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On art and books and reading books on art (the thoughts of Hol publisher Greg Albers)

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Tuesday
May102011

James Cuno's "Object of Art Museums"

It was announced yesterday that James Cuno would be leaving his position as director of the Art Institute of Chicago to become the president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles. Though perhaps best known to the general public for its art museum, the Getty Trust also includes the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute and the Getty Foundation, and it is all of these institutions that Cuno will be overseeing.

Along with being a respected and admired museum director, over the last few years, Cuno has also edited and written three very important volumes on the broader role of museums in contemporary culture. Any one of which (all published by Princeton University Press) makes a good case for his appointment to lead the Getty.

    

The first, and my favorite, is Whose Muse?: Art Museums and the Public Trust. The book is the result of a series of lectures by six prominent museum directors, and along with essays by each director, the book also includes an edited transcript of a great round table discussion among them. Cuno's essay contribution is "The Object of Art Museums". And with "object" he purposefully implies both the broader purposes of museum as well as the physical things within them. I went back and re-read the essay. I may need to write more another time about his object-centered view (which I wholeheartedly subscribe to), but for now, a few passages from the "broader purposes" category:

"I like to think that by providing and preserving examples of beauty, museums foster a greater sense of caring in the world and urge their visitors to undergo a radical decentering before the work of art."

To the prevailing focus on temporary exhibitions "I offer an alternative museum experience: the permanent collection and the opportunity it affords for sustained and repeated engagements with individual works of art ..."

"The public has entrusted in us the authority and responsibility to select, preserve, and provide its access to works of art that can enhance, even change, people's lives. And in turn, we have agreed to dedicate all of our resources—financial, physical, and intellectual—to this purpose."

His overall vision is little rarified maybe, but all in all I think it's a valuable, ultimately healthy and promising foundation to lead on. I'll look forward to seeing where he takes the Trust, and can recommend to anyone interested in museums at all, to pick up any one of these books and start reading.

 

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