Museum Visit: Eugene Speicher’s collection

Our class trip to the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art on campus really clarified the idea of what curation truly meant to me. Prior to this class, I merely thought of curating as simply a process of collecting. However, I didn’t truly examine what went into creating these collections. While at the Dorsky, I immediately began to recognize the specific curatorial decisions made in each one of the present exhibits.

The exhibit “Along His Own Lines: A Retrospective of New York Realist Eugene Speicher,” curated by Valerie Ann Leeds, was at first glance fairly boring to me. This collection consisted primarily of portraiture and landscape paintings. When I further examined the content of the collection, I noticed how Leeds specifically set up the exhibit in an interesting and unique way. For example, in her first row of portraits, she alternates between those who are facing left and those who are facing right. Although I am not sure why exactly she would select to make this decision, I am guessing it has something to do with this being the most aesthetically pleasing option. Leeds also chose to group all the landscape paintings together and keep the portraiture separate, which seems logical to me. The curator typically doesn’t want to distract and confuse the viewer, therefore it makes sense to group together similar projects.


Monuments Men (2 of 2)

Continuing my thoughts on the most notable sections of The Monuments Men, Robert Edsel, the author of the book takes us through the various tasks the men of the MFAA (Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program under the US Military during World War Two) had to accomplish during the invasion of Normandy in June of 1944. Given almost no resources whatsoever (not even radios), they were expected to act as advisers to combat units, often engaged in open firefights. Edsel tells the most from the perspective of Lt. George Stout, a middle aged “dapper” man who was profoundly passionate about the endeavor trying to save the famous works of art and antiquity. Moving at a dash throughout the north of France following the invasion, Stout did a great deal to protect old and threatened buildings, especially churches from destruction, not only from artillery fire and bombs, but also from the allied commandos destroying them in order to build roads for the incoming troops. Aside from monuments in France, the book also delves into one particular abbey in Italy known as “Monte Cassino” that the advancing allies of Patton’s army had to figure out what do with, as the possibility that the German/Italian forces were using it as a base to attack the them was a very real one. After a struggle going on several weeks, the Allies eventually decided to bomb the abbey, leveling it and destroying virtually its rich library. The axis powers utilized this event to the fullest, publishing pamphlets of propaganda giving the idea that the allies cared not for important cultural monuments. It was events like these that put the “monuments men” into full action, saving as much as they could and salvaging what could be salvaged following combat confrontations.

While the narrative occasionally become slightly tedious, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as it made the curating connection especially real to me by associating curation and preservation with a very realistic and historical threat.

Curating YouTube

This project is incredibly fascinating. In response to being asked to advise institutions on how to effectively archive Internet-based art, curators Robert Sakrowski and Constant Dullaart have made it their mission to bring web art into the real and tangible art world, a feat that has not yet been accomplished. According to their website, their task is driven by accepting the reality that there is no longer a a difference between the Internet and real life – the virtual and the physical are now one in the same. To adapt to this, “museums are under a cultural obligation to follow, facilitate and communicate the ongoing aesthetic definition and the discussions surrounding the terms that are the corner stones of our culture.” In other words, both museum and web curators are working hand-in-hand to let these worlds collide. In an interview with Sakrowski, he explains that the key to the success of online works (videos) are largely “dependent on the context in which they are viewed if they are to function as intended.” And that is what he wants to see in action. He wants to install exhibits in museums in which people have access to previously chosen YouTube videos, and film them while they watch. He and Dullaart hope to go even further than that, and are in the middle of developing a template in which YouTube users can “curate their own playlists” of videos – one being a video they found on the site, the other, being posted right along side it, a video of themselves watching the video. This whole concept is a little bizarre and unnecessary to me, but interesting nonetheless, and I’m curious to see where the project goes. 

Library of Congress – 1, Disapproving Parents – 0

Someone recently told me that Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree had made it to the ever-growing list of censored books in America. This was one of my all-time favorite books when I was a child and I refused to believe something so innocent could be banned. Looked it up and low and behold, some asshole deemed it sexist because the boy keeps taking from the tree and never gives anything back. My mind blown, I did some more research and was repeatedly shocked at the books I kept finding on either “banned” or “challenged” lists. I wanted to know where these decisions were coming from and how. On the American Library Association’s website, they offer just that. I had originally imagined a specific organization(s) that was out to get all of these classics taken out of schools. According to ALA, however, it all starts with a formal, written complaint that is filed within a library or school and requests that a certain book be removed.The report goes directly to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, where it is entered into a database along with several hundred other complaints, and then sifted through and curated by the OIF staff, who then formulate the many “top ten” or “top 25” or “top whatever” lists of challenged books based upon what they find in the database. Their main goal is to promote awareness of this censorship among the public and how it affects schools and libraries alike. Statistics show that it is generally parents who make the most objections, with schools and school libraries being a close second. They engage in a bit of their own curating, taking it upon themselves to determine what is and is not appropriate. According to ALA, in the last decade, the most common accusations made have been that the books are “sexually explicit,” contain “offensive language,” have material “unsuitable for age group,” are “violent,” contain “homosexuality,” and are sac-religious or “anti-family.” 

The best part of doing this research was discovering that experts and curators of the Library of Congress decided to open a new exhibit in June of 2012 called “Books That Shaped America,” in which the public is welcome to come and celebrate these books. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington stated that they “hope people will choose to read and discuss some of the books on this list, reflecting our nation’s unique and extraordinary literary heritage.” Well, thirty of the eighty-eight “books that shaped America” are on the Banned Books List. Billington acknowledges this, but adds that “Nevertheless, they shaped American’s views of their world and the world’s views of America.” Right on. 

Curating in Healthcare

While surfing the web for anything curation-related, I came across one of the most interesting sites I’ve seen so far: sisters Nancy O’Brien and Deb Andelt’s At the top of their home page reads “equipping you to curate meaningful experiences.” This confused me, I wasn’t sure where they were gonna go with this. Basically, what these two women do is attempt to strengthen healthcare organizations by strengthening the relationships in the work place, through a therapeutic and hippie chick kind of method. The sisters are both experts in a field that I did not know existed known as “customer and employee experience management.” The method they implement with the businesses that ask for their help is known as “strategic experience management.” They compare said businesses to museums, stating that the job of an art curator is to choose and display work that will “evoke an emotional response.” They go on to say that “we always respond emotionally to our experiences…so just like in museums, it’s the only focus that makes sense.” In the work place, the experience that both medical staff and their patients are a part of is “the soul – the beingness – of the organization,” and they continually “edit” that experience based on their choices regarding people and their “individual attitudes and actions,” processes, or “how things work or don’t work,” and finally, “the sensory environment.” Through this process, the sisters hope to “equip and empower everyone in the organization with insights to make more conscious and consistent choices on how they engage with others to create meaningful connections;” they want to “align all aspects of the business towards an emotional ‘end-frame.'” Basically, what I’m getting from all this and after reading the entire site, they strongly stress the idea of self-care, warning that business owner’s and their staff’s well-being will be reflected in their work. The curating aspect of their theories finally pokes its head out a little when they discuss the importance of awareness, stating that it is a process of “selectively directing your attention to specific aspects of what’s happening around you and being conscious of events, objects or patterns picked up by your senses and the impact those aspects have on how you are feeling.” In this way, we are able to successfully “curate” our experiences, and for those in healthcare, apparently that’s good news. 

The Intellectual Side of Reality TV

While desperately channel surfing for anything remotely entertaining on late night television, I stumbled upon the History Channel’s series, “Pawn Stars.” I’m not a huge fan, but I’ll take it. While I was watching, though, I realized that this incredibly intimidating family, the Harrisons, are actually expert curators. The family has owned their business, the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, for three generations, somewhere in the outskirts of Las Vegas. Run by grandfather Richard Harrison, his son, Rick, Rick’s son, Corey, and Corey’s childhood best friend, Chumlee, these four significantly large and tattooed men curate for a living. Their shop is essentially their own museum. People come to them with hopes of selling their items, and the team carefully assesses the potential value of each, ranging from “items of the commonplace to the truly historic.” Every day they evaluate objects and determine whether they are real or fake, and if they are worth purchasing. At first glance when watching the show, it seems like this is a job almost anyone could do. If you like it or think it can make you money, then go for it. I looked into it a little further and was actually very surprised at how wrong I was and how much goes into their decision-making. The Harrisons have several experts behind them, experts in fields I never would have thought existed, such as vintage stringed instruments and amplifiers, sports memorabilia, military antiques and firearms, entertainment, historical, and sports autographs, historical artifacts and aviation, historic letters and documents, fine art, rare and antiquarian books, and even all forms of magic and magic devices. Many of these experts are owners of museums, and therefore the best of the best when it comes to curating. They help the Harrisons determine authenticity and make the appropriate decision to either buy or not buy whatever comes into their store. Knowing this information, I give the show a little more credit now.

Our Generation & the iPhone

I just found an article that is perfect to add to my thesis – Hui Jiang’s “Young People’s Consumption and Adoption of a Cultural Commodity – iPhone.” His research generally backs up the majority of material I have already found; the ongoing debate over whether or not the iPhone encourages or discourages our connections with others; the emotional attachment iPhone owners develop towards the phone; and deems the iPhone an official “cultural artifact,” due to “its connection with a distinct set of social practices which are specific to our culture or way of life…it is associated with certain kinds of people, with certain places…the image of the iPhone…has become a sort of metaphor, which stands for or represents a distinctively late-modern, technological culture or way of life.” It was crazy to me to hear someone refer to the iPhone as an “artifact,” but, judging by the definition of the term, I guess I can’t really argue. In his study, Jiang analyzes the adoption and consumption experiences that come with purchasing and owning an iPhone. He defines the adoption process as people’s perceptions of the iPhone prior to buying one, the consumption angle focuses on the reality of the iPhone after purchasing, and Jiang compares participant’s opinions during both of these phases. He breaks down the advantages of owning an iPhone into functional and symbolic, the former referring to the technological benefits of the device, and the latter reflecting a more psychological need. He offers a wide variety of subjects’ responses that I plan on including in my paper. While he is justified in classifying the iPhone as an artifact and giving it the recognition it deserves, it doesn’t make it any less disappointing to know that it has reached that level, that something like a Smartphone has literally become a necessity in our culture. Jiang also makes a strong point in noting that all types of mobile phones, but obviously iPhones in particular, are a means for one to “emancipate themselves from space.” That is, personal space is no longer a physical matter, for in any given situation, you can just go on your phone and mentally check out. And with that, I refuse to believe that something that allows you to shut out the world with such ease is something that society needs.