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Friday, March 31, 2006

Archive fever, vol. V

The New York Times ran a great special section on Museums on Wednesday. Some highlights:

How do you preserve digital art and other variable media (performance art, interactive displays, pieces made of hardware that has or will soon become obsolete)? Several art institutions have joined together to propose models for creative preservation, but the article doesn't address smaller galleries that may be the first or only venues for some variable media art. Here's a link to Rhizome, a group for digital artists that's working with some museums on possibilities for digital archives. The director of digital media at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives, Richard Rinehart, is quoted in the article:
"Digital art, like all art, may be at the forefornt of a larger question. ... What is rapidly developing is this black hole. In the future, people may look back and be able to see what was happening in the 18th century, the 19th century, and then will come a period in which we cannot tell what artists were working on. But this is not limited to the art world. This problem about retaining thigs will be for our collective social memory, and it will be of concern to everyone in every walk of life. Government documents, for example."

Still, he added, the heart of computer-generated art "separates the logical from the physical."

"We have worried about preserving the physical," he said. "Perhaps we should be worreid more about preserving the logical." Mr. Rinehart has written academic proposals for creating documentation that is more akin to a music score--with work recognizable even if some of the period instruments at the time of creation are changed.

Edward Rothstein, who's quickly becoming one of my favorite Times critics for his Connections series, wrote an article about repatriation of collections of Native American artifacts and skeletons in museums:
In the Kennewick case, scientists sued the government and ultimately won the right to examine the bones, something that is now taking place. (DNA testing has not demonstrated any genetic connection between the skeleton and contemporary peoples.) But museums have taken a different course: they are transforming themselves under the law's pressures.

According to federal statistics, by 2005, remains of more than 30,000 individuals had been "deacquisitioned," along with more than 500,000 funerary and sacred objects. The effects have been profound, not because of the loss of the objects from museums, but because the law enforced a way of thinking about them. In the protection act's version of "cultural patrimony," it is not just ownership of an individual object that can be called into question, but the possession of all objects from an Indian culture. The "repatriation" has also led to consultations in which tribal leaders become involved even in the treatment of objects that are not repatriated, able to help mold their interpretation, to guide research about their pasts and to influence how they are displayed.

Rothstein discusses David Hurst Thomas's Skull Wars at length. It's a fascinating subject.

Here's a cool piece about the Exploratorium web site. The Exploratorium is one of my favorite museums. I haven't been there in years, but I'm positive I would have just as much fun as I did when I was a kid. This page has a photo of San Francisco rendered in Jell-O.

I want to read more of these interviews with popular art historians about their dream exhibitions. Here's Francine Prose on the color black as an organizing principle:
Black has been very much on the mind of Ms. Prose, whose "Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles" was published last fall. While writing the book, she said, "I thought how revolutionary, how nervy, how extraordinary his use of black was."

Then, in the spring of 2003, Ms. Prose visited the Metropolitan Museum to see "Manet/Velázquez: The French Taste for Spanish Painting," which she reviewed favorably for The Wall Street Journal. There, she said, "I kept thinking — the thing that no one is talking about, what carries over, is the black." It's almost as if Caravaggio, who no doubt influenced Velázquez, should have had a little anteroom at the Met exhibition all his own.

Caravaggio's work would inaugurate Ms. Prose's exhibition — the first work would be his "Flagellation of Christ," which is now in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy. Next would come a Velázquez, either "The Jester Pablo de Valladolid" or "The Adoration of the Magi," both owned by the Prado. John Singer Sargent's "Madame X," from the Met's collection, would be there, as would Manet's "Dead Toreador" from the National Gallery of Art. Taking the show into contemporary times, Ms. Prose said she would pick something by Ad Reinhart — perhaps his "Abstract Painting," 1960-66, from the Whitney Museum of American Art or perhaps "Abstract Painting No. 4," from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.