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Museum Pieces

Museum Pieces: Toward the Indigenization of Canadian Museums

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    Museum Pieces
    Book Description:

    Ruth Phillips argues that these practices are "indigenous" not only because they originate in Aboriginal activism but because they draw on a distinctively Canadian preference for compromise and tolerance for ambiguity. Phillips dissects seminal exhibitions of Indigenous art to show how changes in display, curatorial voice, and authority stem from broad social, economic, and political forces outside the museum and moves beyond Canadian institutions and practices to discuss historically interrelated developments and exhibitions in the United States, Britain, Australia, and elsewhere. Drawing on forty years of experience as an art historian, curator, exhibition critic, and museum director, she emphasizes the complex and situated nature of the problems that face museums, introducing new perspectives on controversial exhibitions and moments of contestation. A manifesto that calls on us to re-imagine the museum as a place to embrace global interconnectedness, Museum Pieces emphasizes the transformative power of museum controversy and analyses shifting ideas about art, authenticity, and power in the modern museum.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8746-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. A Preface – by way of an Introduction
    (pp. 3-22)

    • Undoing the Settler Museum: Showing Off and Showing Up
      (pp. 24-26)

      It has become a normative aspect of public culture to plan major exhibitions in conjunction with an important historical anniversary or the hosting of a major international event. These “show times” begin as occasions for the nation to “show off” its colourful history, its modern and enlightened present, and its confident expectation of an even better future.¹ Museums welcome such events as opportunities to mount projects that would normally be beyond their scope. A simple formula usually applies: the bigger the event, the bigger the budget and the more ambitious the exhibition. In Canada during the past four decades, such...

    • 1 “Arrow of Truth”: The Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo 67
      (pp. 27-47)

      The year 1967 was a time of nationalist euphoria in Canada. The country was celebrating the one-hundredth anniversary of Confederation, its union as a new nation formed out of a group of British colonies. Within fifteen years Canada would complete the process begun in 1867 by patriating the British North America Act, a piece of British parliamentary legislation that had served as the country’s effective constitution since then. During the centennial year a wave of constructive energy swept the country, leaving behind new hockey rinks, museums, civic buildings, roads, acres of fresh paint, and the memories of a thousand parties....

    • 2 Moment of Truth: The Spirit Sings as Critical Event and the Exhibition Inside It
      (pp. 48-70)

      Virtually all Canadian writers on museums and Indigenous peoples have positionedThe Spirit Sings: Artistic Traditions of Canada’s First Peoplesas the point of departure for the postcolonial project of museum reform that has been underway during the past two decades.⁴ Staged by the Glenbow Museum as the centrepiece of the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988, the exhibition assembled over 650 examples of Aboriginal art from museums around the world. Most had been collected during the early years of European contact, and many had rarely been exhibited or published and were unknown to Indigenous people, curators, and scholars. In 1986,...

    • 3 APEC at the Museum of Anthropology: The Politics of Site and the Poetics of Sight Bite
      (pp. 71-90)

      Throughout its two-hundred-year history, the public museum has been a powerfully attractive object for appropriative projects. It has been an important agent for the inscription of the universalizing ideology of modernity as well as of imperial hierarchies of Western nations and world cultures. In the early years of a new millennium the museum remains one of the most prestigious of public spaces, a secular sacristy in which are kept the material objects that are most greatly valued and that are held to embody essential evidence of history, culture, nature, science, and art. It is a unique “interspace,” mediating the authoritative...


    • Exclusions and Inclusions: Authenticity, Sacrality, and Possession
      (pp. 92-94)

      Three discursive constructs – authenticity, sacrality, and possession – emerged as key targets of critique and reform out of the boycotts, protests, and debates of the late twentieth century. All three have been fundamental to the operation of the modern museum and especially to its representations of Indigenous arts, cultures, and histories. Because museum practices are ultimately derived from and authorized by academic knowledge formations, the efforts to revise them must be understood in the context of the broader post-structuralist and postcolonial critiques of Western disciplines that were in progress during the last quarter of the twentieth century and particularly in relation...

    • 4 How Museums Marginalize: Naming Domains of Inclusion and Exclusion
      (pp. 95-101)

      The contemporary analysis of representational processes has made us aware of the intimate connection between naming and power.¹ In museums this power is exercised at the most fundamental level through the naming of the macroclassifications of the museum system – art, archaeology, ethnology, history, folk culture, natural science, science. This classification scheme is made explicit to museum publics in many forms: it is listed in guidebook rosters of specialist museums and their departments, mapped in visitor floor plans, and indicated in ubiquitous museum signage.

      My argument in this chapter can be summarized as a series of propositions, no less urgent for...

    • 5 Fielding Culture: Dialogues between Art History and Anthropology
      (pp. 102-110)

      Art history and anthropology are the two fields of scholarship that treat material objects in their cultural contexts.¹ From their origins, the two disciplines have operated as a complementary pair. In the late nineteenth century the universe of human-made things was shared out according to generally accepted hierarchies of the aesthetic and the cultural. Art, the achievement of Western fine artists, became the preserve of art historians, while the arts of other peoples were assigned to the branch of anthropology called material culture studies. Since the end of the Victorian era the validity of this division has been called into...

    • 6 Disappearing Acts: Traditions of Exposure, Traditions of Enclosure, and the Sacrality of Onkwehonwe Medicine Masks
      (pp. 111-131)

      One of the most striking changes in ethnographic and art museum representations of Native North American peoples at the turn of the twenty-first century has been the disappearance from public display of object types long celebrated as canonical forms of art and material culture. As the result of carefully orchestrated campaigns by community representatives, Zuni Ahayu:da (or “war gods”) have been returned to the Zuni, wampum belts have been repatriated to the care of Onkwehonwe (Iroquois) confederacy chiefs, Coast Salish rattles and masks have been moved to restricted areas of museum storerooms, female museum staff have been asked to stop...

    • 7 The Global Travels of a Mi’kmaq Coat: Colonial Legacies, Repatriation, and the New Cosmopolitanism
      (pp. 132-154)

      Since the late nineteenth century, one of the most important collections of Mi’kmaq and Huron-Wendat art from what are now New Brunswick and Quebec has lain largely unregarded in a large urban museum on the opposite side of the globe from its communities of origin. Consummate examples of Native North American textile and sculptural art, the clothing, textiles, wampums, and carved pipes in the collection accompanied the aspiring young Canadian writer and amateur ethnologist Samuel Douglass Smith Huyghue in 1852 when he emigrated to Australia to take up work as a government clerk in the Ballarat gold mines. Huyghue never...


    • Indigenizing Exhibitions: Experiments and Practices
      (pp. 156-160)

      Critical writing on museums during the past two decades has produced a widely accepted understanding of the ways in which nation-states have historically used these institutions to educate their publics to desired forms of social behaviour and citizenship. The compelling arguments for the instrumentality of the museum in producing citizens for modern democracies made by Tony Bennett, Carol Duncan, and others are cited repeatedly in this volume. The chapters in this section explore what could be considered a corollary argument that has developed out of the late twentieth-century political contestations and disciplinary reflexivity discussed in the previous two sections. If...

    • 8 Making Space: First Nations Artists, and the National Museums, and the Columbus Quincentennial (1992)
      (pp. 161-167)

      Making space is a key image in cultural politics today.* We map with metaphor a cultural landscape that has discernible topographical features – a centre, margins, a mainstream running through it. Charting a way through this terrain is by definition difficult for artists from marginalized communities. How to enter the mainstream while simultaneously swimming against its current? How to negotiate the gravitational pull of the centre while maintaining the separateness needed to define, preserve, and celebrate distinctive identities that have been put at risk?

      For those comfortably occupying the mainstream, making space means moving over, getting out of the way, decentring....

    • 9 Cancelling White Noise: Gerald McMaster’s Savage Graces (1994)
      (pp. 168-178)

      In 1994 theNew York Timescarried an article about the booming market in African-American popular kitsch.* Over half the buyers, it reported, were African Americans who bought these mammy dolls, Aunt Jemima salt shakers, and little black jockey figures. They did so for several quite different reasons.¹ Some acquired them in order to destroy them, others put them on display as reminders of a history of racism that must never be forgotten, while still others confessed to buying them because they evoked feelings of nostalgia. These three reactions, it seems to me, neatly capture the range of responses stimulated...

    • 10 Threads of the Land at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (1995)
      (pp. 179-184)

      On the day that I visitedThreads of the Land: Clothing Traditions from Three Indigenous Cultures, at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC) to make notes for this review,* the European Community voted to introduce a ban on the importation of furs caught with leghold traps. This ban, long opposed by the Canadian government and Aboriginal organizations such as the Assembly of First Nations, puts in jeopardy both the economic well-being and the cultural survival of many Aboriginal people in Canada. The irony of my timing – and, more importantly, the timeliness of the show – became immediately evident as soon as...

    • 11 Toward a Dialogic Paradigm: New Models of Collaborative Curatorial Practice
      (pp. 185-204)

      Exhibits are the reason most people go to museums.³ They are the museum’s premier product, designed to address the public directly through a unique language configured of visual, textual, and spatial elements. Through the creation of exhibits, museum professionals seek to render more intelligible and accessible knowledge that is specialized, esoteric, and complex. Through their selective sponsorship of exhibits, governments and private interest groups hope to educate and shape public opinion. Critical museological literature has identified exhibitions as a key area of cultural production with important agency in the inscription of constructs of nation, citizenship, race, and gender. It demonstrates...

    • 12 Inside–Out and Outside–In: Re-presenting Native North America at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the National Museum of the American Indian (2003–2004)
      (pp. 205-226)

      For Native North Americans, the new millennium started with a big museological bang when national museums in both the United States and Canada inaugurated new and radically revised exhibitions about the Indigenous peoples of the Americas.¹ The First Peoples Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC), which opened in February 2003, occupies almost 35,000 square feet in Canada’s national museum of history and anthropology in Gatineau, Quebec. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), which opened in September 2004, is an even larger project, occupying a new four-storey building on the Mall in Washington, DC. From...


    • Working with Hybridity
      (pp. 228-230)

      If a time traveller from the first museum age, the critical period of museum building that was at its height between the 1840s and the 1890s, were today to visit the Royal Ontario Museum, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, or another of the institutions that owes its foundation to that era, she would probably experience both recognition and confusion.¹ The large galleries, the hushed atmosphere, the guards, the glass cases filled with artifacts, and the ordered ranks of pictures would mark the space unmistakably as a museum, understood as a site where education and pleasure can be expected to merge...

    • 13 From Harmony to Antiphony: The Indigenous Presence in a (Future) Portrait Gallery of Canada
      (pp. 231-251)

      In 2001 the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien announced the development of a new museum, the Portrait Gallery of Canada.¹ It was to be created as a separate branch within Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and would draw primarily on that institution’s rich collections of photographs, documentary art, film, and television and audio recordings. The gallery would be housed in the classic beaux arts building built in 1931–32 by American architect Cass Gilbert as the United States embassy. Located at 100 Wellington Street, directly across the street from the centre block of Parliament, this building provided an ideal location...

    • 14 Modes of Inclusion: Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario
      (pp. 252-276)

      This book began with an analysis of the Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo 67, a project whose popular success and anticolonial politics can be seen as auguries of the major changes that have subsequently come to Canadian anthropology and history museums. In this chapter I focus on modes of inclusion in the art gallery, and I begin it with a discussion of a second major exhibition that was in development during the same years as the pavilion.Masterpieces of Indian and Eskimo Art from Canadawas shown in Paris and Ottawa in 1969 and 1970. It was the first...

    • 15 The Digital (R) Evolution of Museum–Based Research
      (pp. 277-296)

      The exhibition is the public face of the museum, and it is thus not surprising that museum exhibitions have served as primary sites for protest, revisionist experimentation, and critical analysis.³ Like the skin of a living organism, however, the exhibition is also a surface upon which changes in the museum’s state of being are visibly registered, and its qualities can therefore be read as symptoms of the health of the institution’s internal generative processes. Research remains the most important of these processes, despite a loss of prestige in recent years resulting from shifting priorities and the need to broaden audiences...

    • 16 “Learning to Feed off Controversies”: Meeting the Challenges of Translation and Recovery in Canadian Museums
      (pp. 297-316)

      The epochal changes that are transforming relationships between museums and communities in many settler nations in the early twenty-first century are the products of a series of controversies that shook up the museum world during the last decades of the twentieth.² Boycotts, demonstrations, media storms, protest art, questions asked in Parliament, and budget cuts in Congress stimulated the reflexivity, critical analysis, and activism necessary for change. Yet in the aftermath of these tumults, museums have become wary of controversy, and many now tend to regard exhibitions that could provoke debate as risks not worth taking. A situation in which museums...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 317-358)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 359-376)