Art, Behind the Scenes, J. Paul Getty Museum, Voices

Getty Voices: What #isamuseum?

This week on Getty Voices, artist Sam Durant talks about his project “What #isamuseum?,” which seeks to encourage dialogue about museums—what they are, who they serve, and our feelings and experiences with them. Join him to discuss museums via a Google Art Talk on Tuesday, June 11, and all week on Twitter and Facebook.

More from Sam all this week:
Getty Voices on Twitter | Getty Voices on Facebook

In 2012 I was invited to participate in the Getty Artists Program. For my project, I knew I wanted to encourage dialogue about how the world we inhabit is constructed. I didn’t yet know how that would look, or what form it would take.

The project—What #isamuseum?—emerged through extended dialogue with members of the Getty Museum’s Education Department, and it was certainly a collaboration. In meetings and correspondence over several months, ideas were vetted and discussed, sharpened and refined, and some discarded until finally we achieved a solution.

Through the web and social media, I am—we are—inviting everyone to think about, and respond however they wish to, five questions about museums. About what a museum is, who it’s for, and what it does in the world. The questions are simply worded, but not simple to answer, as the remarkable diversity of responses (over 50 a day) is illustrating:

  • Is a museum a school?
  • Is a museum political?
  • Is a museum truthful?
  • Is a museum fun?
  • Is a museum for everyone?

People can choose to respond anonymously on isamuseum.org, on Twitter via @isamuseum and the hashtag #isamuseum, and on Facebook, where the Museum has been posting one question every Wednesday. We’ve also been tweeting several of the web responses.

So why this project? I see my artwork as a mode of communication directed toward awareness of the ways in which our world is constructed. Often referencing American history, my work explores the varying relationships between popular culture and fine art. While my work at the Getty fits comfortably into my practice, it is also a deeper engagement with three recent concerns: the inseparability of art and pedagogy; interactions and collaborations with both the museum and its audience; and social media, specifically Twitter, as a new modality of communication.

Although it may not be the mission of the Getty Artists Program, I have indeed been educated by the remarkable Getty staff. My slow pace and reticence to nail down a project, to continue questioning when answers were needed, showed exceptional patience and a confidence that—with a little more time and focus—a really special result could be achieved. It is due to these extraordinary personal efforts of the staff that this project has emerged. For me this collaborative process has been an integral part of the project, and although it will never be seen and can’t be quantified, it is at the core of what I sought to do as an artist in residence at the Getty.

What is a museum to you? Talk to me today through Friday on Getty Voices Twitter and the Getty Voices Facebook. You can also join me and several museum colleagues to discuss museums via a Google Art Talk on Tuesday, June 11.

Connect with more “What #isamuseum?” content from this week’s Getty Voices:

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    • photo from Tumblr

      …”the clarity of the cold carnation of old skin, the creases of the smile, the folds made by the passage of time; the powerful pleating of the forehead…”

      The detail of his wrinkles, blood vessels, and moles is a realistic rendering uncommon in formal portraiture of the time. This was made by a friend.

      Portrait of Louis de Silvestre, about 1753, Maurice-Quentin de la Tour. J. Paul Getty Museum.

      08/31/14

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