Thursday, March 18, 2010

Museums and Agendas

A new, provocative article in the New York Times, "The Thrill of Science, Tammed by Agendas," by Edward Rothstein.

Here's our own provocative take:

Rothstein has (yet again, if you’re familiar with his museum reviews) given us a very poor history lesson. The proposal that museums more than a century ago were apolitical institutions, simply presenting unadorned science, technological progress, and objects of natural wonder is simply false. Museums, as nearly every human endeavor, have always been -- and will always be -- political.

His argument, for example, that the Field Museum in Chicago, by presenting hunters and gathers as a noble lifestyle is somehow more political than emphasizing acts of human suffering (such as human sacrifice) is a tangled untruth. Much, much has been written about how the Western morbid fascination with cannibalism, human sacrifice, etc. is itself a product of Western political concepts of the “Other.” Both presentations have their politics. The question is not whether the museum has politics, but what those politics are and should be.

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