Call for Papers
Curatorial Dreams: Critics Imagine Exhibitions
Shelley Ruth Butler & Erica Lehrer, eds.
The academic field of museum studies and the practical sphere of museology are both in a period of intense growth and ferment, yet there are unexamined and unresolved tensions between the domains of theoretical reflection and professional practice. Museum criticism is rarely constructive; the impulse is to find fault with exhibitions, most often around questions of representation and politics. Thus, a foundational body of critical museology associates exhibitions with the politics of exclusion, containment and self-regulation (eg. Bennett 1995, Duncan 1991, Karp and Lavine, eds. 1991). But these critiques often threaten and alienate practitioners, who must negotiate practical and political constraints even as they themselves attempt to stretch towards new vistas in their exhibitionary practice (eg. Macdonald 2006, McCarthy 2007). Further, critical and pessimistic accounts of exhibitionary politics are at odds with the sense of optimism expressed by many museum educators and museum mission statements regarding the potential of museums to contribute to an inclusive and enriching public sphere (Butler 1999).
Curatorial Dreams explores and innovatively bridges these tensions between theory and practice. In a unique challenge, we ask critics to respond conceptually, concretely and imaginatively to their own critiques, inviting them to step into curators’ shoes with empathy and imagination. Specifically, contributors will envision new exhibitions and interventions inspired by their own critical approaches to exhibitions in museums and related heritage and public culture sites.
Contributors to this volume will be asked to:
1) Review their critical work on museums and public representations;
2) Outline an imaginary exhibition that responds to these critiques;
3) Use the exercise to reflect on the value of curatorial dreaming for both critics and practitioners.
Authors will be asked to title their imaginary exhibitions and interventions, to have specific sites in mind for their work, and to have examples of artifacts, texts, performances, or other media. Authors need not walk readers/visitors through an entire exhibition, but they must be able to evoke key moments of engagement. In some cases, authors may imagine a process of exhibition development with key stakeholders and participants. Contributors will be expected to make their curatorial goals – typically hidden from the public – explicit. In this volume, would-be curators will evaluate their exhibitionary strategies and hoped for outcomes.
Some critics may propose fanciful exhibitions, while others may offer more realistic, politically astute plans. But Curatorial Dreams demands that attention be paid to the exhibition/intervention site as well as the impact of the curators’ subject-position in relation to their proposal. Sites that might be used include establishment museums, art galleries, community museums and centers, as well as heritage walks, parks, cafes, transportation systems, advertisement spaces, or other more ‘vernacular’ sites. Since much critical museology is directed at metropolitan, national, and “destination” museums, a portion of this volume will address these types of sites. Another portion will include innovative interventions in heritage sites and vernacular landscapes. We plan to include perspectives from a variety of scholars who may not have previously envisioned themselves as curators, from disciplines such as history, anthropology, sociology, geography, social work, law, art history, philosophy, cultural studies, and others.
Questions that this volume seeks to engage include:
1. How can critiques of culture and representation be transformed into exhibitions and public interventions, both within and outside of museums?
2. What kinds of social issues are exhibitions well positioned to address? How do curators’ social and cultural identities influence the politics and possibilities of exhibitions.
3. What new curatorial strategies might better encourage and enable audience engagement with specific sites and key social and political issues? How can curators navigate social and political constraints within and beyond their institutions?
4. How does the ‘curatorial imagination’ differ from academic criticism, and how might having scholars experiment with curatorship potentially transform criticism?
5. Can bridging the curator/critic divide help destabilize the widespread institutional divide in museums between curators and educators?
Interested contributors should send a proposal (250-500 words) as well as a bio and CV to the editors: Shelley.firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Deadline for proposal submission: June 15, 2010 (early submissions are encouraged)
Notification of inclusion: mid-July, 2010
Submission due (first draft): November 15. 2010
The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.