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Jacqueline Ryan Boissonneau: ARH6930 Fall 2014

Julie Marcus, Ivan Karp, and Corrine A. Kratz give an honest and at times
unforgiving perspective of current displays of art objects and how these displays
continue to marginalize and separate non-western cultures. In Marcus article Towards
an erotics of the museum she uses the Museum of Sydney as an example, while Karp
and Kratzs article Reflections on the fate of Tippoos Tiger compares the Hall of Human
Cultures in the California Academy of Sciences to the Kauai Lagoons resort hotel. Both
articles take a closer look at how and what exhibits communicate about other cultures.
Through detailed examples these articles unearth some deep-seeded and perhaps
irreparable issues with contemporary displays. Karp and Kratzs propose a focus on how
Ethnographic displays in various settings represent cultures within a hierarchy which
inevitably creates an inaccurate inequality. While Marcuss proposal is to explore how
the pleasures of the museum are essential to its success and fascination and its
presented facts are seductive to the viewer (230). This seduction and pleasure
establishes an erotics that come from both a comprehended knowledge and from the
power of knowing the truth presented by museums.
Marcus article weaves some very interesting and seemingly unrelated ideas and
thoughts together about museums, knowledge, and seduction. Her article, though
stimulating, is hard to follow at times, as she jumps from idea to idea. It is difficult to
relate these ideas to one another at times. Her example of the Museum of Sydney was
just a small aspect of her article, though I wish it had been more extensive. It
highlighted, more than her other points I thought, the idea of the museums aesthetics,
order, knowledge, seduction, and pleasure being key elements to its contribution to its
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Jacqueline Ryan Boissonneau: ARH6930 Fall 2014


viewers false sense of power, hierarchy, and westernized view of other cultures.
Marcus rattles off problems with the museums displays in a very convincing way, but
the details were lacking in visual description. The one example Marcus goes into detail
about is the sculptural poles outside of the museum which she explains give reference
to Aboriginal history, colonization and Aboriginal life and culture in the present (233).
Her description, and the accompanying photograph, point out that this beautiful display
of Aboriginal culture stands to the side of the museum entrance, passable and barely
noticeable. Instead of being an impressive introduction to the museums intentions of
recognizing Aboriginal culture, it stands marginalized on the sidelines. Marcus goes on
to point out that the way the museum objects displayed without value and text creates
a barrier and does not relate to the majority of its viewers, including the native
Australians who would, if anyone, be most connected and interested in these displays of
Aboriginal art and objects. Australian history and culture, which was intended to be
highlighted in this museum, is disjointed, fragmented, and confused by the general
public and leaves the native Australian from the past and present just as disregarded as
they were before.
The article by Karp and Kratz had many more examples that really highlighted
their point. It was interesting how they used not just an example of a museum, but a
resort hotel to point out ways in which art objects are displayed in a hierarchical way.
This aspect was particularly relevant in that many people (non-artists/art historians, of
course) probably view most artwork seen in their life in spaces other than museums, so
considering the way other spaces display artwork is very important if we want to

Jacqueline Ryan Boissonneau: ARH6930 Fall 2014


understand peoples perspective on other cultures and how othering continues. Karp
and Kratz begin by explaining that displays tend to stress similarities or exoticise
differences in objects and cultures in museum displays and use examples to show how it
organizes ethnographic material in a variety of settings (199). They also explore the idea
of enthographic and cultural authority and how museums and other public settings
allude to and justify their authority and existence. Both examples, the Hall of Human
Cultures in the California Academy of Sciences and the Kauai Lagoons resort hotel, share
the goal of exhibiting diversity, however, because one is a natural science museum and
one is a hotel their techniques differ. The details and descriptions given of both the Hall
of Human Cultures and the Kauai Lagoons hotel give a clear and concise picture of the
setting, its displays, specific objects and text, and thus highlight the issues presented in
the article.
Both Towards an erotics of the museum and Reflections on the fate of Tippoos
Tiger are well thought-out, honest approaches to considering how displays in various
settings contribute to the marginalization and untruths perpetuated in history about
other cultures. Though contemporary art museums, natural history museums, and
various public displays of art objects attempt to educate its viewers they are painting a
picture, though pleasing to look at, of half-truths and hierarchy based on a western
thoughts and views.

Jacqueline Ryan Boissonneau: ARH6930 Fall 2014

References
Karp, Ivan and Kratz, Corrine A. (2000). Reflections on the fate of Tippoo's Tiger:
Defining cultures through public display.
Marcus, Julie (2000). Towards and erotics of the museum.

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