I thank you all for being here, this late in the conference schedule. I will be saying something nice about inclusion, and offer you some of my reflections on the democratic future of museums. Though cast collections offer a special case, I believe the problems and solutions I set forth are of relevance to all museums. I threw myself into inviting people to do actual changes to the display of the collection, by letting them choose the casts they liked, thus opening up to chaos and unpredictability, and risking loss of authority – witch is, roughly speaking, just what a traditional curator and museum is afraid of. I even arranged for the casts to be put on loan to the institutions from which the participants came, so that they could work with them on a daily basis. We used Facebook to document the project, and produced a documentary on the project. First, I want to draw up the lines of thought fundamental to understanding cast collections in particular and art museums in general, passing from eighteenth-century idealism to to-days focus on gender and performativity, in order to point out the reason why casts and museums are challenged. Second, I will tell you about the participatory project “gip-S-M-K” and the future projects for the cast collection, and offer you my reflections on the future of inclusivity.
When it comes to the authoritative selection of artworks to be worthy of copying, the taste of the Father of Art History and Archaeology, Johann Winckelmann plays a crucial role. He literally saw himself as standing weeping at a shore, while watching history disappearing in the horizon. So, in order to sublimate his loss, and his homo-sexual desires, in one and the same movement, he structured the nudes of Greek and Roman art. He also despised the contemporary art of his day, Baroque art. Ever since, contemporary art have had to make it somewhat on its own in Museums. The German Philosopher Hegel made up the idea of the development of History as an ongoing perfection of the World Spirit reflected through art: Hegel explains, that The Spirit expresses itself through the law and institutions, so we need Art Museums. The Spirit has a representational and ritualized side to it, and Religion is the place to find this in its purest form. Thus it is no accident that Museums look like temples and that Art Historians tend to act as High Priests performing rituals. And I have heard quite some ritual praisings of inclusion at this conference, too. Then arrives the highest form of Spirit, the “Absolute Meaning”, to be apprehended through the ascending triplet of art, religion, and thinking (denkenden). As for Kant, he managed to isolate art form all other fields of interest, be it economic, political or other interests, such as primitive desires. The beautiful has to be a symbol of morality, and not a matter purely for the senses, but a matter of judgement, Kant says. No one else, than the highly educated specialist is of cause able to make that judgment - on behalf of the people.
So, the road was laid out for the cast collection and for museums in general: The history of art plays its part in the transition of the Spirit through History, and it is reflected in Art. As the sculpture gradually loosens up and starts to move forward, it shows the development of the notion of freedom, leading to democracy, sovereign nation states, and good citizens. Hegel thought of his own times as near the end of the road towards perfection, as do most art historical displays. Out of respect to Winckelmann, history stops with Michelangelo in the cast collection. And the tone of lament of the dead, white, male Masters is still heard ringing out loud in the halls of the temple-museums of Art History.
And here is what our local specialist in the field said, when explaining why we needed a comprehensive cast collection… A hundred and fifty years ago it was considered enough to educate the public by erecting museums and fill them up with works of art. Back then, art historians were few, but they were very influential in society. They fully understood how to make art matter for the nation and to the individual, how to get the funding, and how to gain political power, and they build quite a few museums from scratch. I think it still remains for the relatively many art historians of today to become just as influential and important to public life as were the few art historians back then.
As Lange was speaking, Darwinism spread the idea that we all come from the Apes, and Communists and Socialists were gaining more and more political strength. Bourgeoisie Society really needed a bullwark againt all kinds of primitivism. Having a comprehensive cast collection was, in that specific context, everything desired for in order to achieve what is called a ”happy performance” in performativity theory. It was happy, because it fulfilled certain requirements: A conventional procedure of collecting was supported by utterances coming from respected experts in the field, and they succeded in establishing a collection, that could be considered to be complete.
Reflecting on all this, I think of the cast collection as a ”White’s Only”- collection, since it is made up of white casts mirroring eurocentric ideas. As if to stress this point even further, the white casts are, by means of a truly surreal incident now housed in the ”Westindian Warehouse”, build to store the goods provided by slave labour in the eighteenth century. If ever Denmark should deside to have a museum commemorating slavery, I have a location to start at.
Alas, an ever so complete cast collection could not stop Modernity, and soon it turned into an ”unhappy” performance having one. If we look upon a cast collection – or art, or museums - as an utterance, it is subject to the same conditions as are all utterances. They can turn form being wanted into being unwanted, embarrassing, counter-productive, destructive, just being in the way, which is exactly the way cast collections are considered today – and museums are considered by the Occupy Museum movement and some students, present here at the conference. Already when the cast collection was being erected, a number of artists, such as van Gogh, were leaving behind the casts. In the drawing, Van Gogh pulled at top hat over the head of a plaster cast, misplaced the support, and manipulated it into making some kind of indecent activity related to the female figure. If we turn to Walter Benjamin’s nineteen.thirty-nine article The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, he writes that: ”The mass is a matrix from which all traditional behaviour toward works of art issues today in a new form.” Though casts are made from matrixes and were mass produced, and cast collections were thought of as being able to shape the masses, it was the movies that turned out to be that “new form” in which “the mass” of audiences wanted to confront the past. (Cecil B. DeMille: Cleopatra (Claudette Colbert), 1934) The Nazi’s way of embracing antiquity, often using casts of classical sculpture in their propaganda, did not serve the interest in antiquity well. Avant-garde movements routinely mocked tradition, and after World War Two abstract art came to the fore. On several occations the influential art critic Clement Greenberg spoke of the need to go ”behind the Alexandrianism” of bourgeoisie art in order to reach a new art, characterized by its ability to refer to its own material, instead of imitating man or nature. Casts can not in any way live up to these ideals.
Now, a rough outline of the situation for cast collections look like this: Cast are just copies. This is an obstacle in times focussing solely on the original and on authenticity. There is a taboo on pointing towards how dependent we are on copying, but this may change as we are plunged into the virtual reality of new media. But just have look at museums. They look pretty much the same all over the world. When Rosalind Krauss in nineteen-seventy-nine noted that modernist sculpture was ”the negative condition of the monument”, the casts had already been left out of “the expandend field”. At least until post-modernism came along in the nineteen-eighteens and made references more accepted. Antiquity and tradition is “old hat”, This goes for museums too: they are challenged by the ignorance towards tradition and history, not least prevailing among students of art history.
In nineteen-sixty-six the cast collection was send out of the national gallery, to meet its fate in an old barn outside the Capital. In the eighteen-nineties the remaining casts were rescued into the Warehouse. This time not in order to re-tell the Grand Narrative of Western Supremacy, but in order to suit a tiny, local history and a limited, archaeogical interest in old plaster casts often being in better condition than the sculptures they were made from, due to offensive cleaning carried out on the originals in order to make them look like casts, or acid rain. Seventeen years were spend on repairs and installing more than a thousand casts, before the employees were all sacked in tow-thousand-and-two. The collection lost its status as a museum proper, and was turned it into a ”study collection” with few opening hours. So much for the situation. Now I turn towards considerations important to the future of the collection and of museums in general.
In order to understand what goes on between a viewer and a cast, I find it relevant to quote the feminist Judith Butler form her book “Gender Trouble”: She concludes that”: “gender is… instituted in an exterior space through the stylized repetition of acts… (and) stylization of the body… “. Cast collections are nothing but bodies doing stylized repetitions, and they are literally made up of stylized male, female - and some androgynous bodies - like the Apollo Belvedere you saw before. The casts work in relation the viewer to shape the viewer’s understanding of gender and identity. When allowing “amateurs” to choose the casts they wanted to, it was their understanding of gender and identity that guided their choices, not archaeological or art historical knowledge.
In the participatory project ”gip-S-M-K” I first presented the history of the cast collection to high school students in Art, and to students of contemporary dance, Then, they took on the challenge of choosing casts of their liking to work with for their exams. The gesture of letting them decide for themselves what to work with, created a positive and joyous atmosphere around the project, and a true veneration for the sculptures selected. Turning autority from me to them, made them come back to me, asking many more questions on the sculpture’s significance in art history and archaeology than I had ever experienced an audience do before.
After the choosing sessions, the casts were moved out into their locations, so that the students could work in the vicinity of the casts on an every day basis.
Immediately, the High School Students began creating tableaus, installations, and movies relating to the casts. The student’s own movies, are now being shown at the collection.
- and the dancers began rehearsing in front of the casts,
After a while, the dancer’s made a wonderful full-scale performance at the National Gallery, attracting hundreds of onlookers.
Here I listed some of the positive, the uncertain, and the negative responses so far, to the projects carried out at the cast collection. Behaving in unconventional ways, making a difference, and allowing for incomplete situations to occur, now form part of our understanding of the conditions for having a sucessfull performance. Since the first participatory project was launched, we have allowed students from Yale university to create small exhibitions and movies on-site. Students of curatorship at the university of Copenhagen are right now carrying out a project there, and I hope for further developments in collaborating with the universities. I’m considering allowing students of Architecture to build structures inside and outside the collection, and last week I recieved a first proposal from students at the Royal Academy of Art to come work with the collection in the fall. It seems the ball is rolling, and I start to see a future for the cast collection by means of inclusive strategies. * During this conference, I have had an evil thought going through my mind, that I would like to share with you: Museums are supposed to mirror society, right? But I see societies becoming more centralized and radicalized, not more democratized. Could it be, that as we go along creating inclusive museums, democracy is becoming a phenomenon, you can come try at a museum, but no longer in real life? Are we just playing the role of providing society with suitable delusions and simulacra? According to Jean Baudrillard, simulacra are copies that depict things that either had no reality to begin with, or that no longer have an original. If this holds true for all our inclusive efforts, a collection of copies might just be the right place to go, anyway. So, I wish you all good luck at creating inclusive museums around the globe. Thank you for your kind attention.
Still from the
The Democratic Future of Museums
Reflections on a Participatory Project Named
“gipSMK - The Royal Cast Collection Goes to Town”
(“gips” means “plaster” in Danish)
Henrik Holm, Phd., Curator
Statens Museum for Kunst / The Royal Cast Collection
The (Old) Usual Suspects
Copy of the Apollo
favourite of artists
for 400 years
The performance of Western Sovereignty
Evolution of the Art, Freedom, Mankind, and Spirit
as it shows at the Royal Cast Collection
Ca. 580 BC - ca. 450 BC - 1st. Cent. BC – 1st. Cent. AD - 1501-4
The End of
the loss of the
the sigh of the
Julius Lange (1838-1896), the Cast
Collection’s first Curator
civilizations such as
worship nature, but
Europe is Europe
because … we
worship Man, our
invention and our
Once a happy performance: convention,
utterances, and completion came together
Plaster cast of the ”Apollon Belvedere”
and ”The Parnassus” by Anton Raphael Mengs,
A ”White’s Only” - collection: White Casts on Display in a
Warehouse Build to Store the Goods Provided by Slaves
”Slaves” and the
A Democratic Future for Museums?
students, DK +