exploring the relationship of the object and the museum

LSA 2009/10 Theme Year

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Lecture Series

Wednesday Night Museums

The Wednesday Night Museums lecture series features museum leaders, artists, scholars, and artists addressing the challenges and potentials of 21st century museums.

All lectures will be held on Wednesdays in the Helmut Stern Auditorium of University of Michigan Museum of Art at 7:30 pm.

Wednesday Night Museums lectures can be seen on iTunesU. Go to itunes.umich.edu, click "open U-M on iTunes U" on the lower left. Then when you get to the UM page on iTunes, click "Campus" from the menu and you will see the album titled "LSA Museum Theme Year Wednesday Night Lecture Series".

2010 Lectures

Wednesday, January 27

The History of U-M through its Museums

A panel discussion, moderated by David Wallace, U-M School of Information

Francis Blouin (Bentley Historical Library), William Fink (Museum of Zoology), Kevin Graffagnino (William L. Clements Library), Robert Grese (Matthaei Botanical Garden and Nichols Arboretum), Carole McNamara (University of Michigan Museum of Art), Lauren Talalay (Kelsey Museum of Archaeology).

Many of the museums, cultural heritage, and natural history institutions on the University of Michigan campus either trace back to or reference the early history of the University. They also reflect and represent broader intellectual and scientific trends of late 19th-early 20th century America. This roundtable discussion with representatives from a range of U-M museums, libraries, and archives will examine this history. It will provide an opportunity to examine our institutions within a larger frame of analysis, lending insights into an understanding of the history of research universities in general and of U-M in particular

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Wednesday, February 24

Building the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum: Politics and Public Perception

Bruce Michael Conforth, Program in American Culture, University of Michigan

In this lecture, Dr. Bruce Conforth will discuss the highs and lows, the practical and political, the mundane and sublime aspects of creating a world-class museum from scratch. The object of controversy from conception through the present, Dr. Conforth's tenure at the Museum covered its rockiest days (pun intended): when funding was tenuous, acceptance by artists who are generally regarded as anti-establishment was often in doubt, and the cost of the project rose from $54 to $96 million. Despite these are other difficulties, the Museum was finished and Dr. Conforth survived to bring us the story of one of the most unique museum projects of the end of the 20th Century.

Bruce Conforth

Brief Biography:
Bruce Conforth received his PhD in Ethnomusicology and Folklore from Indiana University, Bloomington and was the Director of the Indiana University Archives from 1986-1991. He holds the rank Certified Archivist as granted by the Society of American Archivists. As an undergraduate fine arts major Conforth apprenticed with noted American abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning. In 1991 he was appointed the first Director of Curatorial and Educational Affairs of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, a position he held from the days of planning and fundraising through the construction of the building. During that time he was responsible for exhibit planning and design, building the collections, working with the inductees and other artists, developing the Museum's educational programs, and serving as a public spokesperson for the project. In 2001 Bruce Conforth joined the UM Program in American Culture where he is now a Lecturer II.

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Wednesday, March 10

Crucibles and Catalysts. The Potential of Museums and Galleries in Higher Education

Anthony Shelton, Director, Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Before what may be the end of a golden period of museum expansion in the West, the universities of British Columbia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Oxford all completed major projects aimed at expanding or renovating their museums and improving access to collections. By focusing on UBC MOA the paper will describe the expectations of the new research infrastructure and the Museum's new role as a catalyst to bring about new alignments between different disciplines and faculties. It will explore the potential of experimental and more orthodox exhibitions in giving uniqueness to undergraduate teaching and the use of its collections in furnishing discrete research projects as part of the UBC undergraduate experience. Above all it will describe and explore ways in which the museum movement's newly found penchant for challenging, critical, multi-disciplinary, controversial and sometimes even discomforting exhibitions and programs can contribute to revitalizing both educational and the wider public culture and provide vibrant and important linkages between universities and communities.

Anthony Shelton

Brief Biography:
Prof. Anthony Shelton has been the Director of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia since August 1, 2004. A distinguished anthropologist, administrator, curator and teacher originally from Britain, Prof. Shelton is a leader in museology, cultural criticism, and the anthropology of art and aesthetics. Dr. Shelton has 16 years of teaching, curatorial, and management experience at posts throughout England and in Portugal where he was Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology and Coordinator, Research Group in Material, Visual and Performative Cultures at the Universidade de Coimbra. Of the 13 exhibitions Dr. Shelton has curated or co-curated, three of the more innovative include African Worlds (Horniman 1999), Fetishism (Brighton, Nottingham, Norwich 1995), and Exotics: North American Indian Portraits of Europeans (Brighton 1991) - all of which used strong visual imagery to question notions of material culture and encourage discussion about the interplay of image, language, and meaning. He is extensively published on topics ranging from African visual culture, to Chinese puppets in the collections of the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, to Western constructions of tropes of otherness: fetishism, primitivism and exoticism.

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2009 Lectures

Wednesday, September 30

National Museum of the American Indian: Reflections on American History and 21st Century Museology

W. Richard West, Jr., Founding Director Emeritus of the National Museum of the American Indian

The National Museum of the American Indian's opening on 2004 at the head of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. turned the page in American history by recognizing and affirming the primary place of Native peoples as the First Citizens of the Americas and as an integral element of American heritage. The inauguration of the Museum also transformed and expanded the definition of the term "museum" far beyond 20th century convention and practice - from a stop on the tour bus route to a gathering place and forum of national and international reach for representation, discussion, and debate.

11th annual William R. Farrand Lecture, Exhibit Museum of Natural History; co-sponsored by the Native American Studies Program, and the Exhibit Museum of Natural History

Brief Biography:
W. Richard West Jr., a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma and a Peace Chief of the Southern Cheyenne, retired at the end of 2007 from the position of founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. West has devoted his professional life and much of his personal life to working with American Indians on cultural, educational, legal and governmental issues. Before becoming director of the National Museum of the American Indian, West practiced law at the Indian-owned Albuquerque, N.M., law firm of Gover, Stetson, Williams & West, P.C.; and before that, was a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. He served as general counsel and special counsel to numerous tribes and organizations. In that capacity, he represented clients before federal, state and tribal courts, various executive departments of the federal government and Congress. West's current board affiliations and memberships include: Ford Foundation (1999-present); National Conservation System Foundation (2007-present); Kaiser Family Foundation (2007-present); International Coalition of Museums of Conscience (2007-present); International Council of Museums (2004-present); National Support Committee of the Native American Rights Fund (1990-present); and American Indian Resources Institute (1973-present). He served as chair of the board for the American Association of Museums, the nation's only national membership organization representing all types of museums and museum professionals, from 1998-2000. From 1992-1995 and 1997-1998, he served as member-at-large of the association's board of directors and in 1995-1996 as vice chair of the board of directors. West currently is Vice President of the International Council of Museums.

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Wednesday, October 7

(Un)Natural History and the Power of Display

Panel discussion with Richard Barnes, Scott Hocking, and Michael Stafford (Director, Cranbrook Institute of Science), moderated by Daniel Herwitz (Director, Institute for the Humanities)

There are ruined cities that, sitting idle, become museums of natural history. And there are robust museums which turn animals and human beings into natural history, by encasing them in a vitrine, which is also a crypt or ruin. This panel will feature Richard Barnes and Scott Hocking, two artists whose work explores such natural histories of ruination. They will be joined by the Director of the Cranbrook Institute of Science, Michael Stafford, who will contribute insight from the perspective of a progressive natural history museum.

The Speakers:
Richard Barnes is a nationally known and award winning photographer, whose "Animal Logic" takes the animal vitrine and places it on lucid, strange exhibition. Scott Hocking, works out of the physical devastation of parts of Detroit to create installations of equal power. Both are the subjects of University Michigan exhibitions in this 2009-10 Museum Theme Year. Michael Stafford is an anthropologist who is working at Cranbrook to create experiences with natural history for visitors of all ages that are personal, impactful and socially relevant. He is also the former Director of the Milwaukee Public Museum, one of America's largest museums of natural history.

Barnes' work will be on view at three regional institutions: the Institute for the Humanities, Cranbrook Institute of Science and UMMA. Barnes is the Institute's 2009-10 Sidman Fellow in the Arts and as part of his residency has made new work about UM collections. Hocking, also an Institute 2009-10 fellow, will create an installation for the Institute's gallery.

Institute for the Humanities Director Daniel Herwitz will introduce and moderate the discussion, lending his own perspectives.

This program is part of the UM LSA Museum Theme Year. Co-sponsored by the Cranbrook Institute of Science, UM Exhibit Museum of Natural History, UM Institute for Humanities, UM School of Art and Design Penny Stamps Lecture Series, and University of Michigan Museum of Art.

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Wednesday, October 28

What's Special about the University Art Museum?: Perspectives on Museums in the Academy

A Conversation with Tom Lentz (Director, Harvard Art Museums), Larry Rinder (Director, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives) and James Steward (Director, Princeton University Art Museum), Moderated by Ray Silverman (Director, UM Museums Studies Program)

Three of America's leading university art museum directors – Thomas W. Lentz, Director of the Harvard Art Museum, Lawrence Rinder, Director of the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, and James Steward, Director of the Princeton University Art Museum – discuss the place of university art museums in the American educational enterprise. Topics for this informal conversation will include the responsibilities, opportunities, and challenges particular to the university art museum as well as the role these institutions play in shaping future leaders and thinkers. This program is part of the LSA Theme Year on museums and also has roots in UMMA's ongoing series of public discussions aimed at "Reimagining the Museum." Professor Ray Silverman, Director of the University of Michigan's Museum Studies Program and interim Co-Director of UMMA, will moderate.

The Speakers:
Thomas W. Lentz is the Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard Art Museum. He oversees one of the leading arts institutions in the United States, with a collection of more than 260,000 objects and a staff of over 260. A 1985 graduate of Harvard's doctoral program in art history, Lentz is a specialist in Persian painting. After serving as curator of Asian art at the Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design, he moved to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where he headed the Department of Ancient and Islamic art. Lentz returned to the East Coast in 1992 to the Smithsonian, initially as head of research and collections at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, later becoming deputy director, before being appointed director of the Smithsonian's International Art Museums Division in 2000. He came to Harvard in mid-November 2003.

Lawrence Rinder is director of the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. He has held positions at the Museum of Modern Art, Walker Art Center, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, where he was chief curator of the 2002 Biennial. Among the other exhibitions he has organized are In a Different Light (curated with Nayland Blake), BitStreams, The American Effect, and Tim Hawkinson. He was the founding director of the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts at California College of the Arts, San Francisco, where he also served as dean. His writing on art has appeared in nest, Artforum, The Village Voice, Fillip, Atlantica, and Flash Art. Art Life, a collection of his essays, was published by Gregory R. Miller in 2005. He has also published poetry, fiction, and a play, co-authored with Kevin Killian.

James Steward is currently Director of the Princeton University Art Museum. From 1998 until 2009, he served as Director of the University of Michigan Museum of Art where he led the development of a major expansion and rethinking of the Museum. Prior to coming to Michigan, Steward was Chief Curator of the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum. Steward holds the doctorate of philosophy in the History of Art from Trinity College, Oxford University, where he studied with the leading art historian Francis Haskell. He received his undergraduate degree in History, French, and Art History from the University of Virginia, and began his graduate career at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, under the mentorship of Robert Rosenblum. He has edited or authored a number of books including: The New Child: British Art and the Origins of Modern Childhood, 1730-1830; The Collections of the Romanovs: European Art from the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, When Time Began to Rant & Rage: Figurative Painting from Twentieth-Century Ireland ; and The Mask of Venice: Masking, Theater, and Identity in the Art of Tiepolo and His Times : each of these was also a museum exhibition.

Ray Silverman is interim Director of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, Director of the Museum Studies Program and Professor of History of Art and CAAS at the University of Michigan.

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Wednesday, November 18

Natural History Museums, Aesthetics, and Conservation

Harry W. Greene, Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University

Darwin's "descent with modification" combined with Kant's distinction between "beauty" and "sublime" provide a framework for biologically sublime aesthetics, by which we more fully appreciate organisms and their environments. Natural history museums provide a nexus for integrating research, teaching, and conservation in that broader cultural framework, and thus for addressing the severe environmental challenges we now face. I will illustrate these claims with examples from the biology of amphibians and reptiles, with emphasis on exciting new discoveries about their evolutionary relationships and natural history.

Brief Biography:
Harry Greene got a B.A. from Texas Wesleyan College in 1968 and served as an army medic for three years. He earned an M.A. from University of Texas at Arlington in 1973 and Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee in 1977. He taught at the University of California, Berkeley for two decades, then moved to Cornell in 1999 as a professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He has studied the behavioral ecology, evolution, and conservation of predators in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and most recently Brazil and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Harry's honors include the Berkeley campus-wide Distinguished Teaching Award, the American Society of Naturalists' Edward Osborne Wilson Award, election as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and president of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. His Snakes: the Evolution of Mystery in Nature won a PEN Literary Award and made the New York Times' list of "100 Most Notable Books." At Cornell he teaches introductory biology for non-majors and herpetology, and is finishing Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art.

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Wednesday, December 2

Curating the Archive: Representing Scattered Collections of the Colonial Past

Pippa Skotnes, Professor of Fine Art and Director of the Centre for Curating the Archive at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town

This talk will focus on creative curatorship and the challenges of representing the material presence of the past. It will suggest that curating the archive is an act of both the intellectual and creative revivification of the events and actions that brought it into being. It will illustrate several installations and exhibitions of the curated archive of Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd.

Brief Biography:
Pippa Skotnes was educated at the University of Cape Town where she was awarded a Master of Fine Art degree and a Doctor of Literature degree. She is now Professor of Fine Art and Director of the Centre for Curating the Archive at the Michaelis School of Fine Art. She studied fine art, archaeology and the book arts, and has published several essays on the rock art of the San (Bushmen). She has exhibited her creative work in many different parts of the world and is the author and editor of a number of books, including Miscast: negotiating the presence of the Bushmen (1996), which accompanied a major exhibition on the colonial history of the San at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town, Claim to the Country: the archive of Lucy Lloyd and Wilhelm Bleek (2007) and Unconquerable Spirit: George Stow and the History Paintings of the San. She has also published a number of private press books, including Sound from the thinking strings (1991) and Lamb of God (2003-8), the latter comprising, in part, several volumes inscribed on the bones of horses. Two of these are on show at the University of Michigan where she is Andrew Mellon Fellow at the Institute for the Humanities in December 2009.

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