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The Curator Is In, June 2, 2011

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Christopher Atkins: Good afternoon everyone! This curator is in…who has the first question?


Joe Horse Capture: anyone? anyone? Bueller, are you here?


Christopher Atkins:


Allen B.: thnx for keeping it light chris!

Margaret M.N.: I was wondering what the name of the painting was that I believe hung in the Dec Arts Gallery in the late 80′s to early 90′s. It was of a young lady, barefoot, with some type of stringed instrument, sitting outside of a building. It was hauntingly beautiful, sad, yet hopeful. I would love to find a print of it somewhere….

Patrick Noon: Margaret, it was called the Bohemian or the Gypsy Girl and was painted by William Bouguereau. The painting no longer belongs to the MIA. I’m sure you could find a print or printable image of it online.

James V.: I noticed recently that Clementine Hunter’s painting “The Wash” was moved from one of the 20th century galleries to the – I don’t know what it’s called – the Americana gallery? Folk art gallery? I thought she fit in fine where she was (in the same way that James Castle’s drawing fit in the recent Art Now show). How are these
decisions made? It seems like a bit of a demotion for her.

David Little: I agree


Eike Schmidt: To some people it seems like a bit of a demotion of the Folk Art Gallery…


Corine Wegener: Hunter was a self-taught artist, so fits nicely within the Folk Art Gallery context, though later than most of the works installed there.


Allen B.: any plans on acquiring some current native amer. work, given the rich history of this state and distinct cultural importance of it’s community?

Joe Horse Capture: We are currently updating our collecting plans for Native American art that will include adding more contemporary work in the collection.


Allen B.: alright! it seems, just by the nature of the culture, that the work created is not only aesthetic, but crucial to the people’s survival/heritage.

Allen B.: i really like the whole concept behind Until Now. will that type of (fascinating) co-mingling happen again??

Christopher Atkins: AB: Yes, that’ll continue happen through out the museum. And it’s happening right now! There are still remixes scattered through out the museum…Ai Wei Wei’s marble chair, Thomas Struth photos in our fountain court & at the top of the grand staircase & Joann Verburg’s photograph triptych in our Korean gallery.

Allen B.: excellent, thanks CA. i really enjoy being jolted like that and making connections between time and (art) history…it should ALL be connected

Christopher Atkins: Keep coming back. We think that these kinds of innovations are great for our repeat visitors, students, and for people who are here for the first time.


Allen B.: for someone as myself, who visits at least once a month, a few surprises go a long way,a nd the way they were placed was perfect and fitting

Brian F.: I’m a bit late for this party, but I would like to voice my support for Until Now. It is especially interesting for people that might have a familiarity with the collection or art in general. It fosters interesting new connections allowing for “fresh eyes”.

Christopher Atkins: Thanks Brian! Elizabeth Armstrong, our curator of contemporary art, isn’t here today but I’ll pass this along to her for you.


Allen B.: word UP brian! maybe it’s just my own selfishness/ADHD, but i enjoy blurring historical timelines…or maybe i’m a buddhist.

Brian F.: I always tell my students that artists create their own art historical mythology. It has nothing to do with the “canon” and just a tangential one to what they learn in their classes. It can include Jimi Hendrix and Paul Cezanne living side-by-side in their warped little imaginations. For me the Until Now program kind of fits this perverse way of dealing with history. just don’t tell anyone.

Mj G.: Since the Titan exhibit is over, will the museum be sharing a full photo collection? This would be a great addition to your online galleries for those of us unable to travel to this monumental show.

Jennifer Olivarez: Mj, we don’t generally publish gallery views of the exhibitions online, since there are rights issues. We can only publish a few that we’ve been given permission to show online by the National Gallery of Scotland. The show is open in Houston right now, so if you are traveling this summer you might want to check it out there!

Alexis E.: I am a great admirer of your collection of 19th-century British painting. Do you have other paintings in storage besides those on display?

Patrick Noon: I’m afraid the collection is incredibly weak when it comes to British painting. There is virtually nothing in storage. But we are trying to acquire more works in that area. Stay tuned.

Andy S.: Last month on the wall, you’d mentioned the Print Study Room, which is a resource I think a lot of people might love to utilize, but not know about. What are some other resources the MIA offers that might be less known about by the general public?

Christian Peterson: Andy: In addition to the Print Study Room, we have a Photographs Study Room and a Library, which are open to the public. Check our website for details.


Allen B.: i think it would be really cool to see the restoration dept.

Corine Wegener: Our great art library and the really friendly helpful staff that work there! Anyone can come and do research.


David Little: We also have the Photo Study Room too to see photographs that are not on view. You can make an appointment. College classes have taken advantage of this resources, but independent researchers and students have not. We also offer portfolio reviews for photographers the first Friday of the month; sign up in advance because these are filling up.


Jennifer Olivarez: Allen, we don’t have our own art restoration department, but the Midwest Art Conservation Center is housed in our building. I know they do workshops and may be open to other visits. Look on their web site,


Matthew Welch: The great staff in our Prints and Drawings department welcomes visitors to its Study Room. Call ahead to book an open table and to discuss the kinds of things you would like to see.

Allen B.: thank you JO…i’ll look into the workshops!

Pamela V.: By what criteria does the MIA accession new contemporary work? Has the MIA ever deaccessioned work – is that common practice amongst museums or is it a no-no?

Eike Schmidt: Let me answer to the last 3 questions, in reverse order: it’s not a no-no in America (although it is for many museums in the rest of the world). The MIA has been periodically deaccessioning works of art every few years, mostly of works that have been replaced by better examples or which turned out to be partial or total fakes. Gladly that doesn’t happen too frequently!

Pamela V.: I have heard a lot of controversy about college museums deaccessioning some of their collection to raise money for the college programs – this seems to be quite controversial. Thanks for answering about the museum’s vision on the subject :)

Eike Schmidt: There are some principal rules however, on which all museums which are members of the American Association of Museums agree. For instance, any work to be deaccessioned must be carefully researched and documented. Taste and its change is not a reason to deaccession. And all money made thru deaccesssioning must be reinvested in new art purchases.


Matthew Welch: Also, at the MIA and most other American museums, any money that is gained from the deaccessioning of a work of art is used to purchase a better object–giving credit to the original donor.


Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers: De-accessioning is indeed part of a curator’s job — and a very sensitive one. It should not, of course, be a function of personal taste or temporary fashion. Candidates for de-accessioning include objects that turn out to be fakes or forgeries, and objects that have been replaced by higher quality ones. Like with accessions, proposed de-accessions have to be vetted by the Board’s Accessions Committee.

Pamela V.: It is also reassuring to hear there are ground rules in place for such activities – otherwise it could get out of hand.

Eike Schmidt: As for college museums, they risk their accreditation in the museum community if they do not follow the commonly agreed rules of the association of all not-for-profit museums. Moreover, in many cases works of art were donated with particular conditions – if they try to deaccession those, they moreover may be in legal trouble as well.

Pamela V.: …..seems right as the activity of deaccessioning work could easily be rife with politically driven motivations or nefarious intentions for raising money.

Gail Marie K.: When will the Venetian map be displayed in the galleries?

Matthew C.: Good question! That Gail is one smart lady!


Thomas Rassieur: Ohhhh Gail, I’m delighted that you are into Jacopo de’ Barbari’s incredible View of Venice!!! You’ve asked a question to which I don’t know the answer. We’re planning an exhibition focused on the map. We will show other works of art by Jacopo, other works that would have been sold by the publisher, Anton Kolb, and some other city views. BUT, we don’t know quite when the show will occur. In the meantime, we welcome visitors to make an appointment to see the map in the Print Study Room.

James V.: I know they’re light-sensitive and difficult to display, but I don’t think there’s a single watercolor on display in the permanent collection. Couldn’t a dimly lit room be set aside for that purpose (the way the Musee D’Orsay does it)?

Pamela V.: Just saw an amazing retrospective of Turner’s watercolor works in Dublin. Yes, would be curious to see some more watercolor works – or traveling watercolor shows.

Matthew Welch: Watercolors appear in Prints and Drawings rotations, but like other works on paper, their colors are sensitive. We tend to limit their exposure to three month rotations with light levels kept to five footcandles or lower.


Christian Peterson: Sometimes the light levels are so low for this kind of material, that it’s advisable to bring your own miner’s cap to exhibitions.


Pamela V.: Yes – the Turner show – had special instructions by the donor that it only be shown in the winter time months due to the shorter day light. Well, now lighting is more controlled, but the collection can still only be shown in the winter months due to that stipulation.

Eike Schmidt: Whereas for the photo exhibitions, don’t forget your sun glasses, especially for those glossy prints of earlier times.


Christian Peterson: Actually the hardest photographs to view are daguerreotypes, which is one of the first processes, dating from 1839-1850s. They are on highly polished metal plates that are very reflective, and were cleverly characterized by a photo historian as “mirrors with a memory.”

Whittier S.: I’m always impressed with how well the pieces in the galleries are rotated in and out, but I have yet to figure out what the schedule is for doing so. I’m curious if you could share roughly what the schedule is.

Corine Wegener: The rotation schedule depends on a number of factors, including the type of media and what other rotations and exhibitions are being installed at the same time.


Jennifer Olivarez: Whittier, we generally try to rotate light-sensitive materials every 6 months–any more than that and it becomes a second job for everyone, and if we keep them up too much longer we could cause damage from exposure to light. This includes textiles, as well as photographs and works on paper, and also includes Native American materials and African art that is textile-based.

Joe Horse Capture: The Native American Art galleries (259-261) are rotated on an annual basis. This year it happens this month, and we are working on that project now.


Jennifer Olivarez: Thanks Joe!


Allen B.: looking forward to it!

Matthew Welch: With so many rotations, the Registrar keeps a master schedule. The light sensitivity of the works is one factor; the availability of staff to undertake rotations is another. Consequently, not everything rotates at once. Check our website frequently for new rotations.

Allen B.: this may not apply to you curators, but…. say you are a local artist wanting to be seen by admirers of the MIA. a studio visit, or show and tell… how would one position themselves to have this audience?

Jennifer Olivarez: Allen, we do some studio visits with MIA supporters, in the areas of craft and design (our department’s contemporary art areas), but these are fairly limited. We do appreciate knowing about local artists in these areas, even if we don’t currently collect their work.

Pamela V.: Apply to the MAEP program designed just for Minnesota Artists.

Allen B.: ok pam…i will!

Christopher Atkins: From MAEP’s perspective…artists who are interested in applying only have to go to our website to find all the necessary materials for submitting a proposal. Here you go: for studio visits, I am occasionally invited to college and university classes but I simply don’t have time to answer every invitation, especially with all of our upcoming shows. Zoooma zoom zoom!

Matthew Welch: Allen, curators do occasionally lead their support groups to artist’s studios, but another way for you to position yourself among MIA visitors is to participate in MIA openings and events and spread the word yourself. The people who you will meet are clearly interested in art.

Allen B.: thank you Matthew, and i wasn’t necessarily speaking for myself but your advice rings true for all artists: NETWORK!

Dan G.: Thanks, Allen, for asking what I was curious about! ;)

Allen B.: press-the-flesh!

Andy S.: When the MIA was founded in the 19th Century, what sort of work was typically shown? Was there a distinction made between locally-created artwork, by local or regional artists, and art made by contemporary Europeans or Americans? Or was work by Minnesota artists shown at all in the earliest years of the museum?

Jennifer Olivarez: Andy, like many museums founded at the same time, the focus was on building a collection of European art from classic periods, and we acquired many architectural elements (and later period rooms) which were being sold from European collections. There were artists and designer very active in the community (Like Robert Koehler and John Bradstreet) that were on our board, but for the museum, they focused on earlier eras, in a sense bringing the sense of European sophistication and cultural awareness to the Midwest. Robert Koehler’s Rainy Evening on Hennepin Avenue was not acquired until 1925: And although John Bradstreet donated many of his own Japanese works on his death in 1914, we didn’t get a substantial work by him (the Prindle House living room) until 1981. We didn’t have a focus on acquiring contemporary work until recently, though there have been periods (such as under director Richard Davis in the 1950s) when we acquired recent paintings and sculpture.

Patrick Noon: The Society of Arts exhibited a wide range of artists from old masters to local, national and international contemporaries. That tradition continued after the Institute opened its new building to the public in 1915.

Natasha T.: If you could acquire a work of art from any other collection in the world to add to the MIA’s collection, what would you take and where would you display it?

Pamela V.: Would your choice be based on purely aesthetic value or investment opportunity – or both?

Corine Wegener: I’d acquire a great harness of armor made in Greenwich, England that is now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY (Sorry Stuart!)We would choose based on aesthetic value – we’re not investing here, we acquire to build a great collection.


Christopher Atkins: Great question Natasha! A piece that I’m quite fond of, and would require some interesting logistical problem solving, would be Gregor Schneider’s “Die Familie Schneider.”  It was so spooky. And so cool.

Joe Horse Capture: About 200 highlights from the National Museum of the American Indian-Smithsonian Institution . . .


Eike Schmidt: Two months ago we acquired a late Gothic sculpture of the Lamentation of Christ, which had been deaccessioned by an Austrian museum in 1982. Sometimes we do get our dream objects from other collections!

Natasha T.: ‎”Die Familie Schneider” scares me just to read about… but I really want to see it anyway!

Jennifer Olivarez: The Art Institute of Chicago has a wonderful Prairie School tall-case clock by Purcell and Elmslie that would be a great addition to our collection…(sorry AIC!)


Patrick Noon: Titian, Man with a quilted sleeve, in my office!


Christopher Atkins: NT: unfortunately it was a temporary installation but while it was up, whoa. Even though I helped work on and saw how it worked, it was still an amazing installation to walk thru.


Christian Peterson: One of my favorite photographs in our collection also was deaccessioned from another institutional collection–Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. It’s Rudolf Koppitz’s “Movement Study,” picturing a lithe nude female leaning backwards. That museum sold off the artistic photographs it had because they did not fit it’s mission


Rachel McGarry: Rembrandt’s “Prodigal Son” from the Hermitage


Thomas Rassieur: This a good question to ask us each month. This time I’ll go with Bronzino’s Allegory with Venus and Cupid. I’d do a Remix and put it near the Donald Judd.


Pete D.: I am interested in the role of power and powerlessness that coincides with the field of curation and museological systems. Curators hold a lot of power and in a sense write art history based on their behavioral working patterns, which in turn becomes embedded as art history in the social fabric. What happens say, when a curator purchases/acquires a work of art in order to placate a board of trustee or a corporation? What is the role of power in curating today, versus maybe the 60′s or even the 20′s? Why must every museum and art center follow trends–and say, own another Warhol? Is a curator the writer of reality?

Eike Schmidt: I leave that question to David


Heidi Q.: Pete, I think many academic art historians would disagree with your idea that a curator ‘writes’ art history. I believe it would be more accurate to think of it as they study the history of art and put together exhibitions which highlight relationships between objects that may not have been previously examined.

David Little: Hi Peter, I think you are giving curators credit for a bit too much power. We make recommendations of objects for purchase and organize shows for the museums we work for, but there are many curators who do so throughout the world. How art history decides on what is important is more and more mysterious. When MoMA opened its doors in 1929, they were the first museum dedicated to modern art (what we would call contemporary today), and it could be said that the curators there had more centralized power. Those days are over now.

Jennifer Olivarez: I know my colleagues are also going to reply, but a simple answer is that curatorial research often mirrors academic research when it comes to objects, in that there are naturally different viewpoints in a healthy discourse. Some similar works are attributed differently by different curators based on their own (growing) experience and the evolving research in the field. As for us in building our collections, we try to focus on our particular strengths and try not to build collections that mirror other museums, while still representing the wide range of artistic creation.

Pamela V.: Pete I think you are talking about art historians not curators.

Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers: Sounds like a very Foucauldian question! It is true that curators’ choices sometime determine what is accepted as art and what is not. This is not bad per se, and can be innovative and emancipating, opening up new horizons — like with the acceptance of African and Oceanic art in Fine Art museums some 75 years ago.


Matthew Welch: Pete, I don’t know about “power” and “powerlessness,” but curators don’t collect independently/autocratically. They are required to compose a Collections Development Plan based on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the collection. This is reviewed annually by the director and Trustees. As works are acquired, the plan changes. The idea is to address weaknesses in the collection, but also to acquire only first-rate examples. The development of the collection, consequently, should have less to do with a curator’s taste than with the scope of human artistic endeavor at large.

Pete D.: I agree with you but I meant that the broader choices inherent in an exhibition–whether large or small–often become part of our visual culture and embedded in our collective and social memory.

Matthew Welch: In reality, choices must be made. Otherwise every exhibition would end up having thousands of objects–impractical and impossible.


Jennifer Olivarez: And differing interpretations help us see aspects of the collected works differently every time. It’s what a former colleague called “reshuffling the deck.”


Heidi Q.: Pete, it is the responsibility of the viewer to learn about works of art and their relationship to the world around it, whether that is culturally, personally, historically etc. Just like a person, a work of art has many relationships and can not be defined by one exhibition. In it’s lifetime it will be part of many exhibitions which will all (hopefully) give the viewer a new and unique context in which to view it.

Thomas Rassieur: Pete, that’s just the way it is. We curators look at lots of art, think about it, and try to make the best decisions we can. We don’t always agree with one another, nor do we always agree with our predecessors. Someday soon, others will try to correct what they see as mistakes that we’ve made. As for decisions based on the preferences of trustees or other supporters, it happens. We live in a real world and sometimes have to make pragmatic decisions. Parts of the collection will grow more than others due to the interests of those who can make it happen. How fortunate we would be if someone wanted to give us a major Warhol. We’d also hope that person would encourage his or her next door neighbors to give their terrific Raphael. History is a lumpy business, and we just do our best. PS, my colleagues say don’t forget the Ouija Board!

Pete D.: Perhaps there are multiple ways to view curation. From the inside of the institution, from the role of the viewer perspective, or perhaps from the artists. These today often overlap, with much fun involved. It seems though that the majority of large and medium scale museums and institutions are run from a sort of monarchial up/down perspective and the choices created at the top traditionally filter down to the viewer. The choices often affect our aesthetic belief or value systems in what the viewer comes to see predetermined as art or not art.

Larry M.: While a nonprofit institution will have differing demands than a commercial venue, there will always some bowing to the audience, some personal taste and some academic research. Not necessarily in that order, putting on a successful show, will bring an audience, having an audience can bring your organization to the attention of donors commercial and private, academic research can give a show the gravitas of history adding importance, personal tastes often gives a show character and another thread that works with the history to tie the show together. I know this may not answer your question but I will say, “yes having a Warhol is worth a lot of street cred”.

Pete D.: I like the notion that (art) “history is a lumpy business!” Can the museological door be opened to the more lumpy side of the arts? What about the giggly and kooky, too?Matthew, could there ever be a Peoples Collection Development Plan at our wonderful MIA?

Heidi Q.: It is Pete. There are many museums in existence dedicated to that exact sort of thing, as well as exhibitions at major institutions that cater to that demographic as well. You just have to keep your eye out for them.

Larry M.: I think you should check out the event at SOO this weekend, if you have time.

Thomas Rassieur: Hi Pete, if you like kooky and missed the Hot House show, be sure to get in here before Bad to the Bone closes this weekend!


Pamela V.: This question is for the photo curator – how are museums going to contend with the non archival quality of all C-prints? – they will disappear over time.

Allen B.: uh oh, must have been a zinger question….

Pamela V.: …it will be like The Twilight Zone – all photos will disappear…

David Little: Good question. The truth of the matter is that only time will tell how various photo processes will stand up. For C-prints that have faded, which has been a problem for some from the 1970s, museums are going back to photographers for new prints.

Pamela V.: Sounds tricky and problematic.

Jennifer Olivarez: Plastics will be another challenge for curators and conservators when it comes to preservation. There are major discussions going on at the Smithsonian now that hopefully can help guide us. In the meantime, we are showing such objects now, while they are still exhibitable. Foam in modern upholstery is being replaced by many museums too, as it crumbles with age.

Christian Peterson: Some museums, including us, have cold storage rooms for our photographs, which prolong the life of C-prints. But curators understand that, over many years, the colors will shift. And, we put up with it, because in the past no other color processes matched the “natural” palette of C-prints. Today, the chromogenic process seems to offer more stability.

Pamela V.: Ah yes, plastic too – I’ve heard about this problem as well.

Dan G.: It will be interesting to see if this problem spurs more widespread acceptance of Archival Pigment prints.

Heidi Q.: I think the Visual Resources department will digitally photograph the c-prints (before they deteriorate) for preservation purposes and also to make reproductions for display. :) 3D objects are much more complicated.

Rachel McGarry: Check out Jane Zagel, in from London and at MIA conserving Matteo Ricci’s rare world map (Beijing, 1602) for the James Ford Bell Trust. Come hear her lecture tonight at the museum at 6pm, “The Human Side of Restoration.”

Thomas Rassieur: Jane is a rock-star in the conservation world. She even played a role in unravelling one of the most elaborate art forgery schemes ever uncovered. Don’t miss her talk tonight! 6 PM in Pillsbury auditorium.

Allen B.: ok here’s my last Q: what would your (own) self-description curated show title be?

Jennifer Olivarez: Allen, what do you mean? We have a lot of fun coming up with exhibition titles, not sure how you meant that. About ourselves?


Allen B.: sum yourself up, or curate yourself…what would the title be??

Matthew Welch: Power and Omnipotence!


Pamela V.: “Posthumously”

Allen B.: chris??

Christopher Atkins: AB: I’m thinking… :)


Corine Wegener: “Distracted by Shiny Objects”


Jennifer Olivarez: Never Took Herself Too Seriously


Christopher Atkins: “Untitled” (1975- )


Christian Peterson: “Peterson’s Pictorial Prerogative”


Joe Horse Capture: “Can’t Believe He Works Here”


Allen B.: illiteration always gets them in the door;)

Pamela V.: …good question Allen.

Christopher Atkins: Thanks everyone, we really enjoyed all of your questions. Come back next month!


Allen B.: i was just getting warmed up! thanks folks!

Dan G.: Thanks, everyone!

Brian F.: Didn’t know you all even did this. Next time for sure.

MIA: The first Thursday of each month, Brian!

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