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"The Sound of Artifacts Disappearing" today in the LA Times

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  • Lee Rubinstein
    As a follow-up to the recent discussion in which I touched upon the idea (in Message 2824) of works being shared among museums to enable accessibility and to
    Message 1 of 4 , Jan 29, 2008
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      As a follow-up to the recent discussion in which I touched upon the idea (in Message 2824) of works being shared among museums to enable accessibility and to fulfill the role of museums as purveyors of global knowledge, history and art (thus justifying the transfer and holding of works away from their places of origin), an article which appears today in the LA Times may be of interest.  It offers another perspective on the state of this aspect of the arts worthy of consideration.  See Craig Childs' "The Sound of Artifacts Disappearing" at http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-oe-childs29jan29,1,5320246.story?ctrack=1&cset=true.

      One passage that caught my eye:

      "In museum collections across the country, ancient bowls are stacked because there is no more room. I have walked the astonishing corridors locked within the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the overstocked storage space of the Peabody at Harvard University -- four stories of towering pre-Columbian ceramics. I say enough is enough.

      A recent study of collections held in public trust in the United States found that 40% of all stockpiled artifacts are in unknown condition. Curators who actually work with their collections -- rather than in well-paid office positions -- complain of bags splitting open and boxes decaying. Some artifacts are being "de-accessioned" -- sold to collectors -- or in some cases, as with samples and specimens, tossed in the trash."

      I continue to believe that in addition to the need to explore more fully the ideas underlying the movement of cultural objects, there remains a need to consider new approaches to the distribution and custody of works that are held in the name of preservation and the development of a broadened conception of world art and history.
       
      Lee

    • sanibelart@comcast.net
      Granted it was a couple of decades ago, but I remember touring the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and being stunned by the number items they had on display. They
      Message 2 of 4 , Jan 29, 2008
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        Granted it was a couple of decades ago, but I remember touring the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and being stunned by the number items they had on display. They were jammed together with each item distracting fromthe one before and the one after. Here and there we would see a small vacant space, overall less than 2% of the exhibits. We were told that those items were in the traveling Tut exhibit. Because we had asked, we were offered the opportunity to tour the storage areas. You are right. There was exponentially more material in storage - out of the public view - than was on display. And it was poorly maintained.

        Later, we had visited museums in America where Native American artifacts are displayed. Again, because we asked the right questions, we were given the opportunity to tour the storage areas. Same old, same old. Hundreds, maybe thousands of items that will never be seen by the people who pay to acquire them and who should see them for learning purposes, the public.

        Fortunately, the Native American stuff tended to be better preserved.

        William Waites
        -------------- Original message ----------------------
        From: Lee Rubinstein <LeeRubinstein@...>
        > As a follow-up to the recent discussion in which I touched upon the
        > idea (in Message 2824) of works being shared among museums to enable
        > accessibility and to fulfill the role of museums as purveyors of
        > global knowledge, history and art (thus justifying the transfer and
        > holding of works away from their places of origin), an article which
        > appears today in the LA Times may be of interest. It offers another
        > perspective on the state of this aspect of the arts worthy of
        > consideration. See Craig Childs' "The Sound of Artifacts
        > Disappearing" at http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-
        > oe-childs29jan29,1,5320246.story?ctrack=1&cset=true.
        >
        > One passage that caught my eye:
        >
        > "In museum collections across the country, ancient bowls are stacked
        > because there is no more room. I have walked the astonishing
        > corridors locked within the American Museum of Natural History in New
        > York and the overstocked storage space of the Peabody at Harvard
        > University -- four stories of towering pre-Columbian ceramics. I say
        > enough is enough.
        >
        > A recent study of collections held in public trust in the United
        > States found that 40% of all stockpiled artifacts are in unknown
        > condition. Curators who actually work with their collections --
        > rather than in well-paid office positions -- complain of bags
        > splitting open and boxes decaying. Some artifacts are being "de-
        > accessioned" -- sold to collectors -- or in some cases, as with
        > samples and specimens, tossed in the trash."
        >
        > I continue to believe that in addition to the need to explore more
        > fully the ideas underlying the movement of cultural objects, there
        > remains a need to consider new approaches to the distribution and
        > custody of works that are held in the name of preservation and the
        > development of a broadened conception of world art and history.
        >
        > Lee
        >
      • Alexander Bortolot
        It would be nice if more works from museums permanent collections were on display all the time, but even then only a limited number of people - the average
        Message 3 of 4 , Feb 3, 2008
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          It would be nice if more works from museums' permanent collections were on display all the time, but even then only a limited number of people - the average annual number of museum-goers - would see them.  The author should have done his homework before singling out of the AMNH, though, because that example actually disproves his point.  That institution has done a FANTASTIC job of making their collections available to the public through the internet, providing not only images of the objects in storage but also associated archival materials (mainly accession reports).  If more museums could get the grant money to put their collections online - and many of them are - this wouldn't be an issue.  As we've all so often benefited from Lee's superb online research using museum databases, we as a group should give museums more credit for their efforts.
           
          Finally, everyone's got a story about museums' apparently poor treatment of objects in storage, but I'm pretty sure their store room conditions are no worse and actually far better than most dealer's closets/ garages/ storage units or many art collectors' non-climate controlled houses.  I've never visited an American museum whose curatorial and conservation staff haven't been supremely concerned with the protection of the works in their charge. 
           
          Alex
           
           
           


           
          ----- Original Message ----
          From: Lee Rubinstein <LeeRubinstein@...>
          To: African_Arts@yahoogroups.com
          Sent: Tuesday, January 29, 2008 10:25:02 AM
          Subject: [African_Arts] "The Sound of Artifacts Disappearing" today in the LA Times

          As a follow-up to the recent discussion in which I touched upon the idea (in Message 2824) of works being shared among museums to enable accessibility and to fulfill the role of museums as purveyors of global knowledge, history and art (thus justifying the transfer and holding of works away from their places of origin), an article which appears today in the LA Times may be of interest.  It offers another perspective on the state of this aspect of the arts worthy of consideration.  See Craig Childs' "The Sound of Artifacts Disappearing" at http://www.latimes. com/news/ printedition/ asection/ la-oe-childs29ja n29,1,5320246. story?ctrack= 1&cset=true.


          One passage that caught my eye:

          "In museum collections across the country, ancient bowls are stacked because there is no more room. I have walked the astonishing corridors locked within the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the overstocked storage space of the Peabody at Harvard University -- four stories of towering pre-Columbian ceramics. I say enough is enough.

          A recent study of collections held in public trust in the United States found that 40% of all stockpiled artifacts are in unknown condition. Curators who actually work with their collections -- rather than in well-paid office positions -- complain of bags splitting open and boxes decaying. Some artifacts are being "de-accessioned" -- sold to collectors -- or in some cases, as with samples and specimens, tossed in the trash."

          I continue to believe that in addition to the need to explore more fully the ideas underlying the movement of cultural objects, there remains a need to consider new approaches to the distribution and custody of works that are held in the name of preservation and the development of a broadened conception of world art and history.
           
          Lee




          Never miss a thing. Make Yahoo your homepage.
        • Lee Rubinstein
          Alex: Thank you for providing a counter-point to the specific critique offered by Childs with reference to the AMNH. It is true that the AMNH is among the
          Message 4 of 4 , Feb 3, 2008
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            Alex:

            Thank you for providing a counter-point to the specific critique offered by Childs with reference to the AMNH.  It is true that the AMNH is among the museums which have indeed made great strides in generating broad public access to their holdings.  Acknowledging the progress which is occurring, there are indeed still many directions yet to explore and develop for the more frequent and direct presentation of works in storage both in institutions and private collections.  

            That being said, as your message was posted, I was reading a somewhat related article from the African Study Monographs of the Center for African Area Studies at the University of Kyoto (Japan) which provides some very interesting historical and technical information about the display, storage and care of Benin objects both in their traditional contexts and in more recent museum settings:  "Cuaratorship of Benin Cultural Materials:  Towards Integrating Indigenous and Orthodox Methods" by K.A. Agbontaen-Eghafona and A. Ikechukwu Okpoko.  The first half of the article traces and describes the various traditional settings and prescriptions for the placement, handling and care of Benin cultural objects while the second portion of the article provides both a historical and technical review of curatorship and preservation methods used for cultural objects in Benin.  The latter section includes a description of practical care and preservation methods used for objects of various materials -- methods which may be considered and applied to the care of objects in current collections.  It is most illuminating to see the description and integration of the various phases in the life of a cultural object -- both as a religious object in a sacred locale and as an art "treasure" in a non-religious but still highly prestigious Iwowa -- as well as to consider how this change in classification and placement extends into other extra-local contexts of retention, preservation and presentation.


            Lee 

            On Feb 3, 2008, at 11:16 PM, Alexander Bortolot wrote:


            It would be nice if more works from museums' permanent collections were on display all the time, but even then only a limited number of people - the average annual number of museum-goers - would see them.  The author should have done his homework before singling out of the AMNH, though, because that example actually disproves his point.  That institution has done a FANTASTIC job of making their collections available to the public through the internet, providing not only images of the objects in storage but also associated archival materials (mainly accession reports).  If more museums could get the grant money to put their collections online - and many of them are - this wouldn't be an issue.  As we've all so often benefited from Lee's superb online research using museum databases, we as a group should give museums more credit for their efforts.
             
            Finally, everyone's got a story about museums' apparently poor treatment of objects in storage, but I'm pretty sure their store room conditions are no worse and actually far better than most dealer's closets/ garages/ storage units or many art collectors' non-climate controlled houses.  I've never visited an American museum whose curatorial and conservation staff haven't been supremely concerned with the protection of the works in their charge. 
             
            Alex
             
             
             


             
            ----- Original Message ----
            From: Lee Rubinstein <LeeRubinstein@ mac.com>
            To: African_Arts@ yahoogroups. com
            Sent: Tuesday, January 29, 2008 10:25:02 AM
            Subject: [African_Arts] "The Sound of Artifacts Disappearing" today in the LA Times

            As a follow-up to the recent discussion in which I touched upon the idea (in Message 2824) of works being shared among museums to enable accessibility and to fulfill the role of museums as purveyors of global knowledge, history and art (thus justifying the transfer and holding of works away from their places of origin), an article which appears today in the LA Times may be of interest.  It offers another perspective on the state of this aspect of the arts worthy of consideration.  See Craig Childs' "The Sound of Artifacts Disappearing" at http://www.latimes. com/news/ printedition/ asection/ la-oe-childs29ja n29,1,5320246. story?ctrack= 1&cset=true.


            One passage that caught my eye:

            "In museum collections across the country, ancient bowls are stacked because there is no more room. I have walked the astonishing corridors locked within the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the overstocked storage space of the Peabody at Harvard University -- four stories of towering pre-Columbian ceramics. I say enough is enough.

            A recent study of collections held in public trust in the United States found that 40% of all stockpiled artifacts are in unknown condition. Curators who actually work with their collections -- rather than in well-paid office positions -- complain of bags splitting open and boxes decaying. Some artifacts are being "de-accessioned" -- sold to collectors -- or in some cases, as with samples and specimens, tossed in the trash."

            I continue to believe that in addition to the need to explore more fully the ideas underlying the movement of cultural objects, there remains a need to consider new approaches to the distribution and custody of works that are held in the name of preservation and the development of a broadened conception of world art and history.
             
            Lee




            Never miss a thing. Make Yahoo your homepage.


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