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    Masterpieces and the critical museum

    Murawska-Muthesius, Katarzyna (2021) Masterpieces and the critical museum. In: Marstine, J. and Ho Hing Kay, O. (eds.) Curating Art. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 9781138907973.

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    New Museology does not pay attention to masterpieces. 1 One could spend hours searching for this term in the tables of contents and indexes in the ever-increasing pile of museum studies books and readers. All in vain. The celebrities in museums’ collections, the warrants of the museums’ popularity among the widest public, have not been included among the issues to be tackled by critical museology. Clearly, this reluctance to approach the phenomenon of the masterpiece stems from the disciplinary aims of the New Museology which is concerned with social hierarchies and exclusions rather than with the objects themselves and which must be, programmatically, distrustful of any old claims to the universality of aesthetic values and transcendence. Not writing about masterpieces is thus tantamount to adopting a critical approach, to silence those claims. The notable absence of masterpieces in critical museum studies is more than compensated for by their excessive presence everywhere else. It is hardly worth noting that any search for the term ‘masterpiece’ in online library catalogues, online bookshops—not to mention the search engines—is totally unproductive, as thousands of hits appear instantly. Indeed, the word ‘masterpiece’ has been adopted widely and indiscriminately as a measure of perfection in all spheres of human activity, so much so that its ubiquity renders it invalid, relegating the notion from the highest realm of art to the more popular strata of culture industry. It is difficult not to notice, instead, that a significant number of ‘masterpiece’ books have been, and still are, produced by museums. The term features prominently not just in amply illustrated publications with the most celebrated objects from museums’ collections, addressing the widest public, but also in catalogues of the major international exhibitions, aimed at professionals. Masterpieces are not given but are constructed by the museum and academic art history textbooks and, to a large extent, by the shifting demands of popular opinion. When discussing the concept of the critical museum, the hegemony of the masterpiece in the museum world, then and now, presents one of the issues to be considered rather than bypassed. Book synopsis: Curating Art provides insight into some of the most socially and politically impactful curating of historical and contemporary art since the late 1990s. It offers up a museological framework for understanding watershed developments of curating in art museums. Representing the plurality of theory and practice around the expanded field of relational curating, the book focuses on curating that prioritises the quality of relationships between people and objects, between institutions and people and among people. It has wide international breadth, with particularly strong representation in East and Southeast Asia, including four papers never before translated into English. This Asian cluster illuminates the globalisation of the field and challenges dichotomies of East and West while acknowledging distinctions within specific, but often transnational, cultural spheres. The compelling philosophical perspectives and case studies included within Curating Art will be of interest to students and researchers studying curating, exhibition development and art museums. The book will also inspire current and emerging curators to pose challenging but important questions about their own practice and the relationships that this work sustains.


    Item Type: Book Section
    School: School of Arts > History of Art
    Research Centres and Institutes: Multilingual and Multicultural Research, Centre for (CMMR)
    Depositing User: Kasia Murawska-Muthesius
    Date Deposited: 24 Jan 2022 18:13
    Last Modified: 24 Jan 2022 18:13


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