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Museum Politics

Museum Politics: Power Plays at the Exhibition

Timothy W. Luke
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsz7n
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  • Book Info
    Museum Politics
    Book Description:

    In this important volume, Timothy W. Luke explores museums’s power to shape collective values and social understandings, and argues persuasively that museum exhibitions have a profound effect on the body politic. Through discussions of topics ranging from how the National Holocaust Museum and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles have interpreted the Holocaust to the ways in which the American Museum of Natural History, the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and Tucson’s Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum have depicted the natural world, Luke exposes the processes through which museums challenge but more often affirm key cultural and social realities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8401-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Museum Exhibitions as Power Plays
    (pp. xiii-xxvi)

    Even though the electronic media are acquiring tremendous clout, and entire television channels are devoted solely to culture, history, nature, and technology programming, museums today are still critically important educational institutions. In playing this role, they also possess a power to shape collective values and social understandings in a decisively important fashion. This book is my attempt to highlight this reality, because most American social scientists are not especially open to considering the workings of cultural power, institutions, or conflict in museums. Indeed, most are shocked when they find truly heated political struggle at museums, and even then they do...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Politics at the Exhibition: Aesthetics, History, and Nationality in the Culture Wars
    (pp. 1-18)

    As Richard Bolton recounts inCulture Wars, the public debate in the United States over how museum exhibitions can exert deleterious moral effects on either individual citizens or the nation’s culture began in May 1989. Once Senator Alphonse D’Amato (R-NY) ripped up a photograph,Piss Christby Andres Serrano, and tossed the pieces on the Senate floor, decrying the image as “a deplorable, despicable display of vulgarity,” a whole generation of artists ran afoul in the politicization of public art funding by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA): Robert Mapplethorpe, Mel Chin, Annie Sprinkle, Karen Finley, Holly Hughes, John...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Nuclear Reactions: The (Re)Presentation of Hiroshima at the National Air and Space Museum
    (pp. 19-36)

    This chapter reconsiders the controversy at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., that arose in 1995 over the abrupt cancellation of the heavily criticized exhibition “The Crossroads: The End of World War II, the Atomic Bomb, and the Origins of the Cold War.” As the proposed title indicates, the show was to have examined the interconnections between the atomic bomb, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the atomic stalemate of the Cold War by commemorating the fifty years since V-J Day with a display of the partially restoredEnola Gay. After the rhetorical brawling sparked by...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Memorializing Mass Murder: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    (pp. 37-64)

    The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is an exceptional, but also contradictory, enterprise. First, it is a museum and memorial in North America for what was essentially a European event. And, second, during a decade marked by spirited public outcry against widely perceived undercurrents of politicization in many major museum exhibitions across the United States, the generally positive reception of the Holocaust museum’s displays stood out as a clear contradiction.

    Perhaps this is because the museum is one sort of monument to political correctness. Who, after all, could speak out against solemnly memorializing Hitler’s victims? Perhaps it is because the...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Signs of Empire/Empires of Sign: Daimyo Culture in the District of Columbia
    (pp. 65-81)

    Politics is an art, and art today, as chapters 1 and 5 illustrate, has a great deal to do with politics. The mobilization of national cultural heritage properties or fine art to serve as diplomatic tools in the uneasy relations of major world powers was a practice that worked well during the Cold War, and it continues today in the competition of great economic powers. A quick examination of the art exhibitions in Washington, D.C., easily confirms this observation. There one finds the culture ministries of various American allies and adversaries being touted in the local press for funding this...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Inventing the Southwest: The Fred Harvey Company and Native American Art
    (pp. 82-99)

    Nothing in the realm of culture and society exists naturally. Cultural form and substance need to be invented. Once invented, they must be continually cultivated, as chapters 1 and 2 show with regard to history or chapters 3 and 4 indicate with respect to culture, in ongoing efforts to refine those rhetorics of representation. In this enterprise, museums frequently assume a leading role in cultural economy as authoritative sites where such systems of meaning, value, and identity are, first, invented and, second, contested after their presentation by other social forces seeking to appropriate the cultural forms and materiel that museums...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Museum Pieces: Politics and Knowledge at the American Museum of Natural History
    (pp. 100-123)

    Giving some knowable, stabilized qualities to everyday existence requires things to be pieced apart, albeit in some clearly aesthetic manner, so that the play of power through discourses of knowing might piece those parts together again. This often grants us some fixity in our reality’s givenness. Clearly, this can be seen as a hyperreal time, as chapters 3 and 5 assert, when models precede meaning or maps come before terrains, as chapters 1, 2, and 4 also illustrate. Museums function as vitally important modeling agencies or mapping centers that meld ontological meanings with cultural terrains. I want to suggest that...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Missouri Botanical Garden: Sharing Knowledge about Plants to Preserve and Enrich Life
    (pp. 124-145)

    The Missouri Botanical Garden sits in striking incongruity amidst the rough neighborhoods on the south side of St. Louis that now surround it. Sitting not far from old sprawling railway yards, decrepit industrial factories, and rundown inner-city houses, where everything distressing about America’s urban decay is jumbled together cheek by jowl with crime and chaos, the garden is a small oasis of Victorian order penned up behind limestone walls and chain-link fences. Next to the world-famous St. Louis Arch over the Museum of the Western Expansion, the Missouri Botanical Garden is one of the city’s most recognizable icons. TheNew...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Southwestern Environments as Hyperreality: The Arizona–Sonora Desert Museum
    (pp. 146-164)

    The ideological profile of nature has remained a perpetual object of contestation in American culture and society, as chapters 6 and 7 have maintained, during the 1990s and the early twenty-first century. Even after centuries of Enlightenment rationalism, the currents of mysticism, conservatism, and romanticism are quite strong in Western philosophies of nature. Consequently, the ideological meaning of nature remains unstable, ineffable, or indeterminate in much of the contemporary world.¹ In turn, the collective imagination of nature often serves as a screen for other displaced social contradictions or cultural affirmations, which seize on discrete signs in the environment, enduring cycles...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Superpower Aircraft and Aircrafting Superpower: The Pima Air and Space Museum
    (pp. 165-185)

    On the southeast side of Tucson, Arizona, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base continues serving into the post–Cold War era as the operations center of the 12th Air Force and headquarters of Southern Command Air Forces. Because of Tucson’s remarkably mild climate year-round, Davis-Monthan also has become one of the American military’s most important aircraft storage and demolition centers. This assignment began in 1945 when literally thousands of American fighter, bomber, and transport planes were flown to Arizona to be overhauled, mothballed, or scrapped after World War II. During the Cold War, Davis-Monthan’s mothballing facilities worked almost continuously as many new...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Strange Attractor: The Tech Museum of Innovation
    (pp. 186-202)

    In this chapter I want to explore how San Jose’s new museum, The Tech Museum of Innovation, originated in a stark moment of civic envy, much like New York’s American Museum of Natural History, St. Louis’s Missouri Botanical Garden, and Phoenix’s Heard Museum before it. When most Americans think of San Jose, if they think of it at all, they may replay in their heads Dionne Warwick’s plaintive musical question of 1967, asking “Do you know the way to San Jose?,” because it always has been an indefinite point somewhere out there on San Francisco Bay amidst truck gardens, military...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN Channeling the News Stream: The Full Press of a Free Press at the Newseum
    (pp. 203-217)

    Sitting just across the Potomac River from the Kennedy Center for the Arts, and next to Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon in Virginia, the Newseum strangely presumes to deputize Hermes to serve as one humanity’s most important Muses. Along with Astronomy, Comedy, History, Music, or the other Muses, we are asked by the Freedom Forum to believe that “News” must reside in the Temple of the Muses, if not have its own special building. Because it is a long way to Mount Parnassus, the Newseum is devoted to Hermes, and it is conveniently sited in Arlington, Virginia, at the...

  16. CONCLUSION: Piecing Together Knowledge and Pulling Apart Power at the Museum
    (pp. 218-230)

    This book has traced out my interpretations of how different types of museums work in the public life of the United States. By indicating how culture, history, nature, and technology are constructed as clusters of meaning and value by social institutions connected to museums in particular locales, I have suggested how their exhibitions can influence other beliefs and practices for America’s population in general. In some ways, this might not be the best of times to take on museums as sites of cultural contestation. Over half of all households own stock, big SUVs are the nation’s favorite automobile, and the...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 231-258)
  18. Index
    (pp. 259-266)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-267)