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Nicholas Thomas

This speculative comment considers the potential worth of raising questions that appear simple but may be rewardingly complex. It asks whether routine aspects of curatorial work, such as captioning objects and juxtaposing them in displays, may not have more suggestive dimensions than has been recognised previously. It asks what the implications of a conception of ‘the museum as method’ might have for current approaches to public exhibition.

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Joining the club

A Tongan ‘akau in New England

Ivan Gaskell

This chapter examines the place of Oceanic clubs in New England collections. During the nineteenth century, they occupied an equivocal position in the New England mental repertory as indices of savage sophistication, and as souvenirs of colonial childhood or travel. Focusing on a Tongan ‘akau tau in the collection of the Chatham Historical Society on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, this chapter traces what can be known of its history as a highly regarded prestige gift item among New Englanders from the middle of the nineteenth century until its entry into the museum. As a thing that an early owner could alienate legitimately, its presence in Chatham is not unethical, yet it none the less imposes stewardship responsibilities – consultation with the originating community – that such a small institution is poorly placed to meet. This requires understanding and patience rather than disapprobation.

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Introduction

Locating global ­contemporary art in global China

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Jenny Lin

The introduction argues that the global turn in contemporary art has been limited by overly generalized cultural categorizations and inadequate coverage of the local social, economic, political, and historical contexts of non-Western artworks. In response, the author posits an urban-focused, historically grounded, and theoretically rigorous model of disciplinary diversification that foregrounds key examples of art and design created in and about Shanghai. The city is described as an exemplary case study with which to localize global contemporary art, accounting for Shanghai’s longstanding “East-meets-West” mythology and genealogy stemming from its early twentieth-century semi-colonial past and radical transformation during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). The introduction acknowledges how Republican Shanghai has been recognized by scholars as a modern cultural capital with its own unique Shanghai style, haipai (literally sea style), and proposes that we must also consider the city’s art and design of the 1990s–2000s, the period of Shanghai’s most rapid growth as an international financial and cultural capital.

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Jenny Lin

Chapter 4 considers worlding, or the city’s positioning as a cosmopolitan center on an international stage, as a philosophical construct and tangible phenomenon tied to the development and promotion of present-day Shanghai and contemporary Chinese art. The chapter presents three Shanghai-based installations by transnational art stars Gu Wenda, Xu Bing, and Cai Guoqiang. Disrupting the East-meets-West soundbites surrounding discussions of these works, this chapter interrogates the artists’ privileged subject positions, arguing that such artworks function as branding campaigns that world Shanghai. The chapter also discusses the loaded cultural geographies of these installations’ shared sites: the Bund, once the heart of Shanghai’s British and US-controlled International Settlement; and the Pudong Skyline, considered the shining jewel of China’s post-socialist economic rise. The chapter concludes by discussing a more critical recent project by Cai Guoqiang that acknowledged the migrant labor fueling Shanghai’s urbanization in the face of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo; and a related urban intervention by artist Ai Weiwei.

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He alo ā he alo / kanohi ki te kanohi / face to face

Curatorial bodies, encounters and relations

Noelle M.K.Y. Kahanu, Moana Nepia and Philipp Schorch

Throughout the Pacific, interpersonal encounters are characterised by a deep level of physical intimacy and engagement – from the honi/hongi, the face-to-face greeting, to the ha‘a/haka wero, acts of challenge that also serve as a celebratory acknowledgement of ancestral presences. In these physical exchanges, relationships are built, tended and tested through an embodied confirmation of values, practices and ethics. For museums holding Pacific collections, the importance of relationships, and their physicality, persists. The increasing acknowledgement of, and interaction with, communities of origin, whose works reside in museums throughout the world, is thereby not a new practice but the current stage of a continuum of relations that have ebbed and flowed over centuries. This chapter involves the interdisciplinary work of three scholars whose research, interests and collaborations coalesce around concepts of indigenous curatorial practice. Kahanu focuses on Bishop Museum’s E Kū ana ka paia exhibition (2010), which featured important Hawaiian temple images loaned from the British Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum, as well as the Nā hulu ali‘i exhibition which gathered Hawaiian featherwork from around the world (2015/2016). She highlights how the Hawaiian practice of he alo ā he alo in cross-cultural contexts facilitated these exhibitions, thereby ultimately enabling extensive community engagement. Nepia discusses two recent programmes at the University of Hawai‘i, ARTspeak and the Binding and Looping: Transfer of Presence in Contemporary Pacific Art exhibition, as a means of examining how Pacific Island artists articulate contemporary creative practice, particularly as it relates to physical and bodily encounters. Schorch concludes the volume with a coda which historicises Curatopia and its underpinning relations and engagements he alo ā he alo / kanohi ki te kanohi / face to face.

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Jenny Lin

Chapter 1 examines pastiche in the shopping mall and cultural heritage site Xintiandi before discussing the site’s buried modern art histories marred by cross-cultural conflicts. Xintiandi physically surrounds China’s first communist meeting site of 1921, today memorialized as a museum. The complex was designed with reference to the vernacular homes of its formerly foreign occupied French Concession setting, and it is officially celebrated for its “East-meets-West” and “Old-meets-New” architecture, even while the construction demolished most of the site’s existing homes and dislocated thousands of working-class residents. This chapter analyzes how Xintiandi’s seemingly benign East-meets-West façades mask collusions between the Chinese Communist Party’s autocratic state power and capitalist development while romanticizing Shanghai’s modern cosmopolitan legacy. The chapter analyzes examples of Xintiandi’s repressed cultural histories, including the revolutionary art and design experiments of Pang Xunqin, founder of the 1930s avant-garde collective The Storm Society; leftist writings and art promoted by Lu Xun; and the major Cultural Revolution–era debate sparked by Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1972 documentary Chung Kuo Cina. The chapter argues that the official admonishment of Shanghai-based cultural projects by Pang and Antonioni speak to collisions between Shanghai’s semi-colonial past, Maoist socialism, and Cultural Revolution–era totalitarianism that still resonate in Shanghai today.

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Jenny Lin

The conclusion considers the continued, widespread proliferation of the staid East-meets-West trope through a critique of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2015 exhibition, “China: Through the Looking Glass.” Ruminating on the afterlives of East-meets-West exoticizations, the conclusion synthesizes the preceding ones by analyzing the exhibition’s loaded cross-cultural hybrids of art-fashion-celebrity culture and Sino-US corporate sponsorship. The chapter argues that “China: Through the Looking Glass” might have countered the critique that the exhibition did not adequately present contemporary Chinese culture by including some of the art and design projects presented throughout the book, summarizing the vital issues these projects raise.

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The figure of the kaitiaki

Learning from Māori curatorship pastand present

Conal McCarthy, Arapata Hakiwai and Philipp Schorch

This volume argues that curatorship may be ‘recalled’ and remade through collaborative relationships with communities leading to experiments in curatorial theory and practice. What can museums of ethnography in the Americas and Europe learn from the experience of nations where distinctive forms of Indigenous museology are emerging and reshaping the conventions of curatorial practice? In addressing this question, this chapter draws on research by the authors, including interviews with Māori curators, museum professionals, academics and community leaders throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, exploring connections with the wider Pacific and the world. In doing so, it focuses on the ‘figure of the kaitiaki’, the Māori ‘guardian’, as a particular local development of the ‘figure of the curator’. It concludes that museums across the world can learn from Pacific experiments and become active agents in shaping cultural revival and future potentialities on a global scale.

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Epilogue

Forgotten corners

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Jenny Lin

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Curatopia

Museums and the future of curatorship

Philipp Schorch and Conal McCarthy

What is the future of curatorial practice? How can the relationships between Indigenous people in the Pacific, collections in Euro-American institutions and curatorial knowledge in museums globally be (re)conceptualised in reciprocal and symmetrical ways? Is there an ideal model, a ‘curatopia’, whether in the form of a utopia or dystopia, which can enable the reinvention of ethnographic museums and address their difficult colonial legacies? This volume addresses these questions by considering the current state of the play in curatorial practice, reviewing the different models and approaches operating in different museums, galleries and cultural organisations around the world, and debating the emerging concerns, challenges and opportunities. The subject areas range over native and tribal cultures, anthropology, art, history, migration and settler culture, among others. Topics covered include: contemporary curatorial theory, new museum trends, models and paradigms, the state of research and scholarship, the impact of new media and current issues such as curatorial leadership, collecting and collection access and use, exhibition development and community engagement. The volume is international in scope and covers three broad regions – Europe, North America and the Pacific. The contributors are leading and emerging scholars and practitioners in their respective fields, all of whom have worked in and with universities and museums, and are therefore perfectly placed to reshape the dialogue between academia and the professional museum world.