Advancing the Discourse on Museum Ethics in New Book

29 06 2011
Book Cover: The Routledge Companion to Museum Ethics

Hot off the press: New volume on Museum Ethics includes our "Asians Art Museum" project

Just published!  We are pleased to announce that our project is included in this new book:

The Routledge Companion to Museum Ethics:
Redefining Ethics for the Twenty-First Century Museum

Edited by Janet C. Marstine
Published June 2011 – 486 pages

Professors can request a Complimentary Exam Copy here.

From Routledge: (our emphases)

“Routledge Companion to Museum Ethics is a theoretically informed reconceptualization of museum ethics discourse as a dynamic social practice central to the project of creating change in the museum. Through twenty-seven chapters by an international and interdisciplinary group of academics and practitioners it explores contemporary museum ethics as an opportunity for growth, rather than a burden of compliance. The volume represents diverse strands in museum activity from exhibitions to marketing, as ethics is embedded in all areas of the museum sector. What the contributions share is an understanding of the contingent nature of museum ethics in the twenty-first century—its relations with complex economic, social, political and technological forces and its fluid ever-shifting sensibility.

“The volume examines contemporary museum ethics through the prism of those disciplines and methods that have shaped it most. It argues for a museum ethics discourse defined by social responsibility, radical transparency and shared guardianship of heritage. And it demonstrates the moral agency of museums: the concept that museum ethics is more than the personal and professional ethics of individuals and concerns the capacity of institutions to generate self-reflective and activist practice.

[That last part sounds exactly like what critics were—and still are—calling for since Ai Weiwei lost his freedom.]

Our “Asians Art Museum” project is detailed in Part Four: Visual Culture and the Performance of Museum Ethics, in a chapter on “Museum Censorship” by Christopher B. Steiner.

We’re proud to play a role in advancing the discourse, in a meaningful epilogue to the de Young Museum’s censorship of this project.

We found out about the book serendipitously, through our participation in a debate on “the Social Value of Museums” on Leicester Exchanges.


“Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei China?”

21 06 2011
"Who's Afraid of Ai Weiwei?" stencil art by Tangerine in Hong Kong

An artist known as Tangerine has stenciled this image all over Hong Kong to protest Ai's detention. Her work has drawn serious criminal investigation, and she faces the possibility of a ten year prison sentence. For graffiti.

“Who’s afraid of Ai Weiwei?”

That’s a question that is stenciled all over Hong Kong, as well as the title of an informative Frontline segment that aired five short days prior to Ai’s April 3 disappearance.

Who's Afraid of Ai Weiwei? Frontline episode

"Who's Afraid of Ai Weiwei?" episode for Frontline by Alison Klayman, 18 min. (Click to view) Just five days after the March 29 broadcast, Chinese authorities disappeared Ai Weiwei. Too much face lost?

But as the role and responsibility of museums in protesting Ai’s detention become the subject of increasing international debate,

Are strong words enough to support dissidents?The Art Newspaper
The art establishment needs to make its support for Ai Weiwei visible,” Guardian

and ever harsher criticism domestically,

U.S. Museum Directors to Ai Weiwei: Drop Dead [Update:  dead link / pulled after Ai’s release, the day after it was posted; remnants here and more here],” Wall St. Journal
Ai Weiwei and the cowardice of Virginia’s political class,” Washington Examiner
Have Our Cultural Stewards Abandoned One of Their Own?Wall St. Journal

we can’t help but wonder if the question to be asking our beleaguered stewards of culture isn’t

“Who’s afraid of China?”

The question arose in observing how, with few exceptions, major museums in the US have done so little to respond to the Chinese government’s repression of Ai Weiwei. With the artworld paying lipservice to the importance of Ai Weiwei as an artist, and museum directors and curators willingly adding their names to a petition, why aren’t the museums they work for doing more to respond?

A Fire in Whose Belly?

National Portrait Gallery bows to censors, withdraws Wojnarowicz video on gay love

Museums across the country responded. Where are they now?

The obvious counterexample is the strong wave of reaction from art institutions, big and small, across the country in response to the Smithsonian’s removal of David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly video from the National Portrait Gallery’s show “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” last November.

Who responded? Many major museums, along with dozens of university art museums, institutes and galleries, not to mention a “stern rebuke” from the Association of Art Museum Directors.

As a violation of freedom of expression, the censorship of one short video, while important, hardly measures up to the severity of indefinite detention without trial or even formal charges.  One museum director has compared Ai’s detention to “the equivalent of Andy Warhol or Jasper Johns being arrested without charges and then being accused of tax evasion or something like that.” But only after they’d suffered a life-threatening police beating and had their studios demolished by government order.

So where are the same museums now? What’s behind the apparent double-standard?

Questions we’ll be exploring further, so please stay tuned.

For now we’ll leave you with Ai’s own words, spoken in a video he secretly recorded for TED:

(In China) Society sacrifices its environment, education, and moral stance just to try to become rich.

Even internationally, all the Western nations are trying to kind of tolerate what is happening in China today. I think this is very shortsighted, and will not help China to become a modern society.

[Update on 6/22/11, the Day of Ai’s Release:  Overview of the outstanding questions and issues by Evan Osnos at New Yorker.  Note that while he has been released on bail from detention, Ai Weiwei is not free:  his freedom of expression is still denied through gag order, for “One year, at least.”]

Asian museum collection “raided”

1 06 2011

From an e-mail announcement from Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco:

Stephanie Syjuco: RAIDERS

Stephanie Syjuco, from the series RAIDERS, at Catharine Clark Gallery. Opening Saturday, June 4, 2011.

Stephanie Syjuco has raided the collection of a prominent Asian arts and antiquities museum…figuratively, that is. For RAIDERS, her first solo exhibition at Catharine Clark Gallery, Syjuco has amassed a re-assembled collection of antique vessels by downloading publicly available images from their online database and printing them at the actual sizes listed on the site. Adhered to laser-cut wooden backings and gathered in groups, the prop-like objects at first glance appear to be a collection of valued cultural objects . . . ”  (more here)

Catharine Clark Gallery
150 Minna Street, SF  94105

June 4–July 16, 2011
Reception Saturday, June 4, 4–6pm

Solo Exhibition
Stephanie SyjucoRAIDERS

Media Room
Kate Gilmore:  three video works

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