Author:Mariam Farooqi (New York University)
Paper short abstract:
Art history needs to be brought into modern discourse, not orientalist discourse. To effectively do this, encyclopedic museums need to embrace their stated claim of being safeguards of global culture, and take necessary steps to eliminate outdated 'othering' of non-Western cultures from galleries.
Paper long abstract:
History is often regarded through the lens of our own experiences, and our own selves. What is real became less relevant than what is real to us? Art museums, as a completely Western construct, have tended to regard history in the same manner. As museums grew and evolved, art and material culture from non-Western traditions was given more space at art museums, yet palpable divides between 'us and them' or 'high art and low art' remain. This paper examines the effectiveness of the encyclopedic museum in the context of the Ancient Near Eastern Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The museum's primary function is ideological. It is meant to impress upon those who use or pass through it, society's most revered beliefs and values. The beliefs and values that a museum communicates affect not only the aesthetic experience, but also the visitor's social experience. Since their creation, universal survey museums have gone to great lengths to acquire art from around the world. They are now faced with the challenge to present this art to their visitors in a way that is aesthetically appealing, intellectually engaging, and faithful to the original narratives of each culture of the world. Art history needs to be brought into modern discourse, not orientalist discourse. In order to effectively do this, encyclopedic museums need to fully embrace their stated claim of being safeguards of global culture, and take necessary steps to eliminate outdated 'othering' of non-Western cultures from within their galleries.