Thinking about Re-Thinking…
On Tuesday evening, a good crowd (in both size and composition) gathered at the Museum to talk about…the Museum, and museums in general.
As part of our Re-Thinking the Museum series, we invited Darren Petrucci, head of ASU’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, to moderate a panel featuring ASU Art Museum Director Gordon Knox; Richard Toon, head of the Museum Studies Program in ASU’s School for Human Evolution and Social Change; and Adriene Jenik, head of the School of Art in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.
Unfortunately, Adriene Jenik was unable to attend, but she sent artist Gregory Sale in her stead, supplied with an elegant and cogent quote of her own. Adriene was missed (she was, as one panelist pointed out, the only non-male), but given that Gregory is the artist whose exhibition “It’s not just black and white: Gregory Sale — Social Studies Project 6” is featured in the gallery where the panel took place, things worked out quite nicely.
Richard kicked the proceedings off by announcing that there IS no such thing as a museum, then pulled back slightly to explain that 1) the museum has gone through tremendous changes since its inception, and the pace of re-thinking it is speeding up exponentially, and 2) the museum is a fundamentally contradictory institution in that it is both democratic AND elitist. Today, he noted, “We look to the museum as therapy. What happened to our revolutionary approach to social issues?…We do a lot of self-censoring.”
We won’t recount the whole evening’s dialogue, but here’s a recap of some of the ideas worth chewing on:
Gordon Knox: “The walls of the museum are dissolving in the face of digital evolution.”
Gregory Sale: “I’m part of the experiment. Can a museum operate much as an open studio? Can it accommodate being really messy?”
Richard Toon: “Sixty percent of the population in the Valley has library cards. Something like 5 percent of the population attends museums.”
Sara Cochran (curator of modern and contemporary art at the Phoenix Art Museum, who was in the audience): “We need to make ourselves relevant to a more diverse population.”
Barbara Meyerson (founder and executive director of the Museum for Youth in Mesa, who was also in the audience): “Museums, as they reinvent themselves, are missing the boat, and that boat is critical thinking. Why aren’t museums taking a leadership role on this? It falls to us (since no one else is doing it).”
One thing everyone seemed to agree on: There’s a dearth of public realms in Phoenix, and the museum provides that essential public realm. And a fact we might consider as we move forward: According to Richard Toon, there is no more successful “museum” than the zoo.
The evening concluded with a pat on the museum’s back (museums in general, not any one museum specifically) from Barbara Meyerson, who mentioned the extraordinary number of visitors to the Met’s exhibitions on Islam just following 9/11. Museums don’t always know they’re succeeding, she said, until something like that happens.
Next Tuesday evening, the discussion continues with Ian Berry, from The Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College. Berry will speak on “A Manifesto of Yes: Optimistic Practices in Art and Teaching.” 6 p.m. at the Museum. We hope you’ll join us.
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