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Title: Organising people, contructing meanings : social and institutional dynamics in the production of art museum knowledges
Authors: Locke, Jennifer L
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: While some research has focused on what happens ‘behind the scenes’ in art museums and how this relates to ‘front stage’ museum representations, little has been written about how this relates to what happens ‘centre stage’: in other words, how the organisational structure and culture of an institution influence the art historical knowledges constructed and presented through display. While much work has been done on the relationship between collecting, collections and display, little has been done to examine interpretation practices in museums of art. This thesis attempts to address this gap in order to better understand the importance of the role of interpretation in the construction of art and art history. This thesis presents the results of research into the production of knowledge, understood as modes of representation, at three museums of art: the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Tate Britain in London, and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. The research focuses on the relationship between changing organisational structures and interpretive practices in these institutions, with a focus on how the traditional divide between ‘educators’ and ‘curators’ is being blurred - suggesting a reinvention of the purpose and function of museums of art. Each case study institution had recently undergone (or was in the process of undergoing) significant organisational change, providing a chance to map out or reflect upon changes to interpretation over time. Combining qualitative, ethnographic methods and display analysis, the research attempts to trace the internal, social workings of each institution with the statements of position communicated to visitors. Proceeding from a social constructionist viewpoint that museum displays are a type of embodied theory, and that museums are not merely ‘reflective’ (Macdonald 1996), the research argues that the structural and cultural dynamics of organisations influence the knowledges communicated to visitors. The research argues that staffing structures (and the power and politics that exist within these structures) not only influence the content of exhibitions and displays, but are capable of altering museum representations. In revealing these connections and examining production practices, this research opens up new thinking about the significance of organisational structures in the production of museum knowledges. This thinking challenges naturalised assumptions about the nature of art and its histories, presenting new possibilities for representation, understanding and the experience of visiting exhibitions.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Arts and Cultures

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