January 24, 2015
Museum Studies: An Insider’s Look at What Makes Museums Work
Under Color of Law: Civil Rights Protest Movements, Past and Present
Two exhibitions are now open to the public.
Museum Studies brings together artwork by 12 celebrated and influential contemporary artists, all of whom find inspiration in the vocabulary, procedures, and conventions of museum practice. Taking their cue from the essential but often mundane duties of art handlers, conservators, critics, curators, and registrars, the artists in Museum Studies explore aspects of the museum’s functionality that generally remain out-of-sight or unacknowledged. Opening reception Tuesday, February 10 from 4:00 - 6:00pm
The artists featured are Joe Amrhein, Richard Artschwager, Don Celender, Thomas Demand, David Diao, Alicia Framis, Elliott Erwitt, Louise Lawler, Glenn Ligon, Julian Montague, Vik Muniz, and David Shapiro.
Shedding light on such necessities as the wooden shipping crate, the salient information affixed to the backs of paintings, the obtuse language used in art publications, and the conservation and repair of artworks, Museum Studies offers a cleverly deadpan take on the “aesthetics of administration.” Taken as a whole, the works on view in the exhibition form a “how-to-guide” for running an established and successful art museum.
“Even when the most dedicated and knowledgeable museum-goers visit, their focus—as it should be—is mainly on the art displayed in the museum’s galleries. Having spent my career as a curator, I know all too well that while the exhibition is the primary end product, it is still only a small part of what a museum is and does. It is the behind-the-scenes procedures that truly fascinate me. Why not pull back the curtain so everyone can feel like an expert?” says Charles Stainback, Director of the Berman Museum and curator of Museum Studies.
Under Color of Law brings together works by five acclaimed African American artists to catalyze important conversations about race, privilege, speech, and historical memory.
The artists featured in the exhibition are Terry Adkins, Nsenga Knight, Hank Willis Thomas, Nari Ward, and Carrie Mae Weems.
The exhibition’s title, Under Color of Law, refers to the legal term for the appearance of authority that covers the actions of police officers, judges, or other government officials, whether those actions are lawful or not. Though it responds to a national climate of rising tension regarding the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities—especially after the high-profile grand jury decisions in the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y.—Under Color of Law proposes a wider angle of view, one shaped not only by the quick conclusions of viral media, but by layers of historical context.
The works presented in the exhibition and in accompanying public programs make references to the early activism of W.E.B. Du Bois, the final speeches of Malcolm X, the lingering legacy of Jim Crow, the Voting Rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, and the disturbing bureaucracy of current “stop-and-frisk” policies. Yet all of these issues point to the same essential dilemma, which is still at the forefront today—how should individuals respond to their perceptions of injustice?
“Many students at Ursinus were upset and confused when a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict any of the police officers involved in the death of Eric Garner last December. My thoughts automatically went to a handful of artists making extremely powerful and affecting work about the intersections between race and privilege across time, and Under Color of Law started from there. The work of these artists has impacted me personally before, and I felt that bringing it to the College could facilitate honest conversations about these difficult topics,” says Berman Curator Ginny Kollak, who organized the exhibition.
The Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College, 601 E. Main St., Collegeville, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays. Admission to the Berman Museum is always free. It is accessible to visitors with disabilities.