Museums are called upon to reinvent themselves

The museum is not enough is the intriguing title of a book published in 2019, which is intended to be the first part of a collective reflection initiated by the team at the Canadian Center for Architecture on the role of museum institutions and the challenges facing “social issues”. contemporary ”. What issues should we focus on when it comes to exhibiting works, if not archives? How to approach them? Whether art or architecture museums, shouldn’t we offer the public a sensory and intellectual experience that is more than simple entertainment?

Having taken off in the 18th centurye century, the museum then shares humanist values, promoting the principle of a civilizational memory, essentially based on Western culture. Although we can cherish this impressive heritage, the current world situation encourages several museum institutions to go beyond the ideological framework promoted by modernity. On the theme “The future of museums: to recover and reinvent themselves”, the International Association of Museums organized, in May 2021, a conference in which professionals in the field were invited “to develop, imagine and share new practices of (co) creation of value ”. With regard to museums of art or civilization, this sharing of new practices often involves a process of decolonization allowing a different understanding of history.

With this in mind, the Musée d’art de Joliette presented, from October 3, 2020 to May 23, 2021, an exhibition entitled Looks in dialogue. This exhibition highlighted and updated the collection of bronzes offered to the museum by the art collector AK Prakash, in which we find more than twenty sculptures by Louis-Philippe Hébert (1850-1917), Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté (1869-1937) and Alfred Laliberté (1877-1953). To promote a “transhistoric approach”, the co-curators Émilie Grandmont Bérubé and Anne-Élisabeth Vallée invited the artist Nicolas Fleming to produce an immersive work in which the public could discover the works of the sculptors. In addition, to supplement the supposedly romantic vision of the “good savage” and shed new light on the heroic figures of Quebec’s heritage portrayed by artists of the time, the curators asked three members of indigenous communities in the region – Eruoma Ottawa-Chilton, Atikamekw artist, Roger Echaquan, uncle of Joyce Echaquan, and Nicole O’Bomsawin, Abenaki anthropologist – to comment, through videos, on the ideology underlying the aesthetic of artists, shaped by cultural stereotypes.

Providing people with the opportunity to admire works from a different cultural perspective is also what prevailed during the exhibition. Rembrandt in Amsterdam. Creativity and competition, presented this summer at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC), and organized jointly with the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. In addition to showing some masterpieces by the famous painter Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), the guest curator, Stephanie S. Dickey, wanted to convey to audiences the socio-political context of the work, whether economic, commercial or colonial. While admiring his canvases, drawings and prints in a competitive environment presenting works by contemporary artists, the public was also invited to situate the artist’s artistic production in his own historical context, that of the traffic in human beings. Black Africans and commercial and exploitative ties with Indigenous peoples in Canada. Moreover, to “advance the understanding of European tradition through a new and more inclusive approach”, works by contemporary Aboriginal and black artists who belong to the NGC collection were also presented. Similar to the Joliette exhibit, three people – Joana Joachim, Afro-feminist art historian, Gerald McMaster, director of the Wapatah Center for Indigenous Visual Knowledge, and Rick Hill, Tuscarora artist – were asked to deliver, through texts, their points of view on the colonial project of the Dutch Republic.

In the fall issue of the journal Current art space (file: “The museologist artist”), it is also a question of curatorial activities associated with the collections, but this time carried out by artists. Many interpret them to reveal an unprecedented artistic potential. Others, like Julie Gough with the exhibition Tense Past, presented in 2019 at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (Hobart, Australia), rather wish to reactivate a past and at the same time offer new stories that can broaden perspectives on our ways of seeing. By being part of a contextualist and critical thinking vis-à-vis a unique vision that was imposed from the start by the institutions, these curatorial artists thus allow museums to promote discussions focused on diversity and culture. inclusion.

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