From Ms. Motture’s presentation last week, two things struck me in particular: the idea of narration through collection and the curator’s relationship with visitors to the gallery. For me, the line between curator and art historian comes down to their relationship with the objects themselves. Both the curator and the art historian can study an object and its significance in a greater context, but there is something about the creation of a gallery that seems like an art form in itself. Like a historian, a curator may only utilize objects from a certain time period–for example, Renaissance art in the case of Ms. Motture–but the curator has the advantage of utilizing space, as well as the objects themselves. A trip to a museum becomes a very different experience from reading an history book about the subject. When I visited the Academia in Florence, for example, witnessing the actual statue of Michaelangelo’s David in the flesh gave me a certain connection that I had not felt seeing countless pictures of the same statue before. When I was in the gallery, I felt in a sense placed in history. A history book or image is confined in the sense that the object can only be experienced in the mind–one cannot get a true sense of an object’s grandeur from a small photograph. When I read about the works or look at images of them, I feel that there exists some kind of barrier between me and my full experience of it-some part of me inside acknowledges that no matter how hard I try, I know that what I look at or read about is not real. When I looked upon the sculptures in the gallery, the piece came alive for me: I think its impact became validated through its relationship of space with me. Standing next to the centuries-old David and looking at the piece chiseled by Michelangelo himself, I could relate to it directly. Such is the power that the curator holds over the historian, I believe.
I am not saying that history books are inferior to galleries. In many ways, a history book can explore the themes and context surrounding an object to far greater detail than a small plaque next to the work itself. However, the one advantage that narration in galleries holds is that sense of spacial relationship with an object, or the “physical connection” that Motture writes about in her piece. It is for this reason that the placement and choice of objects to present becomes a work of art in itself – in one way, the pieces are works, but the way the curator displays them can influence how we relive how they might have been experienced – for example, the way the Italian dowry boxes had been presented off the ground at a height where they might have been carried for the viewers to see.
Lastly, the idea of the viewer’s influence also got me thinking. What would be viewer’s preconceptions of an object going into it? How much does a museum have to cater to what the viewer wants to know and see? Such questions leave me torn: I know that Motture referred to the context of a viewer’s academic background when choosing how to display objects, but, taken to an extreme, I get the sense a museum may find itself pressured to just put on display what people want to see. Such an idea really makes the concept of making a particular facet of history interesting for an otherwise indifferent audience hit home.