Exhibition and knowledge productionExhibitions of cultures and intercultural relationsThe discourses of exhibitionNew media / New objectsCultural Heritage
The primary function of museums in society is to exhibit works and objects, putting them on public display. And, in the layout familiar to its readers for over a decade now, this issue of Museum International returns to the recurrent theme of the theories and practices of presentation 1, albeit from a different angle. It concerns the hidden facets of exhibition.
Despite the considerable intellectual and technical apparatus deployed by today's societies in the exhibition of works and objects in museums, certain aspects of the act of public exhibition remain unknown to the public. Much less, it must be said, because of wilful retention and concealment than a lack of explanation 2. The public witnesses neither the different processes and phases of the preparation of knowledge prior to its presentation nor the numerous arrangements, experimentations and critical evaluations. The intention in this issue is, therefore, to take comprehensive account of the factors that condition the interpretative gaze of the visiting public. Indeed, an exhibition is not just an instance of knowledge dissemination based on the progress of research in the different museum disciplines (art history, anthropology, history and archaeology). An astonishing array of factors influence the preparation, contents and actual display of the works and objects, ranging from the political context in which the knowledge is produced to the technological resources brought into play for the presentation of certain objects. The articles in this issue bear witness to the magnitude and range of such factors and also show how they help to shape exhibition policies in museums.
Permanent exhibitions are not immune from the distortions resulting from display, although the latter are more easily identifiable in the context of temporary exhibitions. But it is only when permanent exhibitions are being rearranged that the particular choices made for museographic presentation and, consequently, the major trends of cultural history are revealed. This issue of Museum International presents views and ideas on both permanent and temporary, exhibitions, without any distinction being made between the two. It is divided into four sections, with the proposed theme of the hidden facets of exhibition being viewed from a different angle in each of them.
The first section explores the constraints attending the production of objective knowledge, an example being the changing geopolitical configurations that dictate the rewriting of history. Another example: the nature of the place of presentation as much as that of the object on display determine the possible emergence of new artistic trends, as well as the relationship of the public to historical and artistic culture in general.
The second section concerns the portrayal of different cultures and intercultural relations, with one text dealing with the representation of precolonial history, and the other, the cultures of the Mexican region of Chiapas. But, rather than demonstrating the steady progression of anthropological, historical and archaeological knowledge and its revelation to the public, the review of the history of the exhibitions devoted to the indigenous cultures brings our in negative relief the thresholds and discontinuities of such a presentation.
Under the title, 'The discourses of exhibition', the third section examines the role of language and the different forms of discourse used in exhibition. The case-studies chosen are those of a research project carried out in the Scottish Highlands and an American author's reflection on the function of communication in exhibitions.
The fourth and final section, relating to the new media and objects, deals with the digitization and virtual presentation of collections. This type of presentation bypasses the exhibition parameters of space and time, and thereby gives new meaning to both the act of exhibition and the very nature of the museographic objects being presented.
We are extremely grateful to Jean-Yves Marin, the director of the Museum of Caen (France), for assisting us in the preparation of this issue. And now we wish to invite our readers, who also form part of the museum's visiting public, to cross rite screen of display and explore the world behind it. Top
For the theoretical and practical aspects of exhibition, we refer our readers to the work by David Dean, Museum Exhibition: Theory and Practice (Routledge, 1994), which reviews the different aspects of the preparation and public presentation of an exhibition, in a systematic analysis that demonstrates why and how communication is the prevailing general paradigm for the presentation of exhibitions. The work usefully complements the point of view put forward by Gary Edson in this issue of Museum International.
Also useful to readers would be the very beautiful work by Hunbert Damish, L’amour m’expose: le projet MOVES, edited by Yves Gevaert (Editions du Seuil, Paris, 2000). The chapter entitled "La valeur d’exposition" examines the relationships between the concept of exhibition and that of the work of art as seen from the standpoints of Walter Benjamin and others, with numerous examples. Top
How Europe is Portrayed in Exhibitions Jean-Yves Marin
Jean-Yves Marin is director of the Museum of Normandy in Caen and president of the International Committee of the Museums of Archaeology and History of ICOM. With a long international and European experience in the organization of exhibitions, he is also a renowned medievalist and general superintendent of a large number of archaeological and history exhibitions. In this article, he describes the forces behind the growth in the European public's desire to know their shared past and understand their origins, and the corresponding trend to identify and recognize the intermixing of the peoples of Europe in all their complexity. He believes that this evolution encourages a revision of the concept of the history museum and recommends an example that would integrate objects and work with the historical dimension — including the delicate political aspects of the origins of modern Europe — to enable the creation of a global museographic discourse on European history. Top
Exhibition and Representation: stories from the Torres Strait Islanders exhibition Anita Herle
Cross-cultural collaborative work that goes into the preparation of exhibitions reflects the changing role of museums as place of exchange and research where curatorial expertise and indigenous knowledge meet. Anita Herle, senior assistant curator of the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology concentrates her research on issues of access and representations in museums. She directed the preparations for the centenary exhibition to mark the 1898 Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait and in this article emphasizes the importance of analysing exhibitions as processes. She explains how specific objects in the expedition's collections in the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology continue to be active intermediaries In the relationship between museum staff and the Torres Strait Islanders, and how, as a consequence, the museum has become a field site and a place for encounter and dialogue. This article provides an ethnography of the process of creating the exhibition and explores in different ways the resonance that many of the objects displayed have for Islanders today. A longer version of the article has been published in Ethnos, 2000. Top
Reinventing Exhibition Spaces in China Wu Hung
As a consequence of socio-economic transformation, new types of exhibition spaces have appeared in China's cultural landscape. Wu Hung explores the social basis of these changes and reviews the rapidly evolving system which has led to a great variety of possibilities for presenting experimental art. As he examines the issues behind each type of exhibition space, we witness the interplay of complex social and artistic relationships and its role in expanding the influence of experimental art in a changing society that is China today. Distinguished professor of Chinese Art History at the Department of Fine Arts, University of Chicago since 1994, Wu Hung holds an M.A. in Art History from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (1980) and a Ph. D. in Art History and Anthropology from Harvard University (1987). Among his books covering the pre-modern period are: Monumentality in Early Chinese Art and Architecture, which was nominated as one of "the best Books of the 1990s' in Art forum, and selected by Choices as "Outstanding Academic Publication" in 1996; Three Thousand Years of Chinese paintings of which he was the co-author and for which he received the Haskin Award in 1998 from the Association of American publishers. His publications on modern and contemporary art issues include: Remaking Beijing: Tienanmen Square and the Creation of Political Space (London, Reaction Books), and as editor, A new beginning: Chinese art of 2000 (Beijing, Chinese-art.com). As chief curator, he is working on the forthcoming Chinese Art of the 90s: A Retrospective (The first Guangshou Documenta exhibition, Guangzhou Provincial Museum — November 2002), and, as co-curator, on Art of Mu Xin: Landscape Paintings and Prison Notes, also a forthcoming exhibition at the Yale University Art Museum and Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago. Top
Myths, Censorship and the Representation of Precolonial History in the Museums of Tropical Africa Anne Gaugue
A lecturer at the University of Clermont-Ferrand II, France, Anne Gaugue explores how museum in African states have been used as instruments of political power in colonial and post-colonial times. She explains that the myths and censorships in presenting ancient history and the slave trade in the region's museums are motivated by their need to promote national and regional cohesion. The article recalls past and recent events portraying the distortions in the way African Museums represent both their national histories and the history of the continent — how they remain vague about the role played by the African intermediaries and silent on the subjects of Arab and international-African trades. There are no exhibitions, for example, linking slave trading with the creation and power of the African political entities. However, it recounts the efforts of two museums in holding full-scale exhibitions on the history of the Arab slave trade and in describing the facts as they happened. Top
Past and Present in the Museums of Chiapas — an alternative approach? Luisa Fernanda Rico Mansard
The author narrates how Chiapas local museums in Mexico reflect the struggle of its people to preserve their natural and cultural wealth. Like a good story-teller she describes their efforts to combine past and present to provide a wider vision of the world of Chiapas — how they took up the challenge to transcend time and space and add to their archaeological magnificence the appreciation of the social values and creativity of their living indigenous peoples. These initiatives recognized the usages and customs of their everyday life. But much still remains to be done, and she calls for the adoption of a more critical attitude and greater commitment. While community museums are being created and their management gradually being taken aver by the different local communities, Chiapas calls out to the world and warms that the breathtaking changes imposed by modern societies mean abrupt changes for all forms of expressions of life. Luisa Feranda Rico Mansard holds a Ph. D. in History and specializes in museum work. An academic in the Technical Department of Museography and Restoration of ENP, UNAM, she has been secretary of ICOM-Mexico and member of ICMAH for many years. This article is based on personal visits to each museum, interviews with their directors, and the information obtained through the Historía de los Museos de México programme which she is promoting. Top
The 'Baile Failte' Project: displacement of language and social evolution in the Scottish Highlands Judi Menabney
Judi Menabney is development officer with Cultural and Leisure Services of the Highland Council and Project Manager for Baile Failte. The Highland Council is the government authority for the Highlands of Scotland; they own and manage the Highland Folk Museum preserves and presents a unique and internationally important collection pertaining to Highland folk life. Baile Failte is steered by a multi-agency group, including key development agencies and further-education institutions. Top
"Socioexhibitry" as Popular Communication Gary Edson
In a scenario of destabilizing conditions influenced by modern media developments and funding problems, how do museums keep their place as a vehicle in expressing and projecting concepts and attitudes about culture and social values? Attracting new audiences and broadening the visitor base is the single response to this question. In systematically analysing the communication process, the author identifies the exhibition as the channel in the museum's communication function, and its interpretation technique, the crucial factor in ensuring accurate audience understanding. In his opinion, for a museum to continue its mission of public service in reinforcing individual and communal identity, it should aim, through effective methods of interpretation and transfer of information, at becoming a connection between the community's life experience and its intellectual and spiritual growth. "It is not enough to "build" better exhibitions and expect people to come," he says, "it is necessary to have exhibitions that people understand…and then they will come". Gary Edson is executive director of the Museum of Texas Tech University, director and professor of Museum Science, Museum of Texas Tech University. He is also a member of ICOM's Ethics Committee. The subject of communication in museums has been a central issue in his research and professional career. Top
A Guide for Multimedia Museum Exhibits: 1,000 years of the Olympic Games Sarah Kenderdine
Despite the ongoing debate on the strengths and weaknesses of digitally reconstructed archaeological models, the virtual reconstruction of Olympia, and the website for the exhibition 1000 Years of the Olympic Games: Treasures of Ancient Greece www.phm.gov.au/ancient greek olympics/ have demonstrated not only the unlimited potential of this medium, but also the viability of the Internet to supplement and extend materials offered locally in museums. The author is project manager/creative producer of special projects at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, where she developed the Olympia visualization and multimedia project. Traditionally a maritime archaeologist and museum curator, Sarah Kenderdine has researched and excavated shipwrecks throughout Australia and the Indian Ocean region and has written a number of books on the subjects. After completing an M.A. degree on virtual museums in 1995, with a research thesis on design, she carried out web projects for the Western Australian Maritime Museum from 1994 to 1995, the Smithsonian Institution, and for the Museum Archives and Informatics. For two years from 1998, Ms Kenderdine was the information architect and creative producer for the portal web Australian Museums On-Line (amol.org.au). She has recently completed working with the museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa to examine redesign options for the portal web New Zealand Museums Online. Top
The revitalization of the Abomey History Museum and the Web Anne Ambouroué Avaro and Alain Godonou
African states may be lagging behind in the use of the new information and communication technologies (NICTs), but the Internet site that complemented the successful revitalization of the Historic Museum of Abomey has drawn a growing public, the Beninese diaspora, descendants of emigrants to Europe and the United States. Given this new public and the future opportunities that it implies, the authors strongly recommend that this emerging group and their strong demand for cultural roots be taken into account when preparing and promoting exhibitions in online sites and museums. Before specializing in the creation of Internet museums sites, Anne Ambouroué Avaro from Gabon had worked in France at Museum of Mankind, The Museum of the Arts of Oceania and Africa, the Dapper Museum, and the Natural History Museum of La Rochelle. She is at present in charge of special projects at the School of African Heritage. Alain Godounou, who comes from Benin, was the curator of the Royal Palace of Porto-Novo in Benin, and the coordinator of ICROM within the framework of the 1990-2000 PREMA Programme. He is responsible for the co-ordination of the Project to Rehabilitate the Royal Palaces of Abomey and, since 1997, has been the principal of the School of African Heritage, of which he was a co-founder. Top