Research Week Review: From Representation to Commodity

Normally the task of museum is to collect, research, educate and preserve objects of the past. But due to storage space, changing preferences of curators or the condition of a object sometimes museums will find itself in a position where deaccessioning is necessary. Jennifer Jankauskas described this in relation to American art museums. What was really interesting about her paper was that fact that she presented this in the perspective of the disheartening financial situation that many museums find themselves in because of the global recession. Jennifer described how museums have started to sell out of the collections in order to cover running cost of the museum or even, when it comes to university museum, to keep the university in business.

This is of course problematic in terms of objects disappearing from the public realm and perhaps is not looked after in a proper way in the private collections that they might end up in. But what is also problematic is the shift in the status of the object from representing a culture, artist or trend in history to becoming a commodity. Especially when dealing with art objects the status as commodity is not a foreign one, but in museums artworks have up till now been more or less unaffected by the changing tends in the thieving art marked. Only when acquiring and insuring artworks the museum must deal with the marked price of an object. Or have they?

The interesting question behind this ethical issue that has arisen due to financial crisis is how neutral the collecting of museums is in the first place. How ethical and representative is a collection? And by deaccessioning does the museum really disturb a true representation of the past? Boris Groys, the German theorist, have dealt with this in his Die Logic der Samlung – the logic of the collection. Here he describes how a collection is being formed by the personal taste of a curator, or the fact that it fits the grand museum architecture so popular today or how the holes in a collection need to be filled in order to present the current understanding of what artists cannot be omitted when presented a given period in time. It is all in flux and all collecting is contingent. Of course this is not to say that all entry and exit of artworks into a collection is completely unproblematic. Especially when dealing with selling artworks to cover running cost, which is properly not the most sustainable strategy of museum management! However, it does put a perspective on the fact that both including and expelling artworks from a collection is a very complex situation and it raises the question whether acquisition is innocent in the first place. Perhaps a global recession and its financial consequences is just one of the conditions that shape the future of the collection along with many others.


J said…
Thanks for the reference to Boris Groys, Mette - his work sounds fascintating - I will have to look it up.

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