Oddly Delightful Museum Opens In Former Gitmo Detention Center

Screengrab from website of Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History

Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

On August 29th, the Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History officially opened its doors in the former US detention center in southeastern Cuba. Dedicated to remembering the infamous prison, the museum features exhibitions of conceptual artwork in addition to essays created through its critical studies center.

Well, sort of. The Gitmo Museum is a critical fiction of sorts, an attempt to reach truth by coming at it obliquely but thoughtfully. Although Barak Obama officially signed legislation that would shut down the detention center in Guantanamo Bay in 2009, it’s still open. In a Senate hearing in January of 2011, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “The prospects for closing Guantanamo as best I can tell are very, very low given very broad opposition to doing that here in the Congress.”

The outrage prompted by initial coverage of the human rights abuses in Gitmo has died down in the ensuing years and tide of bureaucratic complexity. But this team of artists and thinkers is using a creative fiction to cheekily re-open the conversation.

There is an undeniable psychological power associated with place, a sense of connection across time. The Gitmo Museum’s brilliant digital appropriation of physical space, though a fiction, plays off of this power of proximity. The site generates a greater emotional impact by giving the impression that these artworks inhabit the same physical space as the atrocities they address. The subject matter is unabashedly serious and dark but its presentation and fictional container render the overall effect oddly delightful.

Learn more about the Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History (and plan your visit?) here: http://www.guantanamobaymuseum.org/

President Obama signing the order to close Gitmo, January of 2009.

Image courtesy of The Atlantic


Design Museums and Firearms: It’s Time We Had “The Talk”

Barbara Eldredge from D-Crit on Vimeo.

Come to Eventually Everything: The 2012 D-Crit Conference on Wednesday, May 2nd and watch me talk about guns, design museums, and morality.

Experiential Exhibition: The Simulated Bomb Shelter

According to metro,the pro-Israel graffiti group Artists 4 Israel was recently turned away from Columbia University where it intended to bring a controversial Israeli Bomb Shelter Museum. The “museum,” housed in a replica bunker similar to those found in Southern Israel, simulates the experience of a rocket attack through the use of sound and video. The group set up the museum last year in Washington Square Park but the loud noise quickly drew police attention and it was closed down after just half an hour.

The Artists 4 Israel website has recently been hacked but Israeli National News quotes a description of the project:

“The bomb shelter is a Museum of Living History and Art Installation. A functional bomb shelter built in the exact specifications of those found in Sderot, Israel, on the border of Gaza, this refuge mimics the feel, look, small and sounds of the original. From wailing ‘Red Alert’ sirens to interactive computer terminals, a multi-media presentation provides facts and education about the conflict in the Middle East while artistic flourishes create emotive and important and visceral reactions in the visitor.”

The description of this proposed exhibition made me feel a little squeamish. Not only because of the sometimes anti-Palestinian vibe of the artists but because the projects reminded me of something Paul Virilio wrote about in his startling book War and Cinema:

“After 1945, this cinematic artifice of the war machine spread once more into new forms of spectacle. War museums opened all over liberated France at the sites of various landings and battles, many of them in old forts or bunkers. The first rooms usually exhibited relics of the last military-industrial conflict (outdated equipment, old uniforms and medals, yellowing photographs), while others had collections of military documents or screenings of period newsreels. It was not long, however, before the invariably large number of visitors were shown into huge, windowless rooms resembling a planetarium or a flight (or driving) simulator. In these war simulators, the public was supposed to feel like spectators-survivors of the recent battlefield.

If one thinks of the cinema-mausoleums or atmospheric cinemas of the thirties, one can see in this a new outflanking of immediate reality by the cinematic paramnesia of the war machine.

The sites chosen for museums of the Second World War remind us that these fortress-tombs, dungeons and bunkers are first and foremost camerae obscurae, that their hollowed windows, narrow apertures and loopholes are designed to light up the outside while leaving the inside in semi-darkness.”

(pg 48-49)

Art often appeals to the emotions of the viewer but there is always a risk when mixing reality (such as the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) with fantasy.

On the other hand, aren’t all museums places of fantasy to some degree? They’re constructed environments, representations of the past or emissaries from an idealized present/future. The difficulty is creating some kind of truth through the narratives told and the objects/experiences used to tell them, the transformation of a kind of fiction into reality. But according to Virilio, it goes both ways; if I found myself in an actual war zone, I’d likely feel that I was in a movie. Fictionalizing reality through simulation can provide access to events but does it also train us to experience the world as no more than representation?

How To Not Make A Museum

The Lighthouse at Two Lights by Edward Hopper (at The Met)

I’m a freak for lighthouses– maybe it’s because of the trip to a couple of North Carolina lighthouses when I was a kid or from watching one too many episodes of The Road to Avonlea. Regardless, when I heard that there was a National Lighthouse Museum located just over the harbor in Staten Island, I was ecstatic! That is, until I did a little Googling.

Turns out that although an SI organization won the title “National Lighthouse Museum” in 1998, there’s still no museum. According to Staten Island Live:

The problem is that no one has come up with the funding required to transform the 19th century buildings on the site into a museum. Everybody seems to have been waiting around for somebody else to do the heavy lifting. It was as if everyone thought merely getting the designation was enough.

The city’s Economic Development Corp., which has always seemed a reluctant partner in this enterprise, did put about $8 million into stabilizing the buildings and constructing a first-rate new pier. But the EDC has maintained, with some reason, that the job of getting the museum up and running should fall to the museum’s backers, not city government.

The board of the museum never came close to raising the $15 million needed to get the museum going. Then, a couple of years ago, the board formally dissolved in what seemed to be the death knell for the museum.

But apparently there is a new board for the organization and renewed efforts to raise the several million dollars required to turn the proposed museum into a reality. Let’s hope they do right by it and ward off the muggers. Exploring a museum dedicated to lighthouses sounds like it would be a wonderful way to spend a spring afternoon.

Children + Chessmen at NY Museum

Via Ramin Talaie for The Wall Street Journal

I spotted this gem in The Wall Street Journal’s New York Photos of the Week March 10th–March 16th with the caption:

About 30 public elementary school children compete in a chess tournament sponsored by Chess-in-the-Schools at The Cloisters Museum in New York on Sunday, March 11, 2012. The museum is currently displaying an exhibition “The Game of Kings: Medieval Ivory Chessmen from the Isle of Lewis.”

I hadn’t heard about the chess exhibition at The Cloisters but as a former high school chess geek, I know that the medieval Lewis Chessmen are some of the most famous historical game pieces (not to mention that Ron and Harry used them to play Wizard’s Chess in the first Harry Potter movie).

The pieces are thought to have been made in Norway and were probably abandoned on the Aisle of Lewis (which is near the west coast of Scotland) by a 12th century merchant. The pieces were lost until 1831 when they were unearthed with a whole trove of other objects. From the Met’s website:

The chess pieces (thereafter known as the Lewis Chessmen), which come from at least four distinct but incomplete sets, are today arguably the most famous chess pieces in the world, and are among the icons of the collections of the British Museum in London and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The King below is obviously aghast that I haven’t visited him already.

(image via the Met’s website)

Met Re-Jiggers Vision for Contemporary Art Collection

Ok, Monger doesn’t mean to be totally Met-centric this week but one can’t deny the awesomeness of Sheena Wagstaff’s appointment as the new head of the 20th-21st Century Art Department. Wagstaff is currently the Chief Curator of London’s Tate Modern.

The Met has always seceded contemporary art dominance to the likes of the Tate Modern or MoMA but actions of director Thomas P. Campbell show that he is bucking the trend. Campbell recently finalized a plan to display contemporary art collections in the soon-to-be-vacated Whitney Museum building while the Met’s contemporary galleries undergo renovations and Wagstaff’s appointment indicates an ambition to increase the profile of the museum’s younger works.

The NYT quotes Campbell as saying:

“I’ve been conscious since I became director that a timely recalibration of Modern and contemporary art — not just art of the West, but globally — was something we had to do,” Mr. Campbell said in a telephone interview. “The opportunity to take over the Breuer building is very exciting. It gives us space to show Modern and contemporary art in the context of our encyclopedic collections.”

Art Museums Engage With Alzheimers

Francesca Rosenberg leads people with Alzheimer’s and their caretakers in a discussion at the Museum of Modern Art. Photo by JASON BROWNRIGG via ARTnews

Fascinating article in ARTnews on how various art educators are looking to a special MoMA program for ways to use art to get Alzheimer patients engaged:

Visual art is particularly well suited to helping Alzheimer’s patients, research has found. According to Anne Basting, director of the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, art can trigger the emotional memory that often remains strong in Alzheimer’s patients, and can give them access to other memories as well. And participants in art tours don’t feel that they must already know something or that they will be expected to remember dates, names, or information. “The beautiful part of the program is that nobody mentions the word dementia. It’s all about the art, and they can all connect to that. Nobody’s sick, nobody’s different,” is how Kara Berringer, an art therapist at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum, explains the benefits of the program.