Adam Harris Levine and Diva Zumaya
Moderator: Suzanne van de Meerendonk
This panel considers how curators of European art collections and the institutions that care for them on this continent may assess the role and place of European art in exhibitions and programming amid processes of decolonization and Indigenization. It asks how museum professionals can creatively and effectively work to account for inherited inequities in dedicated space, funding and human resources that structurally privilege European Art. As many museums across North America are working to transform such structures along with the categorizations and practices born from them, this panel discusses how curators can seek to responsibly work with colleagues across collections and time periods, acknowledge colonial legacies and realities in exhibitions and permanent displays and negotiate a reduced European footprint within them.
Part of An Institute for Curatorial Inquiry
In-Person, 14–19 August 2022
Read more: https://agnes.queensu.ca/participate/…
Download the transcript: https://agnes.queensu.ca/site/uploads…Adam Harris Levine and Diva Zumaya
Moderator: Suzanne van de Meerendonk
Use CTRL+F to find key words if it is a longer transcript.
>> So, very good afternoon and welcome back
to the Institute for Curatorial Inquiry.
And my name is Suzanne van de Meerendonk and
I am the Bader Curator of European Art here
at the Agnes Etherington Art
Centre at Queen’s University. Before we begin this conversation this
afternoon, I would like to take a moment
to acknowledge that Queen’s
University is situated on unceded Anishinaabe, and Haudenosaunee territory.
There’s also a significant Metis community
in Katarokwi and there are first peoples from other nations across Turtle
Island present in this area today.
I would like to express gratitude for
their ongoing stewardship of the land which makes it possible for
all of us to gather here today.
And I would also like to reflect on the
privilege I have to work and build a new life on these lands as an uninvited guest.
I am myself a somewhat recent settler
of Indonesian Dutch heritage coming here from the Netherlands by way of
what is now the United States.
This journey echoes the path of arrival of Dutch and other European settlers during the same
periods we will turn much of our focus to today.
In doing so, let us also recall the basic
principles of equality and friendship
that were agreed on in the Two Row Wampum,
a treaty concluded also at that time,
between the Dutch and Haudenosaunee
peoples and pertaining to these lands.
This is particularly important because
much of our conversation today will revolve around the long-lasting repercussions of
Europeans’ failure to honour this treaty
and instead violently impose
worldviews and cultural practices on indigenous peoples here and elsewhere.
The effects of this breach of trust
are still felt, including in museums
and other art institutions,
where European categorizations and preferences became deeply entrenched.
So, today’s conversation brings together
curators of European art who work
on this continent, on Turtle Island, as those
same institutions are now in the process
of working towards decolonization
and Indigenization. And to this ends, it is my great pleasure
to introduce these wonderful colleagues.
First, Adam Harris Levine is the Assistant
Curator of European Art at the Art Gallery
of Ontario and also a Ph.D. candidate
at Columbia University in New York City.
And Levine’s area of specialty is Medieval
and Renaissance Sculpture and Decorative Arts.
He holds a BA in Art History and Spanish
Literature from McGill University in Montreal,
Quebec, and an MA in Art History from
the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.
Prior to becoming Assistant Curator of European
Art in 2020, he held various curatorial roles
at the AGO and conducted extensive work
with a Thomson Collection of European Art.
He has also recently curated the exhibition
European Art on First Nations Land as well
as the current exhibition Faith and Fortune
Art Across the Global Spanish Empire
which is still on view until October 10.
Diva Zumaya is Assistant Curator at the Los
Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles.
She received her Ph.D. from the University of
California Santa Barbara in 2018 as a specialist
in 16th and 17th-century Dutch art, with a
minor specialization in Spanish colonial art.
Prior to assuming her current role in 2020, Zumaya the Wallis Annenberg
Curatorial Fellow in the Department
of Old Master Painting and Sculpture at LACMA,
and she worked in the curatorial department
of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art before that. As an independent curator, Diva also co-curated
the Getty Pacific Standard Time LA/LA
Affiliated Exhibition, Sacred Art in the Age
of Contact: Chumash and Latin American
Traditions in Santa Barbara for the Art Design
and Architecture Museum at
UC Santa Barbara and also at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum in 2017.
She’s currently preparing an exhibition on
Northern European Wunderkammern or Cabinets
of Curiosity that is scheduled
to open in June of next year. Is that still correct?
September of next year. So, thank you both so much for being here today
and spending time with us at this Institute
and I must say I’m particularly grateful to
have this conversation with the two of you,
and not only because I have such admiration
and respect for the work that you do. But I also think it’s significant
that you both —
or even the three have us all have
family histories and backgrounds
that are very much enmeshed in colonial
histories, which I think informs our perspective
on and also commitment to the
importance of decolonial museum work.
So, I look forward to what I hope will be a very
frank conversations about the possibilities,
but also the challenges and the
limitations of the work that we do.
So, I thought to kick us
off, I might ask you both to really briefly situate a bit the European
art collections that you both work with
and how those relate to, you
know, the rest of the scope of the collections in your institutions.
Do you want to go first, Diva? >> Okay. Sure. Is this on? Yes. Hi. Thank you for Suzanne
and Agnes for having me.
Yeah, just to kick off. LACMA is a purportedly encyclopedic museum.
I always put that in quotes,
because it’s kind of a fake thing and we’re not really encyclopedic. But that’s what we call ourselves.
And we do have a wide range of cultures
represented from across the globe. We have I believe, 15 curatorial departments.
And we have about 40 or so curators,
just to give you a sense of the scale. I, myself and my colleague, Dr.
Leah Lembeck are the Department
of European Painting and Sculpture. And we — our material runs from
antiquity through 1900, at which point,
the Department of Modern Art takes over
the rest of Europe for the 20th century.
>> Thank you so much, Suzanne, for the
introduction for bringing us together. I’m really happy to be here. The Art Gallery of Ontario doesn’t make the
same claim as LACMA towards encyclopedic status.
But we were founded in 1900, out
of a historic home much like Agnes,
and some of the first objects to enter
the collection were European paintings.
And it was really only in the 1960s,
with the arrival of some Inuit sculptures
that the collection really started to
broaden beyond the context of European
and Settler Canadian Art,
especially painting and sculpture. And one thing that I think about a lot is that
when you enter the Art Gallery of Ontario today,
the ground floor around the kind of main
space, Walker Court, is the European galleries.
And so, they’re European artists sort
of inevitable and central to the layout and the experience of the AGO, which is
something that I’ve thought a lot about
and would love to see change in the future. You know, this panel is called Decentering.
European Art. I would love also to think about it as marginalizing European
art in North American museums.
Because I don’t think that it should be
taken for granted or naturalized that a visit
to an art museum on Turtle Island, inevitably
features looking at art from Europe.
Or that it should be the entry point for
a visit to an art museum on Turtle Island. I think that European art is important to
thinking about, you know, global histories
and to contextualizing lots of ways that
we relate to the land that we live on.
But I don’t think it should
be essential or primary. And so, that is something that I think
about a lot and would love to see change.
>> Yeah, thank you. And yeah, this morning, we talked about,
you know, the politics of space also in the museums, that it’s good to keep in mind.
So, in regards to these processes
of decolonization and Indigenization that are ongoing in many institutions,
I imagine in yours as well.
Can you talk a bit about how these processes
are taking place and maybe talk a bit
about the projects that you’ve been involved in? That — yeah, take up this question.
You can start. >> Sure. I’d love to. You know, my work is — obviously exists
in a much broader institutional context,
where I’m really lucky to work with colleagues
like Wanda Nanibush, who’s, you know, an important leader in the field.
I do think that it’s important for
curators in every single department to play a really active role in this work and
to not put the onus, or the — you know, the —
all of the load on our Indigenous colleagues. So, I have images up on the screen from
an exhibition that I had up a few years ago
that I think about a lot, and for me, was really foundational work called
European Art on First Nations Land.
It’s in a gallery called Leonard Rotunda,
which is kind of like the first — it’s the entry gallery to the European Art
Galleries at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
And this is sort of an inaugural exhibition,
a series of collection-based exhibitions
that myself and my boss, Dr. Caroline Shields,
have done that kind of greet our visitors
and welcome them to the European Galleries with
a series of questions that really seek to kind
of call into question the very existence
of European collections on Turtle Island
and to think about what they
do or what they can do. A question that I have all
the time is, is it possible?
Is it even possible as a starting place to show
European art in an art museum on Turtle Island
without reifying or reasserting
Eurocentrism and without continuing
to perpetuate colonial harm as
like just the starting place?
And so, I brought together well, I’ll just,
this is — the view that we have on the screen has,
you know, three, like celebrated works from
the Art Gallery of Ontario’s collection.
At the far left is a piece called “The Academy”
painted by Kent Monkman, a Cree artist.
Anishinaabe artist Norval
Morrisseau, one of his most — one of my favourite paintings
that he ever made, is —
it’s on craft paper with acrylic paint
called “Man Surrounded by Serpents”.
And then John Lorenzo Bernini’s
“Crucified Jesus”, from 1650 in Rome.
And so, this is just one view of that. But I’ll show you also the kind of — so this
is just the intro text from that exhibition
that raises a series of questions that we
hope that our visitors would carry with them as they move through the European galleries.
At the very core of this, I think that we
really want to call out is understanding that the economies and the global power
structures of European colonialism funded
and yeah, like literally funded the art making
that then you go on to see in the galleries
that follow, but also then brings the
visitor into the present with questions
like how can we admire objects of tremendous
beauty and acknowledge at the same time, the ugly, violent systems that produce them?
This is a question that I think
about every day in my work.
And also, I think, a question that I’m
trying to evolve and advance because I think, one thing is about sitting with complexity and
conflict and another is also just I’ve sort of,
I mean, this was two years
ago that I put up the show. And now I’m — I’ve joked
with you both the other night
that this whole beauty thing is a
really big problem for curating.
Like, engaging, right, with beauty and thinking
about what is and isn’t beautiful, or ugly.
I mean, these are like really
subjective value systems that I think get really, really
messy and complicated.
But that is — I did want to kind of
invite visitors to play with that duality
and sit with this tension when they’re
looking at works of art in the collection. But also, to understand that
we’re not, you know,
a big part of I think what museums are supposed
to do is to put historical art in context
and I’m less interested in putting in context, like
brushstrokes and like, treatises on perspective,
than I am about extractive economies
and enslavement and an empire.
And like, yeah, but I — hopefully, that
will get borne out in the next few slides.
Sorry, just so you know, we rehearsed that
we would — I would talk for a bit. I don’t want you to feel like —
I’m just rambling with — for
— without interruption. I promise this was rehearsed, this rambling.
I mean, the Monkman is a really like — that’s
a piece that was commissioned by Gerald McMaster
in I think 2007 and invited Monkman to look
at works of art from the AGO’s collection
by Indigenous and settler and European artists. And really kind of take this
very question into account.
Sort of like, what is the kind of power
that Eurocentrism continues to hold
on the visual culture of this place? And so, I felt very lucky that
this piece already existed
in the collection, that I could lean on it. But it was really nice to kind of bring together
some of the references that Monkman was making
for the first time in the galleries. He told me that he had never actually seen
some of the works that he brought together
in this kind of imaginary
painting into one gallery space. And I was really excited for that.
Yeah, I think these are just — on the side,
these are some of the European paintings
that we included that I thought were really
important because they can be really — they can function as really important bodies
of evidence for understanding the history
of white supremacy in European art. And the — you know, painting on the left
is a 16th-century painting by Luca Giordano.
Sorry, 17th century. And then on the right, Nicolas Monsiaux,
a late 19th-century painting.
And both of them like, really, really, I
wanted to treat them as like bodies of evidence
for understanding the kind of like long
histories of white supremacy that are embedded
in European art that we display,
kind of often with our —
or that museums can sometimes
display without comment. And that, you know, that one of the
risks I worry about when we show this art
without comment or without intervention
is that people can continue to kind of —
that, yeah, that these paintings,
like re-inscribe these systems. And that museums can perpetuate
these systems just simply
by showing this art within
— without intervention.
Recently, we reinstalled the
European Permanent Galleries. And I’ll just say this is a small thing.
Well, maybe it’s — we talked about it. It’s not a small thing for
within our field, that, you know,
European art curators are often really beholden
to academia and to, I feel like sometimes curate
for their peers rather than
for museum audiences. And that’s a big problem.
And so, these are two galleries. One on the left is a gallery
dedicated to art that’s domestic
and civic art, life in Europe, in the 1600s. And the one on the right is religious life.
Those galleries used to be Northern
European art and Southern European art, which I thought were divisions that
I didn’t really expect anyone except
for like someone super embedded in art history, European nerdery, to appreciate
or to care about.
But that like it — I really wanted to throw
out this kind of commitment to academia,
and instead to be more accessible, and to put
people in a position where they didn’t have to read the labels necessarily, to make
their own connections and to feel confident
and to feel like they knew what was going on. I wanted to free our visitors from like a
reliance on the museum’s voice as a way for them
to make their own knowledge or
to make their own connections. So — and I’m happy with how that turned out.
And the other thing that I’m really excited
about in the permanent collection galleries is that we’ve started to really kind of
think in the language of empire as a way
of talking about colonial history. So, for instance, the painting on the right
is a work that I acquired for the museum,
probably two years ago by José Campeche, who was a Puerto Rican painter,
who lived from 1751 to 1809.
This was a really important acquisition for me. I’m Puerto Rican, my mother
was from Puerto Rico.
My father is Jewish. They met in Lenapehoking,
in New York, and I was raised there.
And I — my — and I ended up sort
of studying Spain for many years. And my relationship to Spain, I think,
is informed by being Puerto Rican.
And my interest in Spain is a morbid one, right? I often wonder, like, is it possible for me to
sit with the fact that I probably wouldn’t exist
and that my family wouldn’t exist, if not
for Spanish colonization, but to do that, without any gratitude towards Spain?
Like is it possible to kind of sit with those
histories of empire and understand the ways
that they have constructed mine and my
family’s lives and lots of people’s lives
like mine, without celebrating Spain? So, anyway, I really — what I was —
and that made me think in the permanent
collection galleries of many museums that when you go into these galleries of Spanish
art, for instance, and you never have to look
at the art of the lands that Spain is,
you know, extracting and profiting off
of to fund artmaking of say, Velázquez
that visitors are kind of allowed —
yeah, they’re only given a tiny
fraction of the real picture. And so, it was very important for me to
bring art from the Hispanophone, Caribbean.
And actually, there’s a work from Quebec. A 17th-century Virgin from a Quebec
church in this gallery that’s supposed
to be about European art of the 1700s. And it’s just to me quite
exciting because you —
visitors have to think about the
sort of colonial sphere when they’re in a space that’s supposed to be about Europe.
They’re no longer kind of able to just think
about Europe as if it exists in a vacuum
that is, you know, pure of
violence and extraction.
And I’m sorry, I’m aware I’m talking slow. So, I’ll go fast now. But I currently have this exhibition up at the
AGO, that kind of really looks to expand —
and on this idea of very, very explicitly. It’s called Faith and Fortune Art
Across the Global Spanish Empire.
And it looks at art from Latin
America and the Philippines and Spain from the years 1492 to 1898.
So, basically starting with
Columbus’s arrival in the Bahamas, when he thinks he’s in the Moluccas.
And then ending with Spain
losing the Spanish American War,
and no longer really being an empire except
for its colonial territory in Western Sahara.
And yeah, I’ll just — I have a couple of — I
just always, whenever I talk about an exhibition
that I’ve done, I always want to, at least briefly show the names
of everyone that worked on it.
And I’ll talk a bit later, hopefully, about the
community advisory process and the audio guide
in the exhibition, which I
think is really important. But yeah, I really — this exhibition
looks at the visual culture of an empire.
It takes a kind of forensic perspective. I say that because I really
want to under, you know, underscore the extent to
which crimes took place.
And looks at basically this broader
colonial economy of art making.
And so, for instance, the object on the left
is a piece of gold bullion from a shipwreck off of Cuba in 1622 that’s in
the AGO’s Thomson Collection.
I often make the point that if
the ship had arrived in Madrid, that gold might very easily have been turned
into coinage that would have been paid Velázquez
for some of his earliest commissions at court. When he arrives at court and
1623, that painting is from 1623.
So, when we talk about the so-called Golden Age
of Spanish art, rather than losing that term,
which some of my colleagues have
proposed, we don’t use that term anymore. I’m more interested in people
thinking about this gold.
Right? Gold that is stolen from
stolen land, mined by stolen people,
and brought to Spain to support
this art economy.
You know, sometimes people say like, why
can’t we just talk about brushstrokes? And why does every conversation about
Velázquez have to be about colonization?
First of all, almost no conversations
about Velázquez are about enslavement and colonization, despite the fact that
Velázquez enslaved a man named Juan de Pareja,
who might very well have actually produced
some of the brushstrokes on this painting. So, when we talk about brushstrokes, and you
know, I’m happy to have that conversation,
but so long as we’re talking about
the fact that Juan de Pareja is one of the people — one of the practitioners there.
And that we can — I really wanted our
visitors to be able to draw a direct connection between this painting and this piece of gold.
And then this sort of incredible map of Potosí,
which is a mine in Bolivia, which produced most
of the world’s silver for centuries. And so, to kind of bring these
together in a constellation.
And then the other thing that I think
is really important that the show does
that really hasn’t been widely practised in
the way that we talked about these histories is that — is really talked about
the role of the Philippines,
which was colonized by Spain for over 350 years. This was important because it’s
historically important and accurate,
but also because Toronto is home to an
enormous and thriving Filipinx population, who haven’t really been welcomed
to the museum before.
And I wasn’t really at all — you know, I really
wanted to intervene in this history in this way.
And so, you know, just, for instance,
you have these textiles, one from Mexico
and one from the Philippines on the left. And then all of these are works of art that
are kind of born out of artistic exchange
between artists in Latin
America and artists in Southeast and East Asia via trade across
the Pacific Ocean.
So, I think that’s something I’m just
really excited about and very proud of that came out of this exhibition.
>> Thank you. There’s a lot there that we can talk about. And I know Diva, you’re also both working on
exhibitions, temporary exhibitions that kind
of draw a broader picture of European art as
well as also working on permanent displays
that eventually will be seen
in the new LACMA building. So, I’ll just turn over to you to
answer the same question and talk a bit
about work you’ve done in the past and
also work you’re currently working on. >> Now a lot of my stuff is future tense,
but this is — thankfully already happened.
This is, as Suzanne so graciously mentioned
in my introduction, an exhibition I curated
with my brilliant friend and colleague, Maggie
Bell, who’s now at the Norton Simon Museum when we were both struggling grad students.
And it’s called Sacred Art in
the Age of Contact, Chumash, and Latin American Traditions in Santa Barbara.
And basically, we had just studied for our
minor field exams, the period of contact
of Cortés arriving in Mexico, and
Book 12 of the Florentine Codex. And so, our idea was to look at the moment
of contact in Santa Barbara, which is a city,
if you don’t know, about an hour and a half
north of Los Angeles up the coast of California. And we pretty much immediately realized that
that show was not possible without working
with a wide group of Chumash people
from all kinds of different groups.
And Suzanne was actually involved
in this process in our program and a couple of other colleagues of ours.
And we got kind of a working monthly
seminar group together with about 10 or 12 rotating different Chumash
people, including Jonathan Cordero,
who was one of our key collaborators. He’s a professor in sociology at
Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks,
California, and he’s Chumash, as well. And we basically worked through
the exhibition with them.
It was kind of a group curatorial project. And we pretty much learnt everything about
these objects, historical objects, through them,
and kind of it shed so much light on
things that we could never have ever known. You know, their oral knowledge and their
shared knowledge as Indigenous people was kind
of the primary source and
how — that’s how we worked. Yeah, thank you. Just two examples of things I was
especially proud of from the show.
On the right, that’s a little
iPad that was installed in the Santa Barbara Historical
Museum iteration of the show.
And you’ll see little kind of circles there. It’s hard to make out. But essentially, we produced — we got a grant
from Cal Humanities to produce oral histories
with a whole group of Chumash elders. And these are still online
on their YouTube channel.
So, they’re kind of in their full uncut forms. So, they exist as kind of a learning resource. But we had kind of clips centred around
different topics available in this space.
So, you could hear the voices of Chumash
people in this space, and you could learn and see their faces and hear them talk
about their traditions in their culture.
And then on the left, this is a Chumash regalia. And this is just an example of
one learning experience we have.
Because as curators ignorantly going
into this process, my colleague, Maggie and I were like, of
course, we want regalia.
It’s beautiful. You know, we’re thinking about the exhibition. We quickly learnt that’s not
something that would be appropriate.
Because their regalia is loaded
with all kinds of medicine, and it just would not be something they
would be comfortable with us displaying.
And so, through those conversations,
we learnt that we could display this — these pieces of regalia because
they were made for didactic purposes
for the Natural History Museum of Santa Barbara. So, these were appropriate because
they were made not for use in ceremony.
Oh, yeah. Keeps going. And then just — I’ll talk about these
projections and the back wall here.
We had the idea to put up basically photos
from our community collaborators in the back.
And the idea was to kind of signal in this
big visible way throughout the whole show — so, you’re seeing Catholic
Spanish colonial objects,
you’re seeing Chumash objects all
from like, the mission period. Right? That’s what the exhibition comprised, which is like 1769 to the
1820s in Santa Barbara.
And the idea was that the whole time you
can see, you know, a big visible format. The living, thriving, present-day
So, the idea is that they did not succeed,
the missions, in their quest to eradicate
and suppress Chumash traditional culture. Yeah. So, this is the building
that does not exist yet.
The — some parts of the — it exists. I can see it from my office. But this is the new LACMA
that will be built in 2024.
We are not closed, I must say. Everyone always asks that. We have two very large buildings open.
One for exhibitions. One for modern and contemporary art. But this is where our permanent
collection buildings have been bulldozed.
This is what will take their place. And as I mentioned, LACMA has
15 curatorial departments. And the idea that our director Michael
Govan had, which I think is really visionary
for this building, is that all
collections will be displayed on one level. There’s no hierarchy. There’s no clear entrance or exit.
No one is given priority
over another department. And in previous permanent
you really were shortchanged, I feel. A lot of material from especially non-western
departments and different materials.
So, you were not seeing a designated
costume and textiles space. You were not seeing a designated
prints and drawing space.
Dec[orative] Arts was just scattered throughout. And now you’re going to see
more of the collection. And we will also rotate it
with greater frequency.
So, we have this fluidity to play around
with the kind of installations we want to do.
And a lot of people have pointed out that
it’s not an expansion in terms of size. But that is not the point.
The point is — and we certainly
in terms of labour, curatorial work, do not need more gallery space.
The point is to kind of re-envision
what a permanent collection can do, and how it can be more flexible to the
needs of our broad scope of our collection.
And yeah, so this is all hypothetical. I’ve again, I can’t promise — I can’t
give away too much about the new building.
But I wanted to talk about a little
bit about the process of working on it because it’s extremely collaborative.
And basically, Europe — I’ll
address this oil lamp in one second. But basically, Europe went about it —
I say Europe — my colleague and I —
Leah and I wanted to go about it by kind of
approaching other departments and saying, how can we benefit your projects
and your installations?
How can Europe you know, be an accent
to the things you have going on? Because too often, European art
curators just like, you know, here,
let me grab one Asian thing
and plop it in the gallery. And so, I can check some box
right and kind of tokenize it. This feels like they’ve diversified
But what we wanted to do is really kind
of reverse that dynamic and say, like, hi, you know, Chinese art, like how can Europe help you
or you do you want any of
our paintings, essentially? And kind of trying to be — have a
spirit of generosity and openness
to collaboration, where it wasn’t about us. It wasn’t Europe-centred. And we’ve really tried to marginalize Europe.
There’s still, of course, European galleries. There’s of course, European art. It’s not going in the garbage; I think
like some people like to tell me.
I’m working on it for many years. But anyway, this — I wanted to bring this in because it’s not really a
It’s not my installation, either. I have to give all the credit to my
brilliant colleague, Rosie Mills, who’s the curator in Decorative Arts.
I can’t talk about the installation
in great depth. But this is just an example of a type
of the pairing that we’ll be looking at.
And this is an oil lamp from
the American Art Collection. This is just an example of the type of pairing
and of course, I wanted to bring it in,
because it’s an example of something
that involves an Indigenous artist. And again, it’s not — I defer
the credit to someone else.
But I wanted to show also how great
it’s been to be a collaborator. This is Courtney Leonard, a Shinnecock
artist from Long Island, New York.
And this is a ceramic representation
of whale teeth. And her work is part of a larger installation,
I believe that’s getting at, you know,
the whale — harmful whale industry and whale
oil, which of course would have been burned
in the type of lamp that we just saw. So, this is just a very loose example
of a pairing, and how we’re thinking
about showing early American art. And this is something that could easily
be paired with 17th-century European art
that shows the Atlantic world, for example. And so, we’re trying to think about
the European collection holistically,
in terms of this Atlantic colonial
context, and I’m really interested of —
in exploring Indigenous contemporary
art, and how it can relate to the European collection in the coming years.
Okay. Oh my gosh. All right. I don’t want to talk for 1,000
years, but this is my show.
It’s coming out in September 2023. The World Made Wondrous: The Dutch Collector’s
Cabinet and the Politics of Possession.
There’s a big kind of component to it. I’ll go into more later. But for now, I’ll just basically
introduce the idea.
It’s a 17th-century Dutch
Cabinet of Curiosities. I hate the quotes — big quotes there,
or Collector’s Cabinet, Wunderkammer,
however you want to call it, that
belongs to a 17th-century Dutch merchant.
So, think of like, if you know Nicholas Witsen,
Johan Maurits, kind of you know, the most elite, terrible merchant, Dutch
merchant from that time.
You’re going to go next. Oh, yeah. So, here’s a picture
of a collector’s cabinet.
Since they are kind of obscure, maybe, you
know, things that people aren’t familiar with. So, I wanted to bring this illustration in
Paladanus’s collector’s cabinet
so you can see the kind of
thing I’m talking about. Next. And this is a slide just to show you
types of objects that will be in the exhibition.
The — it includes objects, thank you, from
almost every curatorial department at LACMA,
as well as a huge group of objects from
the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. So, collector’s cabinets included things
from both art, quote-unquote, and science.
They’re kind of seen as the first museums. And they included lots of
things brought back through,
overt colonial means, and
also through global trade. There’s just a smattering of
things and Ottoman textiles.
I’m also getting rare books and maps and scientific instruments
from some different lenders. And there’s about 300 objects
in the exhibition total.
So, it’s very dense. But yeah, I’ll hold off. But just suffice to say, it began as me trying
to find a way to treat this subject in a way
that was overtly anti-capitalist
and anti-colonial because very, very often in our field, collecting in
the early modern period has been treated
as something very virtuous and noble and kind of
motivated by curiosity and wonder, and you know,
the pursuit of knowledge and science and
all these things that sound very good. And to some extent, those things are present,
but they’re missing a huge part of the picture,
which is the commercial interests of
colonialism and mercantile capitalism.
And they’re missing the kind
of political symbolism of owning something you purport
to be a microcosm of the world.
Which sounds pretty colonial to me. >> Thank you. Yeah. And what I find interesting in
both of your projects is that you seem
to challenge a bit this notion, which is
often discussed in regards to European art,
that there are limitations posed by
the works themselves to hold space
or give context to these important topics. First of all, I guess I would say do —
yeah, do you think that is in some way valid?
You often hear people say, oh, I
would love to do a show about X,Y,Z, but we don’t have the objects or we —
our collection doesn’t lend
itself to this narrative? So, I suppose, you know, will say
no, I don’t think that’s true.
But how have you developed strategies
to create more space for these kinds
of conversations beyond the objects as well? So, both working with objects and beyond
the objects to yeah, broaden the narrative?
And I’ll let you continue also, Diva. >> Yeah. That’s a great question.
And I would obviously say, no. I don’t necessarily think that’s valid,
although I do understand where it’s coming from.
I think if enslavement or colonialism
isn’t like overtly, quote-unquote, represented in a picture, people don’t
always think that they can talk about it,
or people think you have to talk
about what’s in the painting. But I think there’s a lot of other strategies
besides addressing what’s in a painting
for bringing in different narratives. So, we can bring in my other slide here. Yeah. Okay.
So, I’m going to talk about my digital
guide project, and then eventually these —
what these images are will become clear to you. But basically, in doing my show, I realized
that my big stress factor was that I didn’t want
to just re-perform colonialism,
because essentially, bringing that collection together
is a very colonial thing to do.
I’m being a colonial mercantile
guy, right, in doing that.
So, I really wanted to find a way
to undermine that and to find a way to essentially bring this phenomenon
together, this collector’s cabinet.
But once you entered the space,
just like, delete that collector and we don’t have to hear about him anymore.
And we would hear about — from different voices
from different kinds of experts and speakers
who have different things to say
about the objects in the exhibition. And this will take the format of
an audio guide and written texts,
and the exact technological delivery
system of this is still being worked out.
So, I can’t, as we speak —
I’ve got a meeting later today. So, on the left, this is one example of
something that was kind of inspiring to me
in thinking about this audio guide. This is in the shifting image
“In Search of Johan Maurits”. It’s at the Mauritshuis in The Hague in
2019, where they had multivocal — meaning kind
of perspectives and kind of texts
written by different speakers, and they had them on a tablet and you
could swipe right to read different texts.
And then on the right, this is an example
of the lens at the Australian Museum
of the Moving Image, or Centre
for the Moving Image. Sorry. And that was an inspiration I know
for our technical team and initially starting
up the project because this is an
example of near-field technology. I do not understand the technical side
of it, but I know that there’s a card
that you swipe against, a kind of a sensor
and it sends something to your phone.
So, it’s kind of an alternate way, other than
a QR code, which we’re — we might experiment with.
But anyway, the kind of curatorial
point, the decolonial point, I guess, of the project for me was that a huge section
of the speakers will be Indigenous
contemporary Brazilian artists. Because there’s a huge part of the
show that focuses on the Dutch colony
in Brazil, which lasted from 1630 to 1654. And this is a much more significant
than it has been portrayed in the past. Although, it’s starting to
get more scholarly attention.
And basically, my idea was to — but not
only include Indigenous voices in this space, in this way, but also Indigenous
And again, I can’t make any promises. This is all very much in process right now.
But I’m hoping to also have this — their work very visibly present
in the space in some capacity.
So that, this is not just living in the
interpretation and this sort of interruption to the notion of a European
collection can be very visceral.
And I should mention, I’m also going to invite
contemporary artists from the Netherlands,
kind of Dutch colonial historians, I’m also
going to invite, in the process of inviting,
I should say, ecological
historians and Marxist ecologists, as well as experts on resource extraction.
So, I’m hoping to kind of run the
gamut of different perspectives other than the curatorial and institutional.
>> Yeah, and I think in your current
exhibition, Adam, also you have been thinking about these questions, in addition to of course,
what the objects themselves
hold in terms of stories. and I–
>> So, yeah, just while this —
while Suzanne — until the slide comes up, I’ll also just give you a short answer of no.
About this insistent, you know,
and this — and just for — not everyone here is a curator of European art.
So, the thing that we’re responding to, is this
kind of like, this thing that comes up a lot
in our sort of subfield that, you know,
that European art, I don’t know, if somehow,
like the subjects depicted, especially,
you know, for instance, in the, you know, scenes of like, daily life
in Amsterdam, for instance.
Like that — it’s hard. It’s not actually, you know, the — if you want
to talk about colonization, it’s a big stretch,
because the depiction — what you’re seeing in the painting is really focussed
on life in the Netherlands.
And, you know, you’re trying to kind of like — folks like us have been accused
of trying to shoehorn
in conversations that people don’t want to have. And then so you know, you’re really
trying, you’re kind of mistreating the work
because you should be really talking
about what the painting depicts. And you shouldn’t be talking about what you want
to talk about right now, what the, you know,
this current social agenda of decolonization? I hope I kind of summarized that
in a way that you both agree with.
But like, I think, what I
would say is that, like, even when the object does have
direct ties, I still get pushback.
So, like, for instance, we have a Bernini in
the European collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario that is directly related to a
commission that he made for Philip the Fourth
of Spain, who was to my mind, like my sort of
like primary colonizer in Faith and Fortune.
And I talked about this in the
label, and I have received, you know, the most angry letters I’ve received about
anything I’ve ever done is this tiny label
about the Bernini and saying,
you know, this is — you should be talking about art you shouldn’t be
talking about the social context of art making.
And I’m just like, I really don’t know what
art is, to be perfectly honest, if not, like,
also the worlds that created these things. So, I guess what I would say is that,
like, I find that even when there is
like an explicit connection, people
still resent this shift in conversation.
What I guess what I would call a sort of call to
accountability for Europe around colonization.
So, I don’t take it very seriously because
it just seems that like, it’s kind of a way
of trying to distract from the agenda. I am very lucky, I’ll admit, to have this piece
of gold bullion in the collection because it is,
for me, the key to having like —
it’s a really important object for kind of going from A to Z.
You have to have this kind of middle thing
that really makes it super tangible when I want
to talk about extractive economies, you know, environmental destruction, and
enslavement, and capitalism.
>> Okay. And it kind of shows that even the
material itself that our artworks are made of often are tied into these
histories already, right?
>> I mean, what’s not pictured on this slide
is that that gold bullion in the exhibition is in a room that’s about research extraction
and looks at, you know, gold and silver work
in the 16th and 17th century in Spain
and in colonial centres in Latin America.
And so, it’s even interesting to see, you
know, to kind of not only imagine it as a sort
of hypothetical coin that pays Velázquez, but
even like this, you know, elaborate chalice for,
you know, mass to see it kind
of transformed in that way. But yeah, I don’t I don’t feel beholden to that
argument that, you know, it has to be a painting
of something really vile for us to
be able to have a conversation about,
you know, difficult social history. >> And then, there’s didactics?
>> Yeah, I mean, I think, so these are just two
didactics that we have in Faith and Fortune.
You know, you wanted us to when we
were talking about planning this talk, we were talking about sort of different
strategies that we have available to us and ways
to kind of be in conversation with artworks. And, you know, I think there were two
really important issues that, to me,
felt like they needed to have
like large panels of their own and one was really thinking
about the Doctrine of Discovery.
And so, that’s an subject that we talk about, in this panel called “Columbus
Didn’t Discover Anything.”
And, of course, it feels
particularly meaningful and I’m glad that we have it up in the exhibition right now.
Because after the Pope’s recent apology to
the Indigenous people of Turtle Island — you may have heard a number of calls by
Indigenous leaders in response to say, you know,
“What you could really do that would be
meaningful, would be to revoke the Doctrine of Discovery or the
Papal Bull Inter Caetera.”
And then also, really to
think about sort of the fact
that contemporary white supremacy really has
its origins or its blueprints in a pseudoscience
of racial logic that was
established by early colonizers. I really wanted people to understand and feel —
to draw sort of a very direct line from history
of 500 years ago to contemporary social issues. I think that’s something that, you know,
the three of us have talked about before
about really trying to not really serve history,
but instead, to get history to serve the present
and to serve our contemporary audiences. So that, to me, feels really important. And, you know, these were subjects on which we
really didn’t want to be cagey or mince words
and I’m glad that we, you know, really just
put exactly what we meant on the walls in a way
that left very little room,
I hope, for misunderstanding. >> And then, you also have an audio guide
that people can access through a QR code
in the space, but it’s also
available online if people are interested. >> Yeah. So, we developed that exhibition,
working with a community advisory groups
of Latinx and Filipinx, GTA-based art workers,
art workers, sort of writ large, curators,
art makers, a tattoo artist,
and that was a really productive
and wonderful process for
which I’m really grateful. But we also then invited a number of people
who had, you know, sometimes there were moments
in that process where I said, “Gosh, I
wish, you know, someone could, you know, I wish the audience could just
hear you saying exactly this
when they’re standing in front of the work.” And so then, we realized that we could ask
them to like do that and replicate that so
that you can, instead of just hearing
it from like the “museum voice”, hear it directly from community members about
how they sort of, how the works in the show
or the histories in the exhibition,
you know, how they connect to them in a contemporary, in their contemporary lives.
And I’m really very grateful
for that because I think that that is also a really important
strategy for intervening in the sort
of capital M, Museum; capital A, Authority. >> And I thought that it would be a good
idea to just start off this discussion,
by thinking about the ways
in each one of our practices.
We are changing the traditional roles of the
collections in our care. So, the new kinds of ways
that we are changing our practices, but also
the kind of challenges that we are encountering,
because I think in everybody’s practice, there’s like a radical shift
towards rethinking old practices.
So, you could start. >> I’m on the stand. Yeah. I mean, I think that’s the whole
purpose of, I mean, both my exhibition
but also the LACMA permanent collection
reinstall, and I think one really key thing
that comes to mind is just the
process by which we’re doing it is entirely generous and collaborative
and people have really let go of sort
of this territorial, you know,
attitude about my collection or, you know, you can’t have this or that. And my colleagues are extremely
generous with their knowledge,
with their research, with their collections. And we, you know, we kind of just
share endlessly with each other.
The other thing that comes to mind is,
specifically for the European collection, I think there’s a different
expectation placed on it.
A different kind of pressure placed on being the
curator of like “masterpieces of European art,”
right, where people expect
certain things to be up. People expect it to be up in a
certain way, you know, the press,
and people are much more demanding about how
they’re displayed in ways that are, of course,
very unbalanced compared to the rest of our
really rich collections from around the world.
So, I think it’s been difficult to sort of —
that will be a challenge sort of balancing that
and public perceptions and expectations with
the kind of directions that we want to go and the kind of ways we want
to push it in the future.
But, like I said, in my kind of spiel
earlier, I think what’s really exciting is going without the reinstallation with, you know,
de-centering, literally de-centering Europe
and not acting like we’re the end all be all.
We don’t have to be the centre of the gallery, we don’t have to be, you know,
the highlight of a certain area.
We want to be the accent
or, you know, the periphery.
>> I, you know, I really relate to that, I
think, similarly, like a significant shift
that I hope — it sounds
absurd enough to say it — but like not taking for granted the role of the
place of European art in a museum that isn’t
in Europe, is actually really important. And also, for me, I think
displaying, placing European art
in an imperial context has really significant
potential for opening up broad conversations
about the history of colonization and the history
of empire that, you know, really will politicize
and activate the collections in
ways that help us to learn about, you know, broader social history.
>> So, I thought that our discussion will
be around the question of where to live here.
In my presentation, that left one slide, I
think I didn’t present that.
And this slide is the Bucha [phonetic]
in the Berlin Ethnographic Museum.
The one we have in this museum
that there is a problem.
The problem is the confusion
the European Museum has
around African pieces in
a museum, the provenance.
For example, in the museum, this piece
is — the catalogue said these piece is
from Togo. This, we don’t have that in Togo.
That is a special piece in — that means
Without studies, without research, the pieces
in the museum in reality disappear, do not exist,
because they are not in exhibitions, and
they is not research about them.
And that is a great problem now, and
I think more and more now in Europe,
there are the students of provenance. And we also we have the history I
tell in my presentation.
We have this project with
a colleague from Berlin,
the results is that we have the
exhibition called Object Geography.
You can read that on today on our website.
So, I have been working to
rethink labels in museums.
And I have been exploring this issue with
my students here at Queen’s and mailing
about authorship, because it’s so
common for us to read “unknown author”
regarding African art collections,
of course, or the same information
and the same text is usually used to address
works made during completely different times.
And people usually see all these
issues that are natural and common
and that it’s impossible to solve them. And I’m really eager to change the way
museums write labels and approach works.
All masks were made by an artist. If you don’t know the name, we
need to bring it — this is our,
this issue is ours we need to address. It’s an institution problem.
And this problem is probably related to the
way the work was collected with violence
in a violent context, for example. So, I think its urgent to rethink the way we
address African art collections
through the labels, because
sometimes it’s the only information that the audience accesses, right?
And that’s it. >> Does, what does it feel like? It’s not working? Is it working?
Here we go. So, okay. So I, yeah. I work in a city that’s jokingly
referred to as the European boil
on the bottom of Africa, you know? So, the challenges are many. And what we found is that, over the years,
of course, the main priority was to bring
in African scholars into the institutions.
So, we found, of course, that we mainly
working as a minoritized majority.
Within the institution, we are minority, but
generally in the country we are a majority. So, of course, working with those politics
is something that is particularly different.
And, of course, that impacts
on the practice itself. Curatorial practice, but I mean, even
teaching, we often have to begin from scratch,
teaching ourselves things we were never taught. You know, we kind of have to
fashion ourselves as pathfinders.
But I think it’s quite hopeful. It’s an exciting time. Because, you know, I think there are
many more of us who are really, you know,
experimenting with collaborative ways
of working, engaging with the,
the possibilities for care, but
even the shortcomings in terms of, how it’s possible to care.
But yeah. So, I think it’s an interesting time.
It’s an in between time, but it’s, in many
ways, a very hopeful time where we feel
that we have something new to build, especially in rethinking how we reformulate
what institutional building should mean
from the African perspective. >> And then, I think also, you know,
I think there’s like deep discrepancy
between so much institutional resources,
That have a focus on European collections
versus African collections, and the fact that
there’s so much catch up like very, very,
very basic kind of groundwork that, you know,
African scholars, and scholarship has to
do before we even start
thinking about display,
and labels, and all those kinds of things. But that’s, your right. I think it is a wonderful time
to start like building new ways.
>> And I don’t know if maybe it’s best to
open it up for questions from the audience
because we also have time for that today. So, I don’t know if anyone
already has any questions
for the panellists that they would like to pose.
Feel free to walk up. We have a microphone here at the front.
>> Sorry– >> Is it working? Yes, it is. Thank you so much, all of you.
I am actually hung up on this term provenance.
Feel like that actually comes up a
lot in our acquisition meetings here.
Thinking about like what you were just
saying, Qanita, like they’re not just like monetary resources that are
given to certain collections,
but also that there are no way to trace
the line of resource when it comes
to certain collections here in the museum, and
just how — I don’t know if I have a question.
But I feel like it also is kind of connected
to what you were saying about the carcerality
of institutions and like this, the carceral
space of museums and how they also function
in this way, where there’s like a certain
way of a certain condition that comes
with how things are kept and then known. And that feels like there’s a lot to do.
And I just, it’s hard to think of also
what to do when it comes to thinking
about forming a kind of knowledge around
how to how to even talk to students
or patrons who are visiting the museum. And given the resources that we don’t have for
certain collections here, it’s — we’re
so limited and how we can also express our own — Also, where we’re coming from when we’re trying
to talk about collections that we want to talk
about but don’t have information on. It’s not a question. It’s just, it’s a thought, I guess, yeah.
>> I think, I think that you’re right. There is, there’s a lot to do.
But I think what the past is taught us is that
we need to think of new ways of doing things.
So, you know, instead of like
building up knowledge in a linear way, we need to kind of open up the field, you
know, and bring more voices in because I feel
that the museum’s space has been very insular. And just to bring in artists, for example, or
people with like lived experience from Africa,
people have a connection to things from
Africa in another way, I think, you know,
has the potential to open up things. [Inaudible]
>> Yeah, this may be ties into a question that
I had hoped to bring into the conversation
with Diva and Adam before, which is also
to kind of think beyond exhibitions, and permanent displays, or putting artworks
in spaces and think about how processes
of decolonization or Indigenization
work beyond that. So, in the roles that we have as curators
or museum workers, and we’ve talked a bit
about provenance research, or cataloguing,
or these other activities at the museum, but also inherited funding
structures, or you know,
these things that are a part
of our worlds in the museum. How do we deal with, you know, when we try
to participate in these processes, right?
So, I don’t know if any of you — kind of looking
at you know, Diva and Adam, but anyone really,
that has thoughts on that, like how beyond
exhibitions and beyond sort of the first things that come to mind with museum work?
What role, or responsibility, or commitments
do you see for yourself to work, you know,
within the museum to transform
some of these structures or even a broader field beyond
your own institution?
>> I’ll just, kind of thread the needle
about a few things, which just to say that we
at the AGO, we have a joint committee
for restitution and repatriation.
And I’m really excited about that model
because I think sometimes museums work
around Holocaust restitution in a way that
they work differently around repatriation
of stolen art objects from
Africa, or from Indigenous peoples
on Turtle Island or in, sorry, Oceania.
And I think that like we’re trying
to operate from the basic principle that museums shouldn’t own stolen things.
They shouldn’t try to own stolen things. And so, we really want it to just pool our
resources, and not only share strategy,
like to share the single ethos but also to
share the resources in the way that we work. And so, I do feel like we’re working really
hard not to prioritize one process over another
and to like work in solidarity across
departments and across these issues
that really do boil down to a
single principle of, you know, trying to think about how a
museum can own things ethically.
And so, I hope that, like that is something
that I’m really excited about and proud of. And I think that it’s one way that we can
be sure that we don’t accidentally kind
of absorb more resources towards restituting
a single painting to an heir over, you know,
returning sacred objects to a whole nation.
>> Yeah, so I think the transformation
of institutional science in twenty years.
If we don’t pay attention, we
can still make this same mistake.
We really continue with mistake. If you pay attention on the
transformation from the Musée du Trocadéro
If we take the case of France from
the Musée du Trocadéro to Musée de l’Homme.
And from the Musée de l’Homme to Musée du quai Branly That is the same transformation, the
institution needs transformation.
And this transformation is
not about the colonization. That is the way to change a thing
to make a new way to present
and to have more visitors
for the exhibition and so on.
And the same need now to have transformation, if we don’t pay attention,
that will be the same mistake.
And it is really, really important to
say the issue of the colonialization
of institution is really, really important. And to know that the relation of peace
with the countries of origin have
to pay a more important role
in this transformation.
That is why the issue of
restitution is important.
Not to have all our pieces back but to
work on how we can have that [inaudible] part
And to not make the same mistake.
>> I wanted to touch on the
point you made about patronage and I think it’s probably one
of our biggest challenges.
Often, you find that there are, you
know, old agreements between patrons
who are often mining magnets who
then collected in the museums.
And do you find that sometimes the
condition of having that collection
within that museum is that
it’s permanently up. And so, not only are you stuck in terms of
what you can do, but you’re kind of beholden.
And at that point, of course, you
then have to have the kind of courage
to sever particular patronage relationships. And I think that’s probably one
of our biggest challenges as well,
in terms of how far we can change. Of course, it’s always nice to
talk about, you know, ideally,
the ideal that we have in terms of changing. But, you know, documents come and creep
up from centuries ago, decades, you know,
that then limit what we can actually do, yeah. But I just wanted to pick up on that point.
>> Hi. Thank you so much for your presentation,
and your talk, and your moderation. Couple of things also flashed before my eyes.
I was thinking the same thing like the
Sacklers and the problematic association.
But my brother works in marketing and he
was like, “Yep, tobacco, big oil, liquor.
Like, these are the companies that
fund pretty much the Olympics.
And then also, yeah, big museum
culture and big sporting events.” So, it’s a very sticky situation there.
That’s a sidebar note. But then, I work with youth and, I — we
also in the, obviously I teach in Ontario.
So, like the Ministry of
Education revamped its curriculum and last revamp was 2010 for arts education.
And we went from the chronological timeline
or like going through the timeline much like what we might like, you
know, obviously cumulatively,
like teaching so we can prep
them for college or university. But I don’t think youth are very interested
in writing art history essays anymore.
So, much like in my high school class. >> I don’t think they were ever. >> I know. Yeah, I know.
It was a struggle for me too, yeah,
when I was like crying in grade 13. But my — something that flashed
before my eyes when we’re thinking
about — two things popped up into my mind. The recent show, I think it was like 2018.
It was before the pandemic. I forget the curator’s name. Was it maybe Denise Murrell, “Posing Modernity?”
That was a brilliant show. I didn’t get to see it. But all my friends who went and saw
it and stuff I was just like, “Whoa.”
And then, I used parts of whatever I could
find and shared that with my students. And they really were engaged, you know?
So, I then realized it’s all thematic, really. That really, that’s the hook, right?
So, are you thinking that way around like public
programming or like, or do you guys engage
with the public programming
department around that piece? Because I think it’s, you know, as someone
who practices, [inaudible] and Bell Hooks,
and for sure, so I meet my
students in the middle. And I was like, “How do you
guys address that piece?”
And then, something else that
popped into my mind was a vision of Beyonce in the Louvre with “Apeshit.” You know, she was a game changer, or the Carters
were a game changer, like no word of a lie.
Like, I’m not trying to be funny or
anything but that really attracted my youth. They were like, “What?”
I was like, “Yeah, it’s the Louvre.” They’re like, “How did she get
it open at night,” you know? Well, it was Beyonce.
Who wouldn’t open their gallery
up to Beyonce? But, but I really liked how popular
culture then started to attract a new way
of thinking, definitely with youth culture. Has that ever crossed any of
your minds around that piece?
So like, how to think of some
intersectional points around — I’m just using youth culture as an example
because that’s what I work
in 10 months of the year. Yeah. >> I think that Beyonce’s video
shifted things radically.
And even [inaudible]. No, seriously. Even within music video, you know, like
actually taking place in art museums.
There was– >> It’s huge, it was huge. >> There was like eight music videos after that.
And there was even in South Africa,
like YoungstaCPT did like a rap video
in the District Six Museum all about
like personal agency and past trauma.
And, you know, it’s really, really interesting. And I just, I have this like intuitive
feeling that that’s where it lies.
It like lies within like
the vernacular tradition– >> Exactly. >> Of like, and that’s where it will kind of
percolate and that’s how we will find our ways.
>> Yeah. >> You know, to engage or to, I mean,
these are the audiences that we want.
>> I guess I’ve never talked to like the
fields, like you guys are a field, right?
So, it’s like I haven’t been [inaudible] an official response.
It was like, like five magazines devoted
to popular culture, music people go [inaudible]
But no art historian really [inaudible]. >> No, art historians wrote– >> They did? >> Yeah. I mean, yeah. I mean, they kind of had like
questionable like, you know,
they were not so keen on all aspects of it. >> Obviously. >> But I think I think the
impact was huge, yeah.
>> Yeah, I’d love to jump in. Just obviously, I’m chomping at
the bit to respond to Beyonce.
Because I love her. And she, I think she’s going
to continue the trend with “Renaissance,” you know,
it’s a great album.
But yeah, I think that’s so important to
connect with youth culture and popular culture.
And I just wanted to add that this division
between “high culture” and like, you know,
porcelain tea cups and you know,
classical music and Renaissance paintings
as if that’s a different culture than
whatever’s below it is absolute nonsense.
And we should all just throw that notion
in the garbage and just like do away
with those divisions and not look down
on any visual musical culture whatsoever.
But I also wanted to say that like I loved — I thought of when you were
talking something Adam said
about his permanent collection installation
and how he wanted to kind of curate things
for people to enjoy it and not for his peers.
Because a lot of academically-minded
curators and in our field, at least,
kind of curate for other curators, you know? Kind of like do this sort
of thing that they kind of make these little niche scholarly points.
And I think in kind of a lot of my
galleries in the new building I’m working on, especially where it’s just
Europe on Europe, you know?
I’m trying to think what’s like the most
accessible, thematic, or kind of dynamic way
to hang this work so it’s going to be not only
visually interesting and visually apparent,
but like have a real scholarly point
too that will be accessible.
You know, I’m not just jumbling things for the
sake of jumbling, right, because I think youth,
and they can appreciate a lot more difficult
points than academics give them credit for.
>> And plus you’re informing the next
generation of artists like curators and historians.
>> Yeah. >> And [inaudible]. >> And just really quick, I’ll say that when I
was designing the galleries that we reinstalled, I — like the keywords for me where I wanted
to create moments of joy and of surprise — I wanted people to see like rooms that they
maybe had been in before and kind of say,
“Whoa, I’ve never seen it like this.” And for people who had never been there
before, I wanted to kind of reward wandering and create moments of like unexpected drama. And I also like explicitly set out to create
moments that I thought people would Instagram.
I know that some curators like find it
so loathsome when people take selfies in their galleries, and they think
it’s just like the worst decorum. And I’m just like so uninterested
in decorum in museums.
You know, like I hope that people
talk loudly in my galleries, I hope that they, you know, gesticulate wildly. I hope that they, you know, like act as —
like spontaneously and that they don’t feel like their behaviour is being scrutinized.
And certainly, like if someone’s taking a
picture of it and sharing it on their networks, that means that more people are seeing
it and that they’re engaging with it. I just like have absolutely zero time for the
kind of like classism and ageism that comes
with like people being like, you know, taking
selfies in galleries is like poor taste. It’s just like I can’t think of anything
less interesting and more telling about the person’s biases than when
they like think that, you know,
selfies and museums are gauche like, you know? So, I like set out to create spaces where I
thought young people would want to hang out. And I’ve been really pleased
to see how people engage in these new galleries because
I think it’s working.
>> Thank you.
>> I just wanted to say thank
you so much for this discussion. It’s been absolutely phenomenal.
I work with Professor Bevilaqua,
for my masters at the moment.
So, it’s really nice to hear this discussion. But I just wanted to ask about, I’ve noticed
that a lot of the exhibitions that we saw today,
and a lot of the ones that are
discussed were temporary exhibitions. And so, I’m wondering how they’ve
placed a greater emphasis —
and a lot of temporary exhibitions
do this now — of placing this huge emphasis on the
decolonial practices and decolonial movement
within their temporary exhibition. But I’m curious what your thoughts are
on why we don’t ever really see the permanent
collections engaging in this discussion,
particularly like the permanent collections
of African art at a lot of survey museums
and how they tend to sort of disregard the
decolonial movement while temporary exhibitions
seem to really want to address it. I’m just wondering if there’s any
sort of like things behind the scenes
that it takes a longer time to
process or anything like that.
>> She’s my student. >> Yeah.
>> Perhaps I could just say
something, I think we’re very fortunate at Agnes that we don’t have a permanent
collection on display.
Actually, I find them deeply problematic. So, we don’t have those things.
But I think like in the nature of larger
museums — perhaps these guys could speak to it —
I think that like processes
work on different scales. And, you know, the different people working
on different, you know, portions of things
and perhaps like sometimes certain portions
just take a longer time to catch up, you know,
with temporary exhibitions, which are
moving and keeping like a better pace,
like better pace worth like current thinking. So, I think that’s part of the —
Maybe you could speak to LACMA?
>> I’ll just say really quick. I mean, I think the silence that you were
met with was, is because you’ve hit the nail on the head in like a really crit — that’s a
really critical observation that you’ve made.
And I’ve been told a lot of times like that
if I want to try something or not even try,
like there — these ideas are
sometimes seen as experimental. And I think there’s an idea
that experimentation is supposed
to take place only in temporary exhibitions. I like — I will say that I think because rehangs
tend to happen sometimes like every five years,
it may be that it’s some of
them just haven’t happened yet. But I think we’re both uniquely in a position
where I’ve just done a rehang
and Diva’s about to do a rehang. And so, I think, like we, I think, you
know, I’m proud of some of the strategies
that we used in our most recent rehang. And, you know, I invite you to come
to Toronto and tell me what you think.
And then, I’m anxiously anticipating what
Diva’s working on with her colleagues because — it sounds, honestly, quite radical.
>> Yeah, I was just going to add, I
think your question is a good one. And I think maybe this opportunity
for me to bring up a point that like
with the term decolonial, too,
because I think we’ve been talking about decolonizing European art collections. And, of course, for my part in European art,
I would love to have a hand in collecting say,
Indigenous art or contemporary art that
addresses European colonial history, right? But I’m not sure if 100% if I can
call myself doing that “decolonial.”
You know, that’s like the best I can do towards
that, perhaps, and I would love to do that. However, you know, I think the most, the
only perhaps — or I wouldn’t say the only —
but like the most decolonial thing LACMA
does is we continually repatriate things
and restitute things regularly. And, to me, I mean, not to be like one of
those academics that name drops, you know,
articles and books, because I hate that. But if you haven’t read “Decolonization Is Not a
Metaphor,” like I recommend doing so, you know?
It’s a great, important text for me. And so, I try to not use decolonial
when referring to my show, for instance,
because I really strictly believe that
that word is for like the restitution of Native Indigenous land and life.
And so, I think that, you know, it’s not
something that I throw around lightly. But yeah, again, I can’t take any
credit for those repatriations
but I’m proud when they do happen.
>> I think okay, so, there’s one more question. Is there one more question? So, this would be our final question.
>> I’m not sure whether this is relevant
or not but I’m sitting here wondering
about the definition of European
art in a North American context.
Are we talking about literal
works done by Europeans? Are we talking about works painted
by Canadians in a European tradition?
And where’s the line or is there a line?
>> Yeah, thank you. I’m so glad you asked that question. I think about this all the time. And actually, in the current
exhibition, “Faith and Fortune”,
that I have up, I really look at this closely. I look at — there are a number of settler
Spaniard artists who settle in Mexico City
for a number of different reasons. But mostly they’re patrons at home, are
appointed to either being like the governor,
or the viceroy, or the archbishop and so
they basically have to resettle with them.
They, you know, travel with an
entourage and so I find those to be like, really interesting examples because I
think, you know, I wanted to understand
like how a colonial visual
culture was constructed. And one of the ways was that artists were
literally transposed from Spain and into Mexico
and at what point do we start to call them
Mexican artists as opposed to Spanish artists?
And then, to what curatorial
department do they belong? I think that also like really comes up.
I’m really interested in how that
comes up in the Canadian context. So, with artists like Antoine Plamondon,
and Francois Malepart de Beaucourt,
or like early like settler Quebec painters.
Francois Malepart de Beaucourt is sometimes like
in a very racist colonial way been called the,
you know, the first painter of Canada because
he was simply just like the first settler
who was trained in a European art academy
who then set up a practice in Montreal.
And that’s the sort of superlative of the
first painter in the history of this land.
So, I don’t know. I mean, I currently display — like
when the exhibition comes down,
that Jose Campeche will go back
in the European galleries. And I would happily lend that painting to any
other department in the museum if it made sense.
You know, we have a department of
“Global Africa and the Diaspora” and because Campeche was an Afro Puerto
Rican painter and his father had been brought
to Puerto Rico through enslavement. I would happily, you know, I see how that
painting could also hang in, you know,
an installation in those galleries. I think what I would like
to say is that, you know,
the very nature of like questioning
these categories, and playing with them,
and being amorphous with them is like the most
powerful thing you can possibly do with settler
and European art to kind of complicate
the question of who belongs where
and who has lived where over what time. So, I think that like, there are
many ways to answer the question,
but all of them are really fruitful
in kind of destabilizing the idea
that settlers have been here
for a very long time. And thinking about sort of even
just questioning how they arrived,
how settler artists have arrived on
Turtle Island, I think is, you know, by putting them with their European
peers, I think is really interesting.
I don’t know if I answered
your question well or not. [Well, it complicated] Yeah, but it’s a really rich,
wonderful complication that I think — yeah.
[But … I think of differently because there is such a cross between European and Indigenous traditions, whereas Canadian art doesn’t really have that]
Well so, I guess what I’d say and I have to like say, I’m not an expert on Canadian art.
But what I would say is that like
looking at these settler artists, this genre of settler artists like Alonso
Vasquez is a painter who’s in the exhibition
who trained in Seville, and he’s
basically a contemporary of Velasquez. And instead of moving to Madrid to become
a court painter like Velasquez did,
he goes to Mexico City to become, you know,
court painter for the viceroy of Mexico.
There’s like nothing particularly Mexican about
him but he had a tremendous important impact
on Mexico, because for the final six
years of his life he makes paintings in the European style the way he was trained
to work in Spain for, you know, cathedrals,
and palaces, and religious complexes. And that, you know, like fundamentally
transforms the visual culture
of colonial Mexico. So, I understand how I think it
would maybe be just as, you know,
it’d be important to call him a, I guess,
a settler Spaniard artist in Mexico.
It’s much longer than calling him a
Mexican artist or a Spanish artist. But I think it really accurately explains
not only where he grew up and how he trained,
but also the long term impact of his work.
>> So, I think lingering on these
complications might be a good place to stop. We’ve been a little over so long
to make sure everyone has a bit
of a break before the next thing on the agenda. So, I thank you all again, so much for your
contributions and yeah, I’ll see everyone soon.
Thank you. [ Applause ]
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