Walking one fine wire…

Timothy Luke has a unique and interesting perspective when it comes to museums. While some of the debates he presented  have been familiar to me, other arguments about the underlaying political agenda of museums have been really thought-provoking. I think Luke does a good job of exploring the ideas behind controvercial exhibits and proving his argument with them, but he seems to forget that the vast majority of musems around the country are small or mid-size museums that rarely have these heated debates reagarding exhibit content. I don’t know if this weakens his thesis, but it does seem to show an area that he could have at least tried to explore. More than anything, it makes the constant tight-rope walk of exhibit curation seem a little more daunting.

The chapters about “The Crossroads” exhibit and those at the National Museum of American Art and The Autry Museum were particularly interesting to me. All three exhibits that are discussed are ones that are very well known in the museum world. Just saying the words “Enola Gay Exhibit”  to a curator will often get a reaction. I think because of a few things: first, it was a well researched exhibit depicting history that’s important to our culture. Second, the lesson curators wanted people to walk away with (the consequences of dropping the bombs, how that related to the Cold War and its relevancy to life in 1995) was a good one. Third, museums have to be as objective as possible, and choosing words like “vengeance” when it comes to war doesn’t show impartiality. While I think everyone understands the gravity of dropping the bombs, I also know that people don’t want to be made into the bad guy when they thought they were being heros. It all goes back to the balancing act that museums have to perform everytime a new exhibit comes along.

I say this with complete awareness of my bias–  I’m a little sad to read that, because of Luke’s arguments, people are now questioning the objectivity of museums. This is the theme I keep coming back to I guess– there is a very fine line that museums have to find, balancing between visitor appeal and historical accuarcy. We always have to ask ourselves “How do I make this relevant? How can I say what needs to be said in just a few lines of text? What artifact will reflect this topic?” I can confidently say that it would be impossible to have an exhibit that everyone was happy with. Despite all of that, I don’t know a single professional that would purposely make an exhibit that was completly bias or one-sided. No exhibit is perfect or can show every aspect in a complete way, which is one of the hurdles museums have to overcome.

2 thoughts on “Walking one fine wire…”

  1. Thank you for this post, and pointing out that most museums are small to mid-size that do not have such controversial exhibits. I know I did not adequately address that in my post, and that makes this reading easier to digest, knowing that this culture war might not be so pronounced in the smaller museums.

  2. Great post, Sarah. As I was reading this week I kept wondering how your experiences at work match up. I look forward to class tomorrow and hopefully hearing more about your perspective.

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