From the Director, Alex W. Barker
This past semester I’ve been teaching a graduate seminar in museum studies. As their final project the students designed exhibitions, presenting them (and defending them) to the rest of the class. I placed no major constraints on topics or design, except that they needed to be able to justify the choices they made in terms of the technical constraints on particular kinds of objects, the needs of audiences, and the didactical limitations of exhibition labels. I think—I hope— they learned a lot. I know I did.
The students addressed a wide range of topics, from the ambiguity of gender and identity in the works of contemporary artist Cindy Sherman to the effects of pesticide and prospects for controlling pests using natural means, and from cuisine in ancient Rome to a powerful and disturbing treatment of racism and lynching. All of them had areas of special strength, and each of them had one or more “aha!” moments of resonance and wonder.
Stephen Greenblatt—one of my favorite authors—argues that this is the proper role of museums; we are purveyors of resonance and wonder, and these are the currencies by which value in museums is measured. “Resonance,” he argues, is the ability for an exhibition to engage us, to find a way to connect with us at an immediate and human level. It’s the common ground that makes an exhibition relevant to us as individuals or communities. “Wonder” is the magical ability of exhibitions to transport us out of our time and place to appreciate new ways of seeing, to experience ancient worlds long faded to dust, or to imagine new worlds not yet born.
Over the next year the Museum of Art and Archaeology will mount a series of exhibitions that offer the chance to travel to faraway or long past worlds, to see the world through other eyes, and to return to our own with a fresh perspective—in other words, exhibitions of resonance and wonder. We begin with A Midwestern View: The Artists of the Ste. Genevieve Art Colony, which examines an influential but now little-known art colony in southeastern Missouri. Next is Ran In-Ting’s Watercolors: East and West Mix in Images of Rural Taiwan, an exhibition of watercolors by one of the most acclaimed Taiwanese artists of the 20th century. And we follow that exhibition with an examination of commerce in the ancient world. The Mediterranean Melting Pot: Commerce and Cultural Exchange in Antiquity traces the far-flung trade connections that made the economics of the Greco-Roman world profoundly international in both scope and character. We’ll also be offering a smaller numismatic exhibition curated by collections specialist Kenyon Reed. CIA: Counterfeits, Imitations and Alterations of Ancient Coins looks beyond more traditional presentations of ancient coins and examines the ways they were faked, altered, and manipulated in antiquity. This exhibition and Benton Kidd’s Mediterranean Melting Pot in Fall 2011 bring into sharper focus similarities between the ancient world and our own. And along the way we’ll also mount a small exhibition celebrating the life of George Caleb Bingham, examining themes of sentiment and loss in his portraits.
We have ourselves experienced losses that leave all of us saddened. Herb Brown, husband of the late Betty Brown and a familiar face at Museum functions, passed away earlier this year. And Jean McCartney, an active Museum docent and regular patron of all of the arts institutions of the area, died suddenly in December. Both will be very deeply missed; both remind us to hold our friends and family—another source of resonance and wonder—all the more tightly.
See you at the Museum!