opening of the National Museum of American History. I apologize for the focus on the Smithsonian over the last couple of weeks, but the re-opening of this museum is certainly a big deal. Perhaps next week I'll try to shift my focus to smaller-scale museums to balance things out.

Friday, November 14, 2008

NEMA 2008

I've just returned from the 2008 New England Museum Association Conference and as with last year, it was a rewarding and interesting experience.

I thought the sessions were generally well presented and worthwhile. One of the real strengths of NEMA, though, is the networking that happens on the coffee breaks and at the after-hours drinks. It was great to run into some of my colleagues from various museums and meet other people that have connections to these institutions in some way.

This post is a little vanilla and I apologize for that. However, given that anyone from the conference could conceivably read what I write, I'll confess that I've chosen to steer clear of a more critical analysis. However, if it's honest, constructive criticism you're looking for, be sure to check out CT Museum Quest, a site written by a guy who decided to visit all 400+ of Connecticut's museums! He presented in the last session I attended, on Friday morning and his candid assessments of how museums are serving their visitors are worth checking out.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Two Brief Stories

Two interesting stories from this week's NY Times. I apologize for the sparse posting here the last few weeks. Such is the life of a graduate student in the middle of the semester!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Question of Children's Museums

Check out this article, published last week in the NY Times: Museum Review - Brooklyn Children's Museum Re-Opening. It's an interesting and thought-provoking piece. Here are some of the questions that it raised with me:
  • What is the difference between children's museums and aquariums, zoos, etc.?
  • Why are all museums, as the article points out, now children's museums?
  • How much learning goes on when play is the focus? Is it the enjoyable means to an educational end or merely fun?
  • "Many museums, serving far less troubled neighborhoods than this one does (Crown Heights) are coming to think of themselves as community centers and alternative schools." NEMA's 2008 conference theme is "sustaining community," I wonder how this might be related?
Not sure I have any of the answers to these questions yet, but I'm happy to be pondering them.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Religion & Art Navigating Tough Political Situations

Interesting story in the Boston Globe this week: Massachusetts Museum to Display Precious Icons from Russia. Despite the current tenor of relations between the U.S. and Russia, the "Museum of Russian Icons said Thursday that the State Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow has agreed to send 16 of its most precious icons there for display."

The exhibit on iconography will be on display from
Oct. 16 to May 1 at the relatively small museum, located in Clinton, MA. According to the article, the exhibit was almost canceled because of the current hostility between Russia and the United States, but was salvaged eventually. How interesting would it have been to have been privy to the details of those negotiations!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

"Of what is rare in land, in sea, in air"

I love when I find great posts about museums on the blogs that I regularly read for enjoyment. I've posted before about Curious Expeditions. Now, I've found something great on Feral Strumpet Teatime, a blog about one woman's experience of London.

The author recently posted about the Museum of Garden History in Lambeth and, in particular, the sarcophagus of John Tradescant the Elder there. In brief, the Tradescants were a family of collectors and their voluminous collections formed the basis of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, founded in 1683
. You can check out the extant Tradescant collection at the Ashmolean here.

Feral Strumpet Teatime's author posted a lovely photo of the sarcophagus and transcribed the poem that's carved upon it. I won't reproduce it here, as
it's her work and you should go to her site to read it. And you absolutely should, for despite their somewhat crazy ways, it's the work of medieval collectors like the Tradescants which helped develop the museum as we know it today. Just think where we'd all be without them!

Friday, August 29, 2008

"Italian Museum Defies Pope"

Never thought you see that as a title, did you? However, today's NY Times has a brief story about a museum in northern Italy who has refused the request of the Vatican to remove a sculpture of a crucified frog. An earlier article (published yesterday) provides a bit more background. While I was raised a Christian and still very much believe in God, I completely support that museum's decision here. The issue really lies in the underlying pressure put on the museum by the provincial government. If a museum is privately funded, I firmly believe that there should no limits imposed on its vision by the government.

I'm sure the nuances of the argument are missing, but quotes from both the president of the provincial government and the museum's president seem to encapsulate the debate. Franz Pahl, the president of the provincial government, said “This decision to keep the statue there is totally unacceptable. It is a grave offense to our Catholic population.” Alois Lageder, the museum’s president, said the decision to continue to display the statue was made to “safeguard the autonomy of art institutions.” You can substitute "cultural institutions" there and Mr. Lageder's statement is a powerful expression of the continued need for museums to maintain objectivity and independence.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

EMPs

I've recently joined the AAM's email list for Emerging Museum Professionals (EMPs). I get a daily email with the new messages from the board and thus far, most of them have proven very interesting and informative. You can sign up yourself at the AAM's EMP site.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Greening the Museum

As we all know, green is the new black these days. It's hip to care about the environment right now, at least on the surface of things. And the museum field is not immune. Nearly two years ago, before the current fad for "going green," the AAM published this article on environmental responsibility in museums. The article has some excellent pointers on ways to both assess and reduce your institution's impact on the environment.

It also spotlights what I consider one of the most important reasons for museums to consider greening their practices and facilities - our underlying mission to serve the public good. In the end, how can we, as professionals dedicated to education, preservation, and community engagement, fail to recognize the importance of reducing our impact on the environment and helping preserve it for future generations?

I will be away on vacation for the next two weeks, so the blog will get a brief hiatus. Look for something new the week of August 11th.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

No Child Left Behind in the Museum

While browsing the New England Museum Association's website the other day, I noticed a survey they are in the process of completing. They're asking members to answer the question: "What does No Child Left Behind* mean for school group visits to museums?"

I find this a very interesting question, as I've dealt with NCLB before, but in a very different capacity. For nearly three years, I was the Supplemental Educational Services coordinator for a private tutoring company. In this role, I was privy to many of the failures and successes of this legislation. With public schoolteachers at my side, I waded through a veritable sea of red tape, but I also got to hear about the young girl who had just received her first A in math ever and the young boy who initially skipped his tutoring sessions, but grew to love working with his tutor.

For me, the SES program became emblematic of the failures and successes of the public school system in general. More often than not, I (and the schoolteachers in the districts with whom I worked) became incredibly frustrated by the bureaucracy inherent in managing such an expansive, national program. However, those moments of getting through to struggling, disadvantaged students shone like beacons of light and, sometimes, made it all worthwhile.

So it will be very interesting to see what the NEMA survery will yield. The results will be presented in a session at the annual NEMA conference “
Sustaining Communities: The Power of Museums” in Warwick, Rhode Island, from November 12-14, 2008. Mark your calendars now if you're interested, too!

*Here is a definition of No Child Left Behind, for those of you who haven't been dealing with it over the last seven years.

UPDATE: Just found a blog called "No Museum Left Behind", dedicated to "
research and ideas related to how museums and museum educators grapple with issues related to No Child Left Behind legislation." An apt addendum, if ever there was one.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Baseball as America

I know, I know. I blogged about baseball just a few weeks ago. However, it being summer, there seem to be a lot of stories lately about baseball intersecting with museums. And I'm happy to keep an eye on them for you!

On June 15th, the "Baseball as America" exhibit opened at the Museum of Science (Boston). It's a traveling exhibit, created by the National Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It will run at the MOS until September 1st.

There are a thousand reasons to go see this exhibit, not least the fact that Cooperstown is pretty far away and you should see some of these five hundred artifacts while they're in New England. However, as the exhibit's website also points out, baseball is one of those phenomena that is uniquely American and as such, is an important part of American history. The site quotes scholar Gerald Early on the topic and I can't think of a better way to say it:
I think there are only three things that America will be known for 2,000 years from now when they study this civilization: the Constitution, jazz music and baseball. They're the three most beautifully designed things this culture has ever produced.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Tonight, I've got baseball on the brain. This is not an unusual thing for me. However, tonight's thoughts are directed towards a baseball story that I didn't know much about before now.

In the May/June issue of the American Association of Museum's magazine Museum, one of the feature articles focused on the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. This museum ably deals with the history of the American Negro Leagues that existed for nearly 100 years.

Given that Major League Baseball dedicated a special event to Negro League players during the 2008 draft this week, it seems that the history of these leagues, which turned out some amazing players, will continue to be in the spotlight in the near future. And bravo for that!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Museum Time Forgot

One of the blogs I read regularly is the wonderfully quirky Curious Expeditions. It's written by two people who are, as they say, "devoted to unearthing and documenting the wondrous, the macabre, and the obscure from around the globe." In the time that I've been reading the blog, they've come up with some really amazing things, plucked from the dusty corners of shops and markets across the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

A few weeks ago, they were in Romania and wrote about what they called "
The Museum Time Forgot." This was the Zoological Museum in Cluj-Napoca, Romania (picture above from Curious Expeditions). Coming as this post did just a month after I wrote about the old methods of exhibition, I found it an interesting example of a real-life museum stuck in the past.

So feel free to click through to the post and read more about this museum. The folks at Curious Expeditions, having been there in person, have certainly written a more detailed & thoughtful description of the museum than I would be capable of. However, please be aware that their photos include some potentially disturbing images of dissected animals (including a human fetus). The photos aren't for the faint of heart, but I think it's a valuable peek at such an anachronistic museum.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Turquoise Mountain

Tonight, I wanted to highlight what I think is a really excellent organization: the Turquoise Mountain Foundation. To borrow from their website, "Turquoise Mountain is investing in the regeneration of the historic commercial centre of Kabul, providing basic services, saving historic buildings and constructing a new bazaar and galleries for traditional craft businesses." The screenshot above shows a few examples of the types of historic buildings they are trying to save.
As I wrote about the restitution of cultural property, there are always a number of political issues in international organizations like this. However, in the end, the important thing is that someone cares enough to preserve pieces of history for future generations.

The Foundation's CEO is
Rory Stewart, a very interesting man with a very interesting background. Click on the link to read about his early life & his previous work in Iraq. I wrote a review of his book The Places in Between over the winter. Here's an excerpt:
Written during a transitory and transformative time in Afghanistan’s history, The Places in Between is an honest and thoughtful look at that country and its people. Both the people he encounters and the landscape through which he passes shape Stewart’s understanding of Afghanistan. In a sense, he also imprinted that place, however lightly. In an article he wrote for the London Review of Books a couple of months prior to his walk through Afghanistan, he speaks of his experience walking across Iran. He writes, “By day, I sometimes experienced a fragile coincidence of mind, landscape and muscle which made me feel more substantial. I might look back at a peak I had crossed three days before. My footsteps left prints in the earth behind me, stretching back over the thousand miles I had walked in the past months.” In the end, who we are, as individuals or as a nation, has much to do with that give-and-take, the interplay between how we shape our landscape and how our landscape shapes us.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Monday, May 5, 2008

Not the End

Our final week of classes is this week. As I mentioned in the beginning, I began this blog for a specific course on regional material culture. Both the course and the blog have been very interesting learning experiences. I was also fortunate to be completing an internship with a curatorial department while taking the course and writing the blog, so all three experiences with objects helped reinforce each other.

I'd like to think that I now have a greater understanding of how objects can both reflect and affect a myriad of things. From social standing to philosophical world view to regional patterns, something as simple as a wooden chair or a pottery bowl can tell the careful and practiced observer volumes. Becoming that careful and practiced observer is a way for me to both improve my knowledge of museum collections and convey that knowledge to visitors.

I plan to continue this blog, in a more broadly structured way. I'll continue to post recent museum news and reflect on stories as I go. I also hope to foster some dialogue with other blogs dedicated to emerging museum professionals (like this one). To that end, I may open up comments at some point to encourage readers to weigh in. I'm looking forward to the future of Museophilia!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Restitution of Cultural Property in the Modern Age

Weighty title, huh? However, it's a weighty topic, so it's apt. Dr. Robert Anderson spoke about this topic yesterday in a public lecture on campus and later in our class. Dr. Anderson is a well-respected museum professional who served, most notably, as Director of the British Museum from 1992-2002.

Due to the international profile and nature of their collections, the British Museum is one institution that has come under fire in the last decade or so for, in essence, "hanging onto the spoils of imperialism." The case of the Elgin Marbles is the most widely known example of this charge. Dr. Anderson's view is that the cosmopolitan nature of the BM's collections makes it easier for all people to access and learn from objects from around the world.

The argument on the other side, however, is that certain objects carry the identity of a nation or a people within them. They therefore belong in their country or region of origin. Imagine the United States without the Liberty Bell or the Declaration of Independence, for example. There is some validity to that argument. Why not allow Greece to have back the marble friezes and statues from their Parthenon, right?

However, Dr. Anderson's point is important, as well. According to UNESCO's guidelines for designating World Heritage Sites, it's imperative that we, as an international community, protect cultural heritage across the board. Their website says:
Places as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Baroque cathedrals of Latin America make up our world’s heritage.

What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.

This, too, is a significant side to the dilemma. If a smaller country with fewer resources cannot afford to maintain and care for "its" objects of cultural heritage, is it worth the loss of those objects in the end for the short-term political peace of their return?

In the end, there are no pat answers, no easy ways to solve this problem. However, I guess in a way I'm heartened that this is a problem in the first place. It does seem to show that cultural heritage, and the objects that often make up that idea, are important. People care what happens to priceless objects. Without that, we'd all be sunk.

(A recent case in Sweden, of all places. The Spoils of War in Peaceable Sweden)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Rambles About Portsmouth"

In the nineteenth century, newspaper editor and author Charles Brewster wrote about his beloved city in a series of weekly stories. Last night, our class roamed around Portsmouth on a brisk evening. Consider this post my story about our "old town by the sea."

Our class is a small & interesting mix of New England natives and those from other regions of the country (and other countries altogether, in the case of our professor). The three of us who work and/or live in Portsmouth work at Strawbery Banke and the Portsmouth Athenaeum, though, so we were able to fill in the gaps in our classmates' knowledge of Portsmouth history.

We enjoyed a nice tour of the Athenaeum, a walk down to The Pearl, a wander through The Hill, and a quick walk through of Strawbery Banke. Along the way, we also tried to pay closer attention to our surroundings, especially those of us who spend a lot of time downtown.

This idea was from John Stilgoe's book Outside Lies Magic. The book is not available on Google Books, since it was published in 1998, but here is a short review of it. In short, Stilgoe asks us to get out of our cars & pay a little attention to the human-built environment around us. His descriptions of ordinary objects from sewer grates to electric wires to fences are fascinating. The book remind us to tune our sensors to the things we see on a daily basis & really think about them - why they look the way they do, when they were installed, how they shape the environment through which we move.

The idea paid dividends right away. On the way to SBM, I noticed a carved sign on a brick building on the corner of Daniel & Penhallow Streets. Just above the first floor, it said "Custom House." Not sure if this building was a custom house at some point, but it's certainly a good guess & deserves further research. I've probably walked by that building a hundred times & never noticed the sign.

Our professor asked us to consider two particular questions at the Athenaeum and SBM. In essence, she wanted us to think about what space we would claim as our own in each place. At the Athenaeum, where would you curl up with a good book? In the Puddle Dock neighborhood that SBM preserves, which house would you pick for your own?

In our tour of the Athenaeum (I'm getting tired of typing that), there were a number of places where I imagine it would be lovely to sit. However, the balcony of the library seems like the perfect place to settle in with a cup of coffee and a treasured volume. From the wicker chairs near the window, you can see all the way up to City Hall (the old hospital), which I didn't realize. This perch offers a great view of Market Square and I could see myself setting in there happily for an afternoon of reading, interspersed with people watching.

I've had much more time than others in the class to consider which house I'd choose at SBM. I've been working there nearly a year, after all. My choice is the Shapley-Drisco house, at the river end of Puddle Dock, across from one of the old warehouses and what is now Prescott Park. It's a cozy house, built in 1795, and it gets lovely light in the morning. It's also one of the closest houses to the river, which I appreciate. Working as an interpreter there, I could always hear the seagulls and occasionally catch a whiff of salt water.

Our ramble around Portsmouth was an enjoyable experience. It reminded me that this town always has more to offer and I look forward to continuing to learn more about it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Loyalty

So I'm meeting one of the curators of the Smithsonian today. Neat, huh? However, since it's Opening Day at Fenway, I'll be doing it in my Sox t-shirt. Classy, huh?

Hope he understands.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Old Innovation

Great article in the Times this week about a museum in the Berkshires: Attic-Like Museum’s New Annex of Ideas. The Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation, a 3,000-square-foot exhibition space focusing on local innovators, opened last weekend at the Berkshire Museum. It sounds like a compelling exhibit, showcasing everyone from Herman Melville, who wrote much of "Moby Dick" right in Pittsfield, to Clarence J. Bousquet, the area businessman who invented night skiing in the 1930's.

The author points out one innovator who is not included - Zenas Crane Jr., the man who helped found and finance what is now the Berkshire Museum. In the author's view, part of the appeal of the old pre-renovation museum, was its "curiosity cabinet" feel. He says he often "felt as if [he] were venturing into an enormous attic in which a wealthy collector was showing off his treasures." It's clear that he appreciated the sense of discovery and wonder that this old-fashioned type of exhibition could inspire.

It's something to consider. As the museum field becomes more and more professional, the old methods of exhibition tend to be looked upon as relics of another time. While I agree that there are many new and exciting ways to display objects and engage visitors, maybe we need to keep the old ways in mind, or at least in the backs of our minds.

In no way am I advocating a return to the bad old days of rows upon rows of glass cases filled to distraction with a jumble of objects. However, we need to remember the wonder and awe that the objects themselves have the power to inspire.
Interactive and multimedia exhibits are great for holding the attention of children, but then again, so is a "old-fashioned" dinosaur skeleton.

Monday, March 31, 2008

"Bringing the mountain to Muhammad"

Very interesting story in the Times today - Neuberger Museum Gets Spot in Manhattan. In essence, the Neuberger Museum at Purchase College (a SUNY campus) will be getting between 3,500 and 5,000 sq. feet of exhibition space in a building on 42nd St. I love this idea, for many reasons:
  1. A 1912 building will be renovated and showcased for this project. It's not vacant or anything like that (it currently houses the SUNY State School of Optometry), but I always love to see historic buildings receive positive attention & care.
  2. The museum, which apparently is the 10th largest university museum in the country, will get the chance to showcase many of its pieces that are currently in storage. Having spent the last couple of months working in a collections department, I know how great it feels to be able to really show off your full collection.
  3. The space in Midtown will also give the museum's staff a chance to display the work of the college's graduate students, which are not permitted to show at the original museum (for some reason).
So here's to some creative thinking and collaboration in the museum/academic world! Lord knows that's not always what you get.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Further Follow Up

I must have missed this somehow, but back on February 21st, the Times posted some follow up on the "looted antiquities" trial I wrote about in this post. You can read the story here.

I also found an article from September that sets the background for the whole situation. An agreement was settled between the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Italian Culture Ministry to return a number of artifacts that were allegedly acquired illegally. Interestingly, "the agreement, some details of which were not made public, includes long-term loans to the Getty’s antiquities villa in Pacific Palisades, Calif., as well as collaboration on joint exhibitions, research, conservation and restoration projects."

The trial of two curators from the Getty began in 2005, but had slowed in the past few years. The defense for one of the curators seems to think that his client was used as a scapegoat to grease the wheels of this resolution.

According to the February 21st article, the next hearing was supposed to have been in mid-March. I'll do some poking around and see if I can find any updated information on the trial.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Wharf Walkers

The other day, I was at my internship site reading an archaeological report from an excavation completed in the 1990's. The dig was done in conjunction with the building of the museum's new visitor's center and was intended to survey the cultural resources which might be beneath the proposed construction site. When the remains of a wharf structure were found (no great surprise, as the area being excavated used to be a tidal inlet used for trade and commerce), the construction was halted in order to explore the site in more depth.

I didn't get to read the entire report, but I hope to do so this coming week. Something amusing caught my eye, though. In an attempt at comparative analysis, the report provided a background history of other wharf structures along the Eastern Seaboard. It looked at either extant or former wharves in Philadelphia, Boston, and Salem, MA. Apparently, Central Wharf in Salem was initially covered with a clay surface. The archaeologists who have examined that wharf in the past have found a large number of single shoes embedded in the wharf's surface.

It took a minute for that to sink in, but how great is that? One of my favorite things about history is the unexpected giggles you find. If you disliked the way you were taught history in school, you might not ever get to the fun stuff like that. However, sometimes us historians stumble across gems like this one.

Monday, February 25, 2008

News

Enjoy this week's museum news from the NY Times:
  • Acropolis Museum to Open in September:
Published: February 22, 2008

The new Acropolis museum in Athens will open in September, the Greek culture minister announced on Wednesday. “In one month, we are to finish moving all the pieces from the old museum,” the minister, Michalis Liapis, said during a visit to the site, Agence France-Presse reported. The new museum, above, designed by the Franco-Swiss architect Bernary Tschumi, is a three-level, 270,000-square-foot structure, including a room on the top floor with an area reserved for the Elgin Marbles, now in the British Museum in London. Greece has long sought the return of the friezes. The new Acropolis museum was to have been completed for the 2004 Olympics in Greece but encountered bureaucratic and technical setbacks.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Brewing Exhibit in St. Louis

Ahh, two of my favorite things together: beer brewing & museums. Check out this blog post and this article about a brewing exhibit at the Missouri History Museum.

I've always thought it would be interesting to do a similar exhibit about Portsmouth breweries. Many people don't realize that in the mid-nineteenth century, Portsmouth was home to at least three major breweries. The Frank Jones brewery alone was one of the biggest producers on the East Coast, if not the country!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Revisionist History is a Dangerous Thing

At Berra Museum, the Display of Clemens' Jersey Is Over
(
By Richard Sandomir, story reproduced below)

OK, let me preface this by revealing my bias. I am an avid Red Sox fan. From 1984 to 1996, I was a Clemens fan. However, his seasons with the Yankees and his declaration that he would refuse to be inducted into the Hall of Fame wearing a Sox jersey have long since soiled his reputation in my eyes.

Despite my personal dislike for the Rocket, however, it's hard to deny his career stats. In a sense, that's what the Yogi Berra Museum is trying to do here. In the article, the museum's director says that they decided to remove Clemens' jersey from the exhibit because kids were asking questions they weren't prepared to answer. Now, I may be new to the museum profession, but isn't that the purpose of public history institutions - to answer important questions for the public?

The director also says that the museum does have an educational component which deals with steroids, which he feels is the "proper context" for the issue. While it's very good that the museum has incorporated that element into its interpretation, I still feel that removing Clemens' jersey altogether is a poor way to handle the question of his having (or not having) taken steroids.

The erasure of Roger Clemens' presence in an exhibit on the mid-1990s through 2000 Yankees is a clear omission now. What concerns me even more is what later generations will see. All history, particularly public history, is influenced by bias. However, the conscious extraction of a central figure in this period of Yankee history (as much as I try to avoid thinking about Yankee history) is akin to the removal of radical persons from Soviet-era photographs. No matter how you sell it, it's revisionist history and it's a slippery slope.

Read the article below and form your own opinion:


"The Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center last week removed a Roger Clemens jersey from an exhibit about the Yankee renaissance that started in the mid-1990s.

“We’re trying to project the positive virtues of baseball,” said David Kaplan, the director of the museum, which has an educational mission. “And we have a lot of kids coming through here who are asking questions we’re not prepared to answer.” He added that Clemens’s “jersey was raising too many issues” because of his “notoriety.”

Clemens is defending himself against accusations by his former personal trainer Brian McNamee that McNamee injected him with steroids and human growth hormone. Clemens and McNamee testified Wednesday at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Kaplan said that he and Art Berke, the chief operating officer of the museum, which is on the campus of Montclair State University in Little Falls, N.J., decided to remove the jersey.

Berra, the living embodiment of Yankees success starting in the late 1940s, was later made aware of the decision.

The museum obtained official game jerseys of Clemens, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera from the Yankees in 2003 to use as representations of three high-profile players who were on the team during its run of four World Series championships in five years.

Kaplan said Clemens’s jersey would not be reintroduced even if he was exonerated because the exhibit now features two of the players, Jeter and Rivera, who played for the team throughout the title run. Clemens’s first tenure with the Yankees, from 1999 to 2003, coincided with two of the four championships. Clemens returned to the Yankees last season.

Without Clemens’s jersey, Kaplan said, “it’s more accurate, to be honest.” He added, “We felt we just wanted to celebrate the guys who were there from the beginning.”

Clemens’s jersey is in storage at the museum. Kaplan said he expected the museum to return it to the Yankees. “It’s been on indefinite loan to us,” he said.

Although the exhibits are geared heavily toward Berra and the Yankees, the museum is devoted to using sports to elevate academic achievement and sportsmanship.

One of its educational series, which is offered at the museum and at schools, involves an examination of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

“We don’t avoid the subject, but we do it in the proper context,” Kaplan said.

Berra and Clemens have been friendly over the years. Clemens has played in Berra’s golf tournament, which benefits the museum, and he participated in a panel discussion about great pitchers."

Monday, February 4, 2008

News

For us New Englanders still getting over the Patriots' loss in the Super Bowl, here's a list of currently open & upcoming exhibits in the New England area. Maybe they'll help distract us.

A lot of museum news in the NY Times this week:

MADRID (Reuters) - Madrid's Reina Sofia museum is about to open one of the most extensive Picasso exhibitions as it hosts works on loan from the National Picasso Museum in Paris to add to those already on view in the Spanish capital.

Beginning on Wednesday, the Reina Sofia will show more than 400 paintings, sculptures, engravings, drawings, notebooks, ceramic art and even 20 photographs ranging from the legendary Spanish artist's first portraits at the end of the 19th century to work from late 1972, shortly before his death in 1973.

The Reina Sofia contemporary art museum has been able to add to its stock of works by Pablo Picasso due to building work at the Musee National Picasso in Paris. A Spanish government grant of 3.5 million euros ($5.2 million) also made the exhibition possible.

The museum will house the loaned exhibits in three halls usually dedicated to temporary exhibitions and alongside works in the permanent collection such as "Guernica," the emblematic painting depicting the horrors of Spain's 1936-39 civil war.

PREVIOUSLY UNSEEN

"This is the only one (exhibition) which shows his work from start to finish and across the range of works," Anne Baldassari, director of the Picasso Museum in Paris, told journalists on Monday.

"It presents a previously unseen concept of Picasso," she added. "It has not been done before and will never be able to be done again."

The exhibition is divided into four periods. The first, from 1895-1924, covers Picasso's first portraits, cubist and neo-classical works including "The Death of Casagemas," one of the first in his "blue period."

The second period, 1924-1935, includes several surrealist sculptures by the artist born in the southern city of Malaga in 1881, such as "Heads" and "Bust of a Woman."

The 1933-1951 period places some of Picasso's most famous works in the context of his preoccupation with the civil war, like "Woman Crying" and "The Supplicant."

The final 1947-1972 period covers exhibits ranging from "Picasso's version of pop art," in the words of museum curator Baldassari, to ceramics and sketchbooks.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Follow-up to "Museums in the News"

I followed some links in the "Museum Workers Are Called Complicit" story from the last post & found quite the hubbub! This story explains the background: Four California Museums Are Raided. So weird to see federal agents guarding an art museum . . .

Monday, January 28, 2008

Museums in the News

A couple of interesting news stories this week involving museums. For those without an online account with the NY Times, I've pasted the shorter stories below.
Published: January 26, 2008
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has turned to the courts to validate its claim to a 1913 Oskar Kokoschka painting sought by Claudia Seger-Thomschitz, an Austrian woman who says it was sold under duress during the Nazi occupation of Austria, The Boston Globe reported. Lawyers for Ms. Seger-Thomschitz contend that there is no doubt that the Kokoschka painting, “Two Nudes (Lovers),” was sold under duress by Oskar Reichel, a physician who ran an art gallery in Vienna. The Museum of Fine Arts, citing months of research, maintained that the sale in 1939 was voluntary and to another Jew, the Viennese art dealer Otto Kallir. “The painting was never confiscated by the Nazis, was never sold by force as a result of Nazi persecution and was not otherwise taken from Dr. Reichel,” the museum’s complaint states. Ms. Seger-Thomschitz’s lawyers said they would respond to the suit.
Published: January 24, 2008
Paul G. Risser, acting director at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, is to step down on Friday after nine months in the job. Mr. Risser, a biologist, will return to his position as chairman of the University of Oklahoma Research Cabinet. “I came here originally for a six-month period, and that has stretched longer,” Mr. Risser, 68, said. He replaced Cristián Samper in April, when Mr. Samper was named acting secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Mr. Samper succeeded Lawrence M. Small, who resigned in March after an investigation into his personal spending. While Mr. Risser was acting director, the Smithsonian Regents, its governing body, debated the appropriateness of accepting a $5 million donation for its Ocean Initiative from the American Petroleum Institute, prompting the institute to withdraw the offer.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Museo Journal

In class today, we discussed creating a journal or website to record our thoughts on material culture and museum studies. My initial instinct, honed from years of pack rat practice, was to buy a nice paper journal and stuff it with notes, articles, photos, etc.

However, over two years of personal blogging have taught me that blogs are one of the better ways to induce me to stick with regular writing. My bookshelf is littered with personal journals that I started and never hung onto.

So, here we go. I named the blog "Museophilia" because I believe it means "love of museums." While the blog will initially be about material culture for this class' purposes, I hope to expand it outwards into all area of the profession I have chosen. As much as I wish it would, my personal blog is just too full of nephew photos and long ramblings to ever be able to land me a job.

In our first class, we reviewed the syllabus and discussed the assignments and expectations of the course. I think this will be a great learning experience and I appreciate that our professor has created a variety of assignments. Each one seems like it will help us develop a different skill to interpret material objects, and do so with ever greater efficiency & understanding.

On a related note, I was doing some work with wooden planes at my internship site this morning. As I recorded accession numbers, I admired the old tools, their wooden sides worn smooth from use. The cooper walked by and said, "Neat, huh? Now imagine actually working with them."

And that's the point in some way. We learn the stories behind these objects based on their individual components. Yet, those components are usually just that - pieces of a whole. Understanding the whole object and its utility (be it real utility or decorative) requires the museum professional to consider the human component. And that's what I think visitors tend to respond to - the image of themselves interacting with the object in some way.