by Pablo von Frankenberg
Jean-René Billaudel, Salon des arts, 1754
Nearly one hundred years prior to the opening of the first museum building, ideas and thoughts surrounding the museum as an autonomous space were prolific yet were rarely put into practice. Under the name “ideal museum” an early form of expression prospered which addressed ways of building an edifice to contain courtly collections –apart from the court. “Paper museums” have made significant impact in conceptualizing how public institutions were built, and continue to do so. Unbound, experimental, utopian thinking is not necessarily an intrinsic characteristic of the museum as an institution whose purpose (among others) is to preserve and therefore to build a stable and formalized structure. Why then are these utopian concepts a constant companion of the museum in the different stages of its development?
by Pablo von Frankenberg
The colonial style South African Museum, Capetown (erected in 1897)
In 1959, Allen Bassing and his wife decided to travel the world. Starting off in Paris with a Citroën 2CV, their journey continued for the next 15 years and took them to numerous countries in Europe and Africa. One of the Bassings’ early stops was London. Every Saturday they went to the flea market on Portobello Road to stroll through the booths, buying what they liked. This was Bassing‘s start as collector. He was interested mainly in graphic material from Oceania and Africa that was offered on the street: “We didn‘t know anything about these things, we guessed at them truly aesthetically. So we were taking them to the British Museum to get documentation. After a while a museum staff member said, you seem to be so enthusiastic about this, how would you like to work here?”
Interview by Katherine Rose Clark on March 21, 2012
How did the New Children’s Museum begin?
NCM opened in 2008. We were formerly the San Diego Children’s museum, which opened more than 25 years ago in La Jolla, and eventually moved to a warehouse that was on the same site that we are in now. A local architect known for his sustainable building practices, Rob Quigley, designed our beautiful, green building that opened in 2008. The former museum always had an interest in working with artists and commissioning original work, but when we reopened and changed our name to the NCM we made a decision to use contemporary art as our primary vehicle to deliver content to our visitors. Today we describe ourselves as a hybrid institution, a contemporary art museum and a children’s museum. As far as we know we are unique in the world in that we identify ourselves as a children’s museum, but we exclusively commission contemporary artwork in all media, that is always highly participatory, in order to develop our thematic, museum-wide exhibitions.
Interview by Kate Clark and Christopher Kennedy on January 6, 2012
Photos courtesy of the Smithsonian’s ArtLab+
Describe for us the interpretive guide program at the Hirshhorn:
The interpretive guide program actually started at the Guggenheim before I began working at the Hirshhorn and basically consists of museum using inquiry techniques to create audience and visitor engagement within the structure of a tour.
So I was working through this idea of inquiry – and the interesting thing about inquiry is that it’s really not just asking questions, but asking questions in a way that calls for open responses. Open response is not something that everyone can get. So, with that all said, I found that I wanted to go outside of a tour structure in order to create these kinds of experiences. There is already an implied power dynamic within the structure of the traditional tour. The person giving the tour becomes the expert and the attending people are there to learn. The learning is never considered to be a two way process.
Interview with Stephanie Sherman, by Pablo von Frankenberg on March 12, 2012
How did Kultur Park develop?
This all happened when George [Scheer, executive director at Elsewhere] and I took a trip to Berlin in the Winter of 2007. During a dinner party somebody told us that she has taken photos of an amusement park with trees growing through the center of roller-coasters. It was Christmas Eve and we were going out there, hopped the fence, played around for a good hour and a half before we got caught. We videotaped it and put it aside. Then we got invited to apply for a grant through the foundation Art Matters, which funds international artist research. The next time when we went there we found the security guard and set up a relationship with this guy.
Interview by Kate Clark on December 28th, 2012
Anacortes Museum founder Wallie Funk and Bret Lunsford (Photo by Elaine Walker)
KC: How was the Anacortes Museum founded?
BL: That touches upon a lot of the questions of changes in technology and how people interact with archives. It was around 1950 that Wallie Funk came back to Anacortes and bought the Anacortes American newspaper. One of the first editorials he wrote was on the neglect of history. He started to collect historical photos for the newspaper. He and Glenn Davis made copy negatives of these original pioneer photos of Fidalgo and Guemes island, and enlarged them to 16x20, 100 some images were put on display at city hall and given an opening where hundreds of people came. That was the start of the Anacortes Museum. The museum moved into the old Carnegie Library building in 1968. It was mainly a volunteer organization, but they started to have some paid staff. At a certain point Wallie donated his vast collection of images. Wallie Funk paid about 20 dollars for a truck full of negatives that was being hauled to the dump, saving thousands of crucial photos of Anacortes photographer Ferd Brady.
Interview by Christopher Kennedy on February 21, 2012
Fashionable Places out of Season (a little too much is just enough for me), Daniel Lang/Levitsky, 2011
Can you talk a little bit about what the idea of a “museum” means to you? Does it have a particular responsibility to “do” or “be” something to someone?
A historical museum is a place that contextualizes the past in a way that is meaningful to the community viewing it, and opens up that history for examination. It presents questions, not answers. This is especially true in a queer context, as sexual and gender identities are unstable both cross-culturally and trans-historically. This is part of the reason we chose to use the word “queer” in our name, as it encompasses the vast array of non-heteronormative sexual orientations and gender identities, without imposing any specific ones upon the subjects of our exhibits. We see it as our duty to disturb the presumptive heterosexuality that is often imposed upon the past, but not to replace it with a monolithic presumption that all sexual and gender identities can be mapped onto the ones that we currently recognize in our society.
Consider a store, filled to the brink with consumables, one day decides that its inventories are collections, its merchandise is no longer for purchase, and instead it will practice as a museum. Everything else remains the same; visitors may browse, touch, and play, but they just can’t take things with them. What values change in that not so subtle shift between people, things, and the common space shared between them? Since 2003, Elsewhere Collaborative has been exploring the role that collaboration plays at the intersection of the store and museum through its living museum and international residency program set in a former thrift store in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina.
(Julian Rogers, Teenager Reading Salinger, 2012)
One measure of a museum’s institutional health is the degree to which it balances its competing interests. The one quality of all good museums, like any truly public space, is that nobody knows who exactly is in charge. In other words, good museums are museums where the attitudes of the curators, the trustees, public, are in a constant state of dynamic tension. There are certain museums where the curators are treated as infallible and the only measure of success is the opinion of a very narrow circle of specialized critics. In these cases, the museum usually fails to ever develop a substantial audience outside of the so-called “art world”. And there are other institutions where as soon as you are walking through the door you realize the trustees are wielding all the power. In some very bad examples, the museum’s galleries are not only very prominently named for donors, but a policy exists whereby the donor’s gifts of art works are actually retained in “their” galleries. The result is, of course, that the curators have little opportunity to install the collection in ways that might have a larger meaning. Finally, there are too many museums where the exhibition program is virtually determined by the marketing department. The goal is, of course, to attract the largest attendance, but the result is that most people just wind up seeing what they already know. A good museum needs curators, it needs leadership, and it needs the public. But we need to recognize that each of these constituents has different perspectives - perspectives that are at times complementary and at other times oppositional. Either way, the underlying structure of a museum has to somehow prevent any of its constituents from diluting or overcoming the other.