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  • Symposium: The Future of the Art Museum: Curatorial and Educational Perspectives:Introduction
  • Daniel A. Siedell


There are few futures pondered more often than the art museum's. The new millennium has spawned a veritable cottage industry of such prognostication. Most of it has occurred from the perspectives of building expansion, audience growth, and collection development. These are not, by any means, unimportant considerations. However, such sustained attention to them by directors, marketers, board members, collectors, and the mass media tend to obscure the fact that these areas of concern are not ends in themselves. A new museum wing, higher attendance, and more gifts of art to the collection mean little unless they serve to facilitate specific curatorial and educational ends, which themselves are in the service of expanding and deepening their capacity to enhance the experience of art. The future of the art museum rests on the ability of curators and educators to develop new and more robust curatorial and educational work that is responsive to both the larger culture and to the vocational standards of their respective professions. Curators and educators need, then, to be more self-critical of their practices.

This symposium brings together a few of these professionals to reflect on the future of the art museum from the perspective of those involved in the day-to-day production, presentation, and interpretation of works of art. It is occasioned by the publication of David Carrier's book, Museum Skepticism: A History of the Display of Art in Public Galleries, recently published by Duke University Press, and more specifically, Carrier's conclusion, which offers its own reflection on the future of the art museum. A frequent contributor to the Journal of Aesthetic Education, Carrier is a philosopher and art critic whose interests range widely from the art criticism of John Ruskin and Adrian Stokes to the writing of art history and the paintings of Sean Scully.1 Carrier's book, written while a scholar in residence at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, explores the history and philosophy of art museums from the point of view of the narratives on which they rely as well as produce. And it is narratives that art educators and curators produce, affirm, and expand when they curate exhibitions and do educational programming.

Because they are "public" institutions (even when they are private organizations) and serve many competing audience constituencies, art museums [End Page 1] often suffer from an acute identity crisis, even while they build large expansions, engage in aggressive campaigns to court collectors, placate increasingly more powerful governing boards, and expand their programming to the point that it ceases to be education. The business of the art museum often masks these deep crises, which eventually become a neurosis that plagues curatorial and educational practice. A symptom of this illness can be seen in the misplaced tension between curators and educators as a battle between the "scholars" and the "popularizers," the "elites" and the "community."

In 1946 Alfred H. Barr Jr. of the Museum of Modern Art presented a paper called "Research and Publication in Art Museums."2 In it Barr not only recognizes the importance of museum scholarship; he argues that such scholarship, unlike that of the academic art historian, must engage and interact with "the man off the street." Indeed, Barr passionately believed that museum scholarship not only could but should engage a broader and more diverse public all the while remaining committed to scholarly ideals. Barr acknowledges the tensions between museums as "popular community centers" and museums as places of "research and publication." But, he continues, "Both can be done provided we have enough faith to believe in the values of both and enough skill to persuade others to agree with us."3 Barr's expansive definition of scholarship is instructive and a challenge. "By publication I mean not only the scholarly treatise but also the popular article or book, the classroom or public lecture, the gallery talk, publicity releases."4 For Barr, scholarship is not merely a curator's or educator's opportunity to address her professional colleagues and strengthen guild rank; it is a value that is infused throughout all work...


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