Curating with an Anthropological Approach
Location Brunei Gallery - B201
Date and Start Time 01 Jun, 2018 at 11:30
Sessions 3


  • Emily Pringle (Tate Gallery) email

Mail All Convenors

Short abstract

This session focuses on contemporary curatorial and artistic strategies and museum practices examined through the lens of the anthropological and addresses the ethics and practicalities of presenting non-western art in western contexts.

Long abstract

This session focuses on contemporary curatorial and artistic strategies and museum practices examined through the lens of the anthropological. Addressing the ethics and practicalities of presenting non-western art in western contexts, the panel reveals and problematizes current museological and curatorial approaches to the presentation of objects and the representation of cultures. Papers consider how art, aesthetics and anthropology play out in curatorial practice and explore how post-colonial discourse, performance practice, critical museology and the rise of the digital are shaping art museums in the twenty first century. Case studies from across the world raise questions for art and anthropological museums - to what extent should the non-western object be framed according to aesthetic criteria and how can it be 'appropriately' contextualised? How can contemporary art practices disrupt and contribute to our understanding of ethnographic objects? In what ways does an anthropological approach inform, both negatively and positively, the way museums represent people and art?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The Ethical Art Museum Curator: from Ethnographer to Ethnographer

Author: Emily Pringle (Tate Gallery) email

Short abstract

This paper problematises the model of the curator as traditional ethnographer, exploring and presenting The Other and argues for an alternative construction wherein curatorial knowledge is generated self-consciously and collaboratively in relation to broader social and political contexts.

Long abstract

The 1989 Magiciens de la Terre exhibition in Paris has been described as the first 'global' exhibition of contemporary art. The curator Jean-Hubert Martin adopted an ethnographic approach, with his 'fieldwork' and curatorial presentation of non-western art being allied to an anthropological sensibility. The show was, however, critiqued for failing to acknowledge power politics and imposing a new and highly flawed cultural imperialism (1); criticisms that have been applied to the field of anthropology itself .

Taking this exhibition as a starting point, this paper critiques the curator as ethnographer model on ethical and epistemological grounds. It argues that a curatorial enterprise premised on a traditional ethnographic model whereby The Other is located as distinct research subject is problematic. Instead curators should look to current ethnographic approaches which acknowledge 'that messy, uncertain multi-voiced texts, cultural criticism and new experimental works will become more common, as will more reflexive forms of fieldwork, analysis and intertextual representation.' (2) Mindful of these, the paper presents an alternative model, drawing on McClintock's idea of the Scholar Practitioner (3), whereby the ethnographic curator is defined by their values, personal commitment and ethical conduct and whose knowledge is developed and explicated through collaboration and active exchange within broader organisational, political and cultural contexts.

(1) Fowle, K. (2015). 'Action Research: Generative Curatorial Practices' in O'Neill, P. & Wilson, M. Curating Research.

(2) Denzin, N. & Lincoln, Y. (2013). The Landscape of Qualitative Research. P.31

(3) McClintock, C. (2007). 'Encyclopedia of Distributed Knowledge: Scholar Practitioner Model'.

Curation and Art Exhibition: Anthropological Knowledge(s) within an Ethnographic Reflection

Author: Gabrielle Barkess-Kerr (Durham University) email

Short abstract

I will consider the implication of the notions of art and knowledge production centered upon curators, as it reflects and engages with anthropology as a discipline, in both theory and practice. This will be engaged with in a microcosm of cultural and social exchange, encompassed in art exhibition.

Long abstract

"Art must be difficult because being human is difficult. This is how you get a wider audience to look at art. Much more structural than fun." Lisa Le Feuvre (The Henry Moore Foundation, 2016).

I will demonstrate how generative material practice and curatorial approach can be used as a tool of anthropological analysis. I will detail my fieldwork and resultant ethnography on 'The Cyphers' exhibition (Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, no date, a), curator Alessandro Vincentelli (Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, no date, b), 'The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics' exhibition (Henry Moore Institute, 2016), and 'Head of Sculpture Studies' curator Lisa Le Feuvre at the Henry Moore Institute (The Henry Moore Foundation, 2016).

I will account for knowledge production in relation to exhibition, wherein curators demonstrate that they do not adhere to incapacious or straight-lined perspectives, which can be used to comment upon how we might move forward with anthropology as a discipline in its relationship with art.

This will consist of three elements: 1) the presence of 'questions' and relationships that have permeated the contemporary field of anthropology and 'art' (Canclini, 2014, p.28); 2) the value of ethnography; and 3) disciplinary identity.

Friedman asserts that; 'Art is as free as science in its ability to fix its gaze on any aspect of the world' in which case I would argue that the eye is consistently flicking and art exhibition is the 'gaze' (2006, p.174) of people with legs with which to run in every direction.

Working with Wayang: Curating Indonesian Puppets at the Yale University Art Gallery

Author: Matthew Cohen (Royal Holloway, University of London) email

Short abstract

Indonesian wayang puppets are generally considered as ethnographic art for display only. As museums are increasingly becoming places of performance, restrictions on use are being revised: puppets become again tools for performance; exhibition and conservation means putting them into practice.

Long abstract

Puppets from Southeast Asia - and particularly the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali - are numerically the most prevalent puppets in museums internationally. With important roles to play in public culture, art and ritual, such puppets have been easy to acquire and transport since the nineteenth century. Important collections are situated in art museums, anthropology museums, puppet and theatre museums, a leather museum, museums of popular culture and world museums. Understandings and uses made of such puppets has varied according to institutional contexts and policies, in-house expertise and collaborative networks. In this paper, I propose to reflect on the developing attitudes and policies in relation to the world's largest collection of Indonesian puppets (wayang), the Dr Walter Angst and Sir Henry Angest Collection of Indonesian Puppets, acquired by the Yale University Art Gallery in 2017. Departing from standard museum procedure, puppets in this collection are being considered not as inviolate and immobile objects for display, but rather as tools available for handling by artists, researchers and students; available for loan and use in performances. I will suggest that this new attitude emerges, at least in part, from the prominent place that performance now occupies in art museums and a contemporary understanding that conserving objects means putting them into practice. These puppets as performing objects thus carry a capacity both to speak to their historical origins in Indonesia and the current-day contexts and co-texts brought to bear by actants interacting with them.

Muddling the Museum: Performance, intervention and being de-colonial

Author: Alice Procter (UCL) email

Short abstract

What does it mean to be disrupt a museum? This paper examines artist-led curatorial practices that engage with contested histories of empire, seeking new approaches to memory and legacies of trauma through ritual, intervention and performance.

Long abstract

In the shadow of Fred Wilson's Mining The Museum, what does it mean to intervene in a museum collection? We may no longer consider them neutral, but their status as post- or de-colonised is still questionable. A museum collection is as much about what it chooses to neglect as what it contains. In exploring these negative spaces, the silenced voices and absent bodies they suggest, we can begin to work through legacies of violence and attempt to restore the lost to their rightful place. Artists who work with and against the narratives enshrined by selective collecting can contest the space simply by being present. By feeling rage, confronting loss, and treating the museum as a place for mourning and commemoration, audiences can be encouraged to examine their own histories and identities. Instead of mining, the artist can muddle, unsettling and interrupting what is taken for granted.

This paper considers the work of artists who enter the museum by institutional invitation, alongside those who enter in protest, to explore what it is to be collected. Drawing on the work of Rosanna Raymond and SaVAge K'lub, it examines the potential of an artist-led curatorial practice in developing a post-colonial museology, and the necessity of blurring the bounds of art gallery and anthropology museum. How can the act of being there disturb and expand myths of national identity in the wake of imperial violence, and what are the implications for our anthropological futures?

Reframing New Guinea Art for a #FreeWestPapua

Author: Marion Cadora (UC Santa Cruz) email

Short abstract

This paper offers a critical reframing of New Guinea artifacts displayed in museums that work in solidarity with indigenous communities and participates in conversations about Free West Papua.

Long abstract

The island of New Guinea is divided in two countries, the eastern half is occupied by the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, and the western half, called West Papua, is colonized by Indonesia. West Papua was annexed by Indonesia and integrated into it after a contested referendum of self-determination in 1969. There is a movement of scholars and artists around the Pacific who are participating in conversations about #FreeWestPapua and calling for a recognition about the ongoing human rights issues. What is the responsibility of museums to participate in these contemporary political conversations? By analyzing canons of display of New Guinea art in some of the most prestigious art museums throughout the US, this paper offers a critical reframing of New Guinea artifacts that work in solidarity with indigenous communities.

Displays commonly frame artifacts as "masterworks" of art, through the lens of "aesthetic universalism" (or signifiers of authenticity and purity of objects). The exhibitions play on the colonial myth of primitivism, rhetoric of geographical remoteness, and do not elicit questions beyond narratives of formal qualities.This paper advocates for curatorial strategies that move beyond object-based presentations and instead make stronger connections to the relationships that pieces have to contemporary communities.

Thinking culture first. Challenges in creating object stories for non-western art

Author: Kristine Milere (Latvian Academy of Culture) email

Short abstract

Museums need to tell culture based stories. It is more difficult with the non-western culture. How to create stories that are culture based and how to give visitors a closeness with non-western culture? Looking at objects through anthropological perspective and thinking culture first is the answer.

Long abstract

In the fast changing times of our global world any museum should give their visitors not only the aesthetic pleasure of seeing an art object, but also an opportunity to gain a comprehensive knowledge about it. Museum needs to tell stories; culture based stories. It is easy for us to understand the western culture and art, but it is more difficult with the non-western culture and art. Foreign Art Department of the Latvian National Museum of Art has one of the largest non-western art collections in the Baltic states. Mostly the objects that are in the collection represent different cultures traditional art. So far this collection has never been fully researched and the display that museum has is an overview without any detailed context or object descriptions. How to create stories that are culture based? How to give our visitors the feeling of closeness with non-western culture? Looking at objects through anthropological perspective and thinking culture first could be the answer. In traditional cultures the art works are created according to the creators environment, religion and inherited traditions. They are connected with their daily life and rituals. Anthropology can help get closer to the meaning of the objects in its culture. The aim of this paper is to show different ways how to use anthropology in creating a display or exhibition of non-western artefacts in art museums. The paper will concentrate on the problems and challenges of non-western object research in the collection of the Latvian National Museum of Art.

Perspectives and visions. About the uses of ethnographic artefacts in art museums and exhibitions discourses in Italy.

Author: Cristina Balma-Tivola email

Short abstract

Ethnographic collections in Italian museums are differently conceived depending on museum identity (anthropological or artistic), and education and vision of their curators, thus showing a wide range of proposals and discourses (as exemplified by the case-study of Turin here taken into account).

Long abstract

Owned by private and public institutions, a number of anthropological artefacts collections are disseminated all over Italy showing a large variety in their status understanding and exhibition.

The first case is that of anthropological museums (Museo Preistorico Etnografico Luigi Pigorini in Rome, Museo delle Culture del Mondo in Genoa etc.) that, although paying a renewed interest in the aesthetic value of the objects, seem to conceive them as "cultural mediators" useful to develop decolonial/post-colonial discourses and to promote polyphonic conversations in line with the recent aims of (scientific) world cultures museums.

The second case is that of those institutions and initiatives where the aesthetic value of the object is overriding (such as in various museums of oriental art or when the objects are displayed in art exhibitions, such as in many recently hosted in Triennale in Milan), this leading to more subjective and controversial situations.

This second situation shows a range of comprehensions, dynamics, solutions and discourses quite challenging for anthropologists, sometimes resulting in surprising insights and inspiring proposals, sometimes in disconcerting connections and assertions.

An anthropological reading of the matter in Turin represents an interesting case-study, as the municipal ethnographic collection formerly held in a specific ethnographic museum is now disseminated in various art museums (Museo d'Arte Orientale, Museo Civico d'Arte Antica), from time to time in dialogue with other ethnographic collections or with European artworks (as in the case of the recent exhibitions Cose d'altri mondi, 2017, and Odissee, 2018, both at Museo Civico d'Arte Antica).

Theory on the display. New Polish Contemporary Art Museums

Author: Magdalena Mazik (MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow) email

Short abstract

The paper discusses a new phenomenon in Polish art museum institutions after 2000 - the appearance of spaces dedicated to art historians and theoreticians. The paper focuses on two case studies: Mieczysław Porębski's Library and Jerzy Ludwiński's Archive.

Long abstract

Mieczysław Porębski's Library has existed at MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków (Poland) from its very beginning (2012), combining the functions of a reading room and a permanent exhibition. Professor Mieczysław Porębski (1921-2012), historian, art theoretician and critic, donated his private book collection of more than 5 000 items to the museum. In the space arranged to replicate the studio in the Professor's flat in Krakow, there is an exhibition of works by his artist friends - representatives of the canon of Polish post-war art. Jerzy Ludwiński's Archive is a permanent exhibition at the MWW Wrocław Contemporary Museum. It contains writings, drawings, photographs and documentation of Jerzy Ludwiński's activities as an influential art curator and animator of artistic life in Poland. The open forms of both places put the inspiring tension between categories like: library/museum exhibition, text/image, private/public under consideration. It is also a meta-commentary on ways how art history's narrative is being written.

Curating art in the "age of the brain"

Author: Birgit Ruth Buergi (University of Cambridge) email

Short abstract

Growing interest among curators in incorporating scientific knowledge about the visual brain into their working practice has prompted me to explore together with art practitioners their views on the art-brain interface in research-intensive milieus.

Long abstract

Growing interest among curators in incorporating advanced knowledge about the visual brain in curatorship praxis inspired me to explore together with contemporary art practitioners working in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore their views on the art-brain interface. What is going on in those experimental art spaces springing up in the bio-corridors of Southeast Asia remains an under researched subject in the anthropological scholarship of biosocialities. Art-interested science and society scholars, too, have paid little attention to how the art-science interface is playing out in Southeast Asia's contemporary artworld. Focused on the cultural niches forming at the intersection of artistic and scientific knowledge in research intensive environments, the paper throws light on these relatively unexplored emerging knowledge circuitries in the global bioeconomy that dislodge the art/science divide. Despite being, for the most part, absent from the ars and techné literature, these "new art worlds" offer a glimpse of artistic and curatorial approaches that are experimental and targeting audiences beyond the stereotyped "art connoisseurs" and "art aficionados".

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.