Class #14: November 21, 2019–Exploratorium Portal and The Contemporary Jewish Museum exhibitions

Class Summary #15 November 21, 2019

We opened class with a brief overview of Bay Area Science Museums: the Exploratorium (San Francisco), where we would later spend time at its web portal, the California Academy of Sciences, (San Francisco), the Chabot Space and Science Center (Oakland), and the Lawrence Hall of Science (Berkeley). Chabot, like the Lawrence Hall of Science, is less expensive than the Academy of Sciences and the Exploratorium. Though the Academy and the Exploratorium are expensive, both of them, along with the Lawrence Hall of Science and Chabot, participate in the Museums for All program, which offers free passes to people and families in the EBT program, aka Food Stamps.

Best deal of all, however, is the free, hands-on school of science education, the Mission Science Workshop, founded by Dan Sudran, a former City College electronics technician who says: “Science is about doing experiments and believing the experiment.”  This “people’s science museum” is located at Mission High School, with a branch location in the Excelsior District.

Then we continued on to an assessment of the Exploratorium website. The Exploratorium, founded by Frank Oppenheimer in 1969, moved from its original home in the Palace of Fine Arts (originally part of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition) to Pier 15 in 2013.

Museum web portals are useful to visit both before an actual visit for planning, and after a visit for reminiscing and maybe even checking out the online gift store.

The Exploratorium website, our collective case study, provides an excellent example of a rich and multi-layered on-line experience. With 50,000 pages, the site invites visitors to explore projects, collaborations, permanent and temporary exhibitions, and view a diverse collection of videos. Though the entrance cost is prohibitive for many, the museum offers projects and exhibitions surrounding the museum and at sister sites, all open to the public. This information is available here.


Most of you agreed that information is easy to find and organized in an intuitive manner. There is a lot of information with some of it popping up in unexpected places, but in general you thought navigation was pretty good with lots of options under each pull-down menu and clear instructions on how to navigate through each sub-heading.

The content was clean and shines, but some of you recorded “sensory overload.” It seemed that it was easy to discover new information but not so easy to find the permanent exhibitions. You can find them by going to “Visit” and then clicking on “Museum Galleries.” 


You liked that there was a repository for all the videos in one place and some one appreciated both the “random” and “most popular” selection options. You commented on the excellence of the teaching videos.

The apps, the blogs, the online engagement strategies were enticing, though the social media sites were a bit hidden and could have been integrated better throughout. 


You liked discovering that the Exploratorium offers ASL guides and Braille maps. Eight different languages were available under “Visit” and were mostly satisfied with third party browser (google translates), though commented on its sometime inaccuracies.

You liked the resources for teachers and the free field trips for their students and the heads up about visiting The Tactile Dome, the Exploratorium’s signature installation. The museum is free five days a year, including pi-day. It is also free to EBT card holders with up to four in the family.

Graphic Design

You found the layout to be pleasing and clean–simple, no frills–though some thought the text could be bigger and bolder for an easier reading experience. There was some disappointment that the whimsy in many of the museum’s exhibitions was not reflected in the website’s design.

First Time Visitors

It looks like a place for children or people with children, so first time visitors might need to see the After Dark program for adults on Thursday nights more prominently displayed on the home page. The site could also focus on the museum as a place of wonder and curiosity for people of all ages. A much more developed and highly visible introductory video could welcome first time visitors. There could be a quick link to a “Are you a first time visitor?” question.

You thought that the website might be seriously overwhelming for someone with little museum experience and/or little science literacy, so you proposed a page for those folks: “Are you new to museums? Go here.” “Is this your first time at the Exploratorium? Go here.” Or “What to expect at the Exploratorium for first time visitors.”

After the break, we left the Downtown Campus for a second visit to The Contemporary Jewish Museum where you enjoyed a guided tour with former Museum Studies student Beatriz Escobar, while I met with some of you about your final projects or third reflection paper (pass/no pass students). You visited Annabeth Rosen’s “Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped” and Izidora Leber’s “LETHE: Peristyle.” The blogs will fill me in, and Beatriz’s notes below will complete this Summary.

The tour started by us gathering in a circle within Izidora Leber LETHER’s exhibition called Peristyle. As peristyles are known to be gathering spaces, it seemed that we could honor her work by starting off with that. Beatriz shared some information about Izidora’s work and some highlights of a conversation they had, including how Izidora thinks about emigration in contrast to imigration and the experience of diaspora. Each student briefly introduced themselves and described their general mood for that day choosing an element to describe their emotional state, such as fire, air, earth, water, wood, metal or even a chemical element from the Periodic Table as chosen by one student. We used the introductions and the connection to elements to get us warmed up for Annabeth Rosen’s exhibit.

Moving to Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped, we explored individually for five minutes and then gathered in the back of the room (near the work Sample, 1999). From there we followed the unusual flow suggested by celebrated curator Valerie Cassel Oliver, almost zig-zagging around the room while experiencing the works from each of the six sessions.

Some students felt really drawn to the drawings on the wall and were glad they were included in the show. We discussed how this curatorial choice helps us experience what Annabeth’s process and studio are like.

We discussed how Annabeth’s work can be seen through the lens of endurance-based performance and how the intense physical labor put into the work is translated in the pieces, creating an interesting tension and contradiction between control and chance. We also discussed the titles for the pieces and the role of sound in the process of naming them.

We ended our time together in a circle again, each person sharing one word about the Annabeth’s work and one question that the exhibition prompted in us.

There is no class this coming week. On December 5, you will meet again at the Downtown Campus with Ann in our usual room #625. Have fun work shopping your final project with her and each other. Bring your Final Project worksheets if you are taking the class for a letter grade.

I will see you at our class class on December 19.



– View Nina Simon video: Visitors as Participants – take notes on key ideas and questions in your journal for class discussion.

– Research & Development – Continue to work on Final Project Research Worksheet. Be prepared to discuss your final project or reflection paper ideas and challenges and share your progress, for class feedback support.   

Class #13: Fossil Gallery and Diego Rivera Pan American Unity Mural –November 14, 2019

Class Summary #13 April 18, 2019

The theme for the day “Museums for All: A College Setting” used activities and observations at two exhibitions at City College of San Francisco’s Ocean Campus to focus on free spaces offering cultural enrichment. Here’s the promised link to other objects and installations on the Ocean Campus.


We convened class in The Fossil Gallery, the first section of City College’s “Story of Time and Life” Exhibition which—across four floors in the Science Hall—explores the evolution of the universe, the solar system, and life on earth. 

Dinosaur collecting has provided evidence of biological evolution. But in addition to sometimes serving as a cover for spying, smuggling, resource exploration and exploitation, it had at one time also served as a bolster for Social Darwinism, a racist practice that incorrectly posited a hierarchy of human “races.” Since one of you raised a question about how the dinosaurs–though innocent themselves, of course–became embroiled in this story, I want to refer you to an excerpt from our reading.

Social Darwinism mis-appropriated Charles Darwin’s proven principles of evolutionary biology, aka “survival of the fittest,” to promote racist ideologies. In particular, Henry Fairfield Osborn, a discredited paleontologist, “and his followers sought to use systematic arrangements of specimens to prove the ‘spiritual, intellectual, moral and physical’ superiority of ‘the Nordic race’.” Those systematic arrangements often began with the dinosaurs, which is how they became unfairly implicated in this racist pseudo-science. (Schwarzer, Riches, Rivals and Radicals, 84)

Despite some of the nefarious history of dinosaur collecting, the preserved remains of dinosaurs have provided natural history and science museum visitors with enriching educational experiences. 

At the City College Fossil Gallery each of you focused on one of the five specimens (including fish and dinosaur bones and footprints of the elephant’s older relative) and then talked with a partner(s) about what got your attention. 

In your debriefing a couple of you raised how some of the information in the exhibition was out of date. Together you brainstormed ways that the Science departments could implement low cost ways to keep signage up to date: QR codes and/or easily replaceable signage under glass. Video screens would entail more cost in the short-run but less cost in the long run.

The vastness of time and the intriguing designs of our extinct ancestors added an element of awe to the start of our afternoon. We owe much to the genius of City College faculty, staff, and students who were smart and swift enough to gather these treasures from the California Academy of Sciences and install them in Science Hall, the College’s iconic 1940 building.

PART 2: Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity Mural

“Intro to Museum Studies” alum and Pan American Unity Mural docent, Helen Pinto, presented a rich multi-layered analysis that melded art, history, and politics. She explained that the mural was part of the  “Art in Action” program of the Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE, 1940), which invited various artists to create work in a gallery/studio space at the Treasure Island site while fair visitors could observe their process. Timothy Pflueger, an organizer of the fair and City College’s original architect, invited Rivera to San Francisco to create the mural. Rivera used the fresco technique where the artist paints into wet plaster. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Federal Art Project (FAP) funded the mural.

Though the Rivera mural was intended for a proposed “grand library” at City College, the war effort required concrete and steel, which stopped construction of the library. By the time the more modest but still substantial Rosenberg Library replaced the “temporary” digs in Cloud Hall, in the early 1990s, the Rivera mural had been removed from storage and installed in the Diego Rivera Theater (1961). 

Helen pointed out that Rivera was interested in an internationalist political perspective and so honored not only the indigenous cultures and art forms of ancient Mexico but also its legacies in contemporary Mexico as well as the technological advances of the 20th century in the United States, which included his fascination with cinema. That interest gave the mural its official name: “The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on this Continent.” In addition to indigenous cultures, he honored women (partially because he thought the mural was going to a women’s college), workers, and freedom struggles.

I am glad that I can respond to one of the blog comments and look forward to more blog entries soon. It’s true that Rivera was a communist and would have critiqued the exploitation of workers, but he was also enamored of modern technology and machinery. So, like most complex personalities, he contained contradictions. Henry Ford was a notorious anti-Semite, but his son Edsel Ford commissioned Rivera’s Detroit Art Institute fresco cycle, while Rivera, as Helen pointed out, believed strongly in fighting against fascism in Europe. 

I also wanted to address different interpretations of one of the images on the panel to the left below. If you follow down from Hitler holding the globe, you will see what is definitely a weapon; however, Helen saw it as a representation of a breast, similar to what you see to the right of the large hand (see image below to the right). I think it is entirely possible that Rivera may have been repeating (as Helen pointed out he was wont to do) the theme of death and life that you see in the human head that is half skull and half flesh to the right of the “breast” image in this panel and behind Dudley Carter working on the Ram sculpture. Rivera depicts Coatlicue, goddess of Death and the Earth. I actually do not think these two interpretations contradict one another but instead offer us a representation of the power of life and death, creation and destruction. Chicana scholar Gloria Anzalduá explains the power of Coatlicue: “Coatlicue depicts the contradictory. In her figure, all the symbols important to the religion and philosophy of the Aztecs are integrated. Like Medusa, the Gorgon, she is a symbol of the fusion of opposites: the eagle and the serpent, heaven and the underworld, life and death…beauty and horror” (Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999 [1987], 69).

You can read more about the Pan American Mural here.  Be sure also to click on the beta version of the new website if you want to dig deeper.

As you learned, the current plan is to install the mural in the front lobby of the planned Performing Arts and Education Center (PAEC). With a large glass window passersby will be able to view the mural 24/7, including dramatic lighting at night. Also, the new location would give viewers the necessary distance to view the mural properly. 

You also learned that the mural will be on loan to the SF MOMA for one of its free/public spaces starting October 2020. When it returns to City College in 2023, the PAEC will have been built on Frida Kahlo Way, so we can tell visitors “Take Frida Kahlo Way to the Diego Rivera mural.”

A focus on Rivera’s honoring of indigenous artistic production provides another thread in the discussion of re-enlivening museums and reconciling their often shameful history with a more honest and truthful representation of indigenous culture, which brought us to our next stop.

PART 3: Debriefing in Creative Arts 218

Land Acknowledgment

We returned to our tour with Carmen Mahood at the de Young, where we had raised the issue of Land Acknowledgment at the de Young. I recently met with Carmen, and she was pleased to show me these photographs depicting the Land Acknowledgment practice at the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology.

Carmen raised the idea of not only developing a Land Acknowledgment practice at the de Young but also marking the presence of the Ramaytush Ohlone peoples elsewhere in Golden Gate Park. Clearly, this practice would need to involve Native people in discussion with museum staff. As City College deepens its own relationship to the Ramaytush Ohlone peoples in the process of seeking to develop a Land Acknowledgment policy, it’s entirely possible that the College’s Museum Studies program could become a partner in this process at the de Young. Always, it is key that these practices do not become empty gestures but rather living documents and practices that address brutal legacies and the ongoing resilience of Native peoples.


I asked you to offer ideas on how we could make the de Young experience more effective. There seemed to be a consensus that you appreciated the docent tour but would also like more time for personal exploration. Based on this valuable feedback, I am contemplating a reconfiguring of the next semester’s experience at the de Young which would continue to include an introduction to the free spaces and highlights of the galleries of the Americas, Africa, and Oceania but would incorporate your suggestions. 

Museums for All Slide Presentation

This presentation raises a key goal of the class to “marry” community engagement with accessibility. It is not helpful if museum staff create engaging exhibitions but poor and working class people can’t get inside. And it does no good if museums are free all day every day but what’s inside does not interest visitors, or worse, insults them. (You can review the slide presentation in Class Resources.)

Beyoncé and Jay-Z at The Louvre

The “Apesh*t” video provoked a lively discussion about the intentions of Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Like the Obamas, the Carters (Beyoncé and Jay-Z) can now not only enter but also command spaces they would not have felt welcome in before they had made their respective marks in politics and music. 

Some of you liked the video a lot; others, not so much. And some, not at all. Consider how your race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, and other social identity markers might influence your reaction to the video. Be sure to factor in your own personal taste in music and popular culture.

Meanwhile, please make sure you consider Lisa Ragbir’s praise and critique of the video, which she claims “…is important because people of color rarely have the opportunity to claim such spaces, but it also perpetuates the dangerous notion that art is a luxury.” Most important, she argues, is that museums become more accessible for working class people who cannot afford the current high admission prices in most museums. Consider re-reading Ragbir: “Can Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Louvre Video Change Perceptions of Who Belongs in Museums?” 

Though Ragbir sees value in the Carters (Beyoncé and Jay-Z) and the Obamas—people of color being able to claim spaces like The Louvre, she questions seeing art as luxury. “…[W]hat happens,” she says, “if we believe that these spaces can only be claimed by people of color if they are the Obamas or the Carters?” Instead she talks about exactly what we’ve been discussing all semester:

A 2010 study by the American Alliance of Museums found that while people of color will make up 46% of the American population by 2033, they are on track to only represent 9% of museums’ core audiences. However, museums like the High Museum of Art in Atlanta are trying to buck this trend. Earlier this year, that institution reported that it had tripled its number of visitors of color (now comprising 45% of the museum’s total visitors) in just two years. How? By showcasing the work of under-represented artists, adjusting admission fees, diversifying its staff and volunteers, and adopting the slogan: “Here for you.” (emphasis mine)

As much as the art critic in me would like to have spent more time analyzing the video itself and what I see as its critiques of racism, what’s most interesting for our purposes, I think, is the very fact of our dialogue and disagreements. So please blog, especially if you held back in class.

Do we continue with the patchwork of free days, free evenings, programs at some museums for very low income people, Discover and Go cards, etc., or do we do raise taxes on the wealthy and fund museums for all?


Next Thursday, November 21, we will meet at the Downtown Campus in Room 325, which is a computer lab. We will walk over at 3:45 p.m. to begin a tour at 4:00 p.m. at The Contemporary Jewish Museum.


– Blog: Field trip reflection.

– Research & Development – on-going work on final project.

– Explore the Exploratorium website

– Explore exhibitions at The Contemporary Jewish Museum

Class #6 September 26, 2019: Rosenberg Library–“Why the Immigrants Come” and Decolonizing/Indigenizing Museums

Why the Immigrants Come: Contemporary Maya Paintings and Textiles from Guatemala

We spent the afternoon on the Ocean Campus in the Rosenberg Library with our first meet up at the exhibition of contemporary Maya artists from Guatemala: Why‌ ‌the‌ ‌Immigrants‌ ‌Come‌. CCSF ESL instructor Rita Moran, who is the collector, co-curated the exhibition with museum professional Maureen Bourbin and CCSF librarian Katrina Rahn.

Here is the introduction to the exhibition with my emphases emboldened below: 

The‌ ‌Maya‌ ‌and‌ ‌their‌ ‌culture‌ ‌are‌ ‌resilient,‌ ‌having‌ ‌survived‌ ‌500‌ ‌years‌ ‌of‌ ‌conquest‌ ‌and‌ ‌ oppression.‌ ‌Maya‌ ‌people‌ ‌number‌ ‌approximately‌ ‌six‌ ‌million‌ ‌today,‌ ‌and‌ ‌are‌ ‌composed‌ ‌ of‌ ‌roughly‌ ‌twenty-six‌ ‌distinct‌ ‌language‌ ‌groups.‌ ‌They‌ ‌continue‌ ‌to‌ ‌practice‌ ‌their‌ ‌ traditional‌ ‌religion‌ ‌alongside‌ ‌the‌ ‌Christian‌ ‌and‌ ‌Catholic‌ ‌faiths.‌ ‌The‌ ‌artists‌ ‌represented‌ ‌ here‌ ‌are‌ ‌Tz’utuhil‌ ‌and‌ ‌Kaqchikel,‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌western‌ ‌highlands‌ ‌of‌ ‌Guatemala.‌ ‌Each‌ ‌of‌ ‌ these‌ ‌groups‌ ‌gave‌ ‌rise‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌tradition‌ ‌of‌ ‌contemporary‌ ‌painting‌ ‌starting‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌late‌ ‌1920s.‌ ‌ ‌ 

The‌ ‌works‌ ‌in‌ ‌this‌ ‌exhibition reveal‌ ‌the‌ ‌urgent‌ ‌crises‌ ‌that‌ ‌impel‌ ‌waves‌ ‌of‌ ‌refugees‌ ‌from‌ ‌ Mexico‌ ‌and‌ ‌Central‌ ‌America‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌United‌ ‌States‌ ‌border.‌ ‌Those‌ ‌who‌ ‌abandon‌ ‌their‌ ‌ homes‌ ‌are‌ ‌fleeing‌ ‌political,‌ ‌criminal,‌ ‌and‌ ‌domestic‌ ‌violence;‌ ‌displacement‌ ‌by‌ ‌ multinational‌ ‌corporations;‌ ‌as‌ ‌well‌ ‌as‌ ‌poverty‌ ‌and‌ ‌natural‌ ‌disaster.‌ ‌Many‌ ‌Americans‌ ‌ are‌ ‌not‌ ‌aware‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌United‌ ‌States’‌ ‌responsibility‌ ‌for‌ ‌many‌ ‌of‌ ‌these‌ ‌problems.‌ ‌

In‌ ‌Guatemala‌ ‌the‌ ‌Maya‌ ‌people‌ ‌survived‌ ‌a‌ ‌genocidal‌ ‌war‌ ‌from‌ ‌1960‌ ‌to‌ ‌1996,‌ ‌which‌ ‌was‌ ‌ largely‌ ‌funded‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌United‌ ‌States.‌ ‌Currently,‌ ‌the‌ ‌Maya‌ ‌face‌ ‌brutal‌ ‌evictions‌ ‌of‌ ‌whole‌ ‌ communities‌ ‌by‌ ‌multinational‌ ‌corporations‌ ‌seeking‌ ‌profits‌ ‌from‌ ‌mining‌ ‌and‌ ‌ hydroelectric‌ ‌plants—as‌ ‌well‌ ‌as‌ ‌violent‌ ‌incursions‌ ‌by‌ ‌drug‌ ‌cartels.‌ ‌The‌ ‌Maya‌ ‌are‌ ‌struggling‌ ‌against‌ ‌forced‌ ‌use‌ ‌of‌ ‌genetically‌ ‌modified‌ ‌crops,‌ ‌and‌ ‌wanton‌ ‌pollution‌ ‌of‌ ‌ their‌ ‌lakes‌ ‌and‌ ‌rivers.‌ ‌Maya‌ ‌women,‌ ‌like‌ ‌their‌ ‌sisters‌ ‌throughout‌ ‌Central‌ ‌America‌ ‌and‌ ‌ Mexico,‌ ‌are‌ ‌struggling‌ ‌against‌ ‌rape,‌ ‌domestic‌ ‌violence,‌ ‌and‌ ‌femicide.‌ ‌Maya‌ ‌ communities‌ ‌continue‌ ‌to‌ ‌fight‌ ‌for‌ ‌their‌ ‌human‌ ‌rights‌ ‌to‌ ‌land,‌ ‌food,‌ ‌water,‌ ‌and‌ ‌ education.‌ ‌They‌ ‌have‌ ‌intimate‌ ‌knowledge‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌suffering‌ ‌caused‌ ‌by‌ ‌earthquakes,‌ ‌ hurricanes,‌ ‌volcanos‌ ‌and‌ ‌floods.‌ ‌ ‌

All‌ ‌of‌ ‌these‌ ‌urgent‌ ‌problems‌ ‌are‌ ‌reflected‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌paintings‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌contemporary‌ ‌Maya‌ ‌ artists‌ ‌exhibited‌ ‌here,‌ ‌who‌ ‌have‌ ‌personally‌ ‌experienced‌ ‌or‌ ‌witnessed‌ ‌these‌ ‌events.‌ ‌Their‌ ‌ observations‌ ‌are‌ ‌creatively‌ ‌conveyed‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌detailed,‌ ‌sometimes‌ ‌painful,‌ ‌images‌ ‌of‌ ‌war,‌ ‌ violence‌ ‌against‌ ‌women,‌ ‌oppression,‌ ‌and‌ ‌poverty‌ ‌they‌ ‌have‌ ‌put‌ ‌to‌ ‌canvas.‌ ‌Still‌ ‌other‌ ‌ paintings‌ ‌balance‌ ‌these‌ ‌grim‌ ‌scenarios‌ ‌by‌ ‌expressing‌ ‌the‌ ‌Maya‌ ‌people’s‌ ‌resilience‌ ‌and‌ ‌ hope‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌better‌ ‌future,‌ ‌through‌ ‌images‌ ‌which‌ ‌reflect‌ ‌their‌ ‌aspirations‌ ‌and‌ ‌ determination.‌ 

Discursive/Immersive Practices

We began with my introducing the concepts of discursive and immersive museum practices (see class hand-outs) with discursive referring to the “mind/knowledge” aka “storytelling” and immersive to “feeling/emotion” aka “storyliving.” I asked half of you to use the immersive approach and the other half to apply the discursive approach to an object in the exhibition that called to you.

You liked the cohesiveness of the collection and how it addressed specific themes. As several of you took us on a tour of your selected objects, it was clear that sometimes after you conducted a quick immersive study, the discursive info on the signage later surprised you. Sometimes you were disappointed in the signage because you felt it didn’t answer certain questions you had. Other times you were relieved to learn more. It was also clear how each of us brings our prior knowledge to an object, which points to the pleasure of visiting an exhibition with one or two friends so that you can pool your resources.

The concept of syncretism came up as we looked at some of the clothing and studied how the religious symbols were employed in some of the paintings. Generally, syncretism refers to a blending of different religious practices, cultural traditions, and philosophies. It gets a lot of use in discussing new forms of Christianity when European colonials conquered indigenous people in the Americas and elsewhere. Sometimes it’s seen as a disparagement of the blended traditions, but other times it can be an example of “resistance to cultural dominance.” See Syncretism/Anti-Syncretism: The Politics of Religious Synthesis by Charles Stewart and Rosalind Shaw (New York: Routledge, 2005 [1994]).

Librarian Katrina Rahn suggests these sites for further research:

Network in Solidarity with People of Guatemala

Guatemala Human Rights Commission

You can read a full page article (not yet posted online) with color photos about the all day Maya Cultural Festival, at the Mission Campus on Saturday, September 21, in the current issue of the College’s newspaper The Guardsman (September 26-October 9).

Please learn more through these videos about Maya artist Paula Nicho Cúmez. You can see more of the paintings here. You can see more of the textiles here.

Please think about the living tradition of Maya art exhibited at the Rosenberg as you contemplate an example of ancient Maya art you saw at the de Young last week.

At the conclusion of our visit to the “Why the Immigrants Come” exhibition, we moved up to the fourth floor in Rosenberg to The Collaboratory, a multi-disciplinary makersphere space in the Library.

Bouquets to Art at the de Young (speaking of “People and Money”…)

Jeanine gave a comprehensive and inspirational introduction to the people (mostly middle class white women who are members of the Auxiliary) behind the “Bouquets to Art” yearly exhibitions at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF–Palace of Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum).

Jeanine is a member of the Auxiliary and explained the inner workings of that popular exhibition. Florists create stunning floral arrangements in response to chosen objects in the permanent collection at each of the museums. The annual week-long spring exhibition is the largest fundraiser for the FAMSF. Kudos to Jeanine for her intention to work toward diversifying the membership of the Auxiliary.

Decolonizing/Indigenizing Museums: Goals for the 21st Century

I gave a brief overview of the hand-out on Decolonizing/Indigenizing Musuems with some references to your assigned readings. This cutting edge movement, which had its origins 50 years ago in protests about the exclusivity of most museums, seeks a wider access to museums and the dismantling of elite, dominant culture power within museums. 

I shared this excerpt from one of our readings: “…museums were part of the colonial ideology of conquest, domination, and attempts to hijack or re-write the narratives of so-called subject peoples to serve, political, economic, and intellectual agendas.” “Better Safe than Sorry: American Museums Take Measures Mindful of Repatriation of African Art” Robin Sher (ArtNews 6-11-19)

Soldiers, explorers, missionaries and traders stole sacred objects and human remains from places they conquered and colonized. When exhibited in the colonial empire’s museums, interpretations of the objects came from the perspective of the dominant culture and did not take into consideration that many of the objects they stole had spiritual significance and that none of them fell into the 19th century European concept of “art for art’s sake.” All of them had some kind of utilitarian purpose.

I mentioned how the Cantor Arts Center “In Dialogue: African Arts” takes a “pathways through time” approach by exhibiting contemporary works of African art with older objects and by connecting arts from the African diaspora. It “juxtaposes African arts created across different times, places, and cultures in order to provoke discussion and dialogue and disrupt long-standing binaries such as ‘tradition’ versus ‘modernity’, Africa versus the West, and local versus global.” (exhibition signage) I am very excited that you are putting together your own field trip to the Cantor, and I promise to do what I can to find a docent to guide you.

Speaking of “pathways through time,” it’s good to note that the de Young includes examples of contemporary native artists in its Americas gallery.

“Bear in Shamanic Transformation” by David Ruben Piqtoukun (Inuit) 1991

Interventions and Disruptions

We moved to the video screen in The Collaboratory where I reviewed examples of art “interventions.” Interventions break into established works for critique and conversation. They interact with previously existing objects, spaces, or venues.

One interpretation of Al Farrow’s piece (currently displayed as part of the de Young’s “Specters of Disruption” exhibition) is that he seeks to critique the colonial view of Mimbres pottery by portraying a Native American with a gun.

Fred Wilson’s “Mining the Museum” at the Baltimore Museum pulled out sculptures of Napoleon, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson and set them near empty pedestals that he named Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Benjamin Banneker (See 166-167 “The Exhibition” in RRR).

Lisa Reihana’s “In Pursuit of Venus (infected),” currently on exhibit at the de Young, offers a native perspective to the wallpaper mural published in 1804 based on explorer Capt. James Cook’s three voyages between 1768 and 1779: “Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique”—“Native Peoples of the Pacific Ocean.” You can read about Reihana’s work here.

“Lisa Reihana: in Pursuit of Venus [infected]” continues at the de Young Museum through Jan. 5.

Black Panther and Afro Futurism

We watched a short clip from the recent Black Panther film. African American Killmonger challenges a museum curator at the “British Museum” about their stolen goods. The film is an example of Afrofuturism—imagined future possibilities through black cultural perspectives. Some examples of Afrofuturism are Sun Ra’s music, Octavia Butler’s science fiction, and Oxossi Ayofemi’s “Black Matter” exhibition at The Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Museums as Contested Spaces

If you have the time, I very much recommend the one-hour podcast with Kathy Littles, former California Institute of Integral Studies professor.

How to repatriate? reconcile? repair? reconstitute? reclaim?

We concluded class by gathering in small groups where you addressed what the de Young is doing right, what it is doing wrong, and how it could do better. I asked you to consider how the assigned readings could enrich your evaluations.

You offered praise for the de Young’s innovative programming, such as the Contemporary Muslim Fashions exhibition from last year and the Ed Hardy exhibiton there now (through October 6). 

Though you appreciated the knowledge of the docent, you saw room for improvement of docent training. Perhaps docents should be paid. 

Provenance continues to be an issue despite some good work and respectful collaborations. Donations from wealthy benefactors might be suspect despite provenance papers from dealers. 

Board diversification might help move this process along, but you acknowledged the limits that museums in the United States are up against because of their dependencies on wealthy donors, unlike European museums, which receive government support. You objected to the Museum catering to the Jolika Collection donors. 

The Africa/Oceania/Americas galleries would be improved with interpretations from representatives from the cultures that created the works displayed there.  There was a less than completely respectful attitude toward sacred objects (Mimbres pottery). 

There is an accessibility issue due to prohibitively expensive parking for people who need to drive .

The statement “they’re trying, but not hard enough” from one of the groups pretty much summed up your evaluation of the de Young.

Lastly, I promised you more information about Harald Wagner, the person who donated the Teotihuacan mural fragments to the de Young.

Land Acknowledgment

Some of you questioned the importance of Land Acknowledgment. Please know that it is a vital part of contemporary museum studies. Here’s the Land Acknowledgment statement from the Art Institute of Chicago. I very much recommend that you read through the FAQs because it can give you a fuller understanding of the commitment many museums are making to this practice. The stoppage of the Mimbres pottery exhibition, which you read about in one of your assigned readings, demonstrates the Art Institute’s commitment to community accountability.

See the draft resolution for the proposed Land Acknowledgment statement at City College posted as a class hand-out on the Resources page.

The Continuous Thread

Here’s the information about “The Continuous Thread.” Please scroll down for more information about what’s being called the “American Indian Initiative.” 

The exhibition, which opens on October 4, officially kicks off the Arts Commission’s American Indian Initiative that includes exhibitions, a temporary projection project, public celebrations, concerts, a film festival, a fashion show, and over 14 community partners. The Initiative, orchestrated by Barbara Mumby, director of the Arts Commission’s Community Investments Program, coincides with the 50th Anniversary of the Occupation of Alcatraz, the one-year anniversary of the City’s first Indigenous People’s Day and the anniversary of the removal of the Early Days sculpture.



– Prepare Mid-term poster project for next week

– Blog: Post field trip reflection

Class #5: September 19, 2019 de Young Museum


Ruth Asawa Installation 

We spent the afternoon at the de Young starting out at the Ruth Asawa wire sculpture installations—one of the de Young’s free spaces at the foot of The Hamon Observation Tower (please visit this free space if you’ve never been to see it). 

Your see/think/wonders included references to under water and plant life, and even a dialogue between the two. Proximity to ocean and parkland entered the discussion. You took notice of the shadow play enhanced by focused lighting and even considered references to our “shadow” selves (what we often hide from others). Motherhood emerged as another reference along with women’s bodies, lava lamps, children’s balls. Loops and bundles grabbed your attention. Hanging and fixed focused your eyes. You liked how the concrete wall with its holes and unfinished feel heightened your experience. You noticed the varieties of subtle color: gray, copper, red. That the copper oxidized into a green much like the outside of the Museum itself deserved some thought. You observed how Asawa’s deceptively simple twists of iron, steel, copper, and brass turned into complex art forms, how funky hardware store wires produced delicate and intricate objects. The industrial city, influences of gender, the use of symmetries, negative space, and implied motion all added to an incredibly rich multi-layered collective immersion.

You might consider also the contrast between these ethereal forms and her, literally, grounded work—public sculptures at Ghiardelli Square and Union Square, where she collaborated with SF school children.

I mentioned how Asawa’s gender and ethnicity influenced her work, though her art should not be reduced to either one of those identities. Nonetheless, we know she was inspired by Mexican basketry, a female art form. Other female needlework is also apparent: weaving, knitting, crocheting. Critics have talked about the influence of the figure-ground drama of Japanese calligraphy being played out in these sculptures. We also know that Asawa was influenced by teachers at Black Mountain College, including John Cage and Merce Cunningham who themselves drew from Asian philosophies that honored nature and contemplative practices. Read and see more about Asawa here

One of you wondered if the casual visitor up to the Hamon Tower appreciates all that you uncovered. Something to consider the next time you hurry through spaces on the way to your planned destination.

Other Free Spaces at the de Young

Then we walked over to the former Artist’s Studio, another one of the de Young free or public spaces. It has recently been repurposed from a venue that invited emerging and mid-level artists to exhibit interactive, multi-media work to an environmentally immersive space for children’s activities. Some are sad to see this venue closed, and the change was not without controversy among museum staff. Let’s hope the new vision for the space—children’s art making activities–ignites imaginations the way the original space did. 

As we paused in the main large space, called the Wilsey Court, I pointed out the wall installation by Matt Mullican. This large open and free space is the area that wakes up with multiple activities for adults and often also for children during Friday nights at the de Young. We did not enter the Piazzoni Murals Room, another free space recommendation for a return trip. Hovering nearby were the de Young’s two entrepreneurial spaces—the Gift Shop and the Café.

We then moved up to the second level and passed through the American Gallery (not to be confused with the Gallery of the Americas on the first floor), which should more accurately be called the Euro-American Gallery. And then we congregated at the overhang looking out at the outdoor Sculpture Garden, one of the more notable de Young free/public spaces, which includes James Turrell’s skyspace (known as “Three Gems”), especially intriguing at night. We thought we might take it in, but time ran out. No worries because it’s another free space, always open, always available.

People and Money

Using our Reading Reflection protocol, I introduced the “People and Money” chapter by sharing three big ideas. 

The first was that “who shows” in museums (along with how exhibitions are mounted and where the museums are located) influences “who goes” to museums. 

The second was an examination of the tension between elitism (wealthy donors and trustees) and populism (the working and middle classes). I asked “pop-up” volunteer lecturers from among you to talk about various people: Laura Bragg, Anna Billings Gallup, Jane Addams, and John Cotton Dana. 

The last big idea examined the three main sources of museum funding: government, charitable foundations, and corporations. 

You talked about how FDR provided a boon to the arts and artists through his Works Public Administration and other programs. (JFK)/LBJ gave another boost with the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in 1965. As government contributions plummeted in the 1980s thanks to Reaganomics, museums, which had been free, started charging entrance fees that have steadily climbed over the years, now making entrance prohibitive to working class people and even some middle class families. Museums became more dependent on corporate and foundation donations and on gift shops and cafes. They promoted membership as a way to cultivate future donors, reaching out to young singles. 

We also looked at how public protests from the left (the rise of ethnic museums and less racist exhibitions in major museums) and the right (reduction of funding to the NEA and the NEH in response to exhibitions like Robert Mapplethorpe’s “The Perfect Moment” and restriction of criticism of the Enola Gay affected museum shows. 

Though I didn’t have time to address the history of Michael de Young, you might want to read about this “person with money” here.

George Washington High School Mural Controversy

We moved into a discussion of the George Washington High School mural controversy, where you expressed the major points of view that have been raised in the larger community: need to account for brutal historical legacies; the principle of intention vs. effects (“though my intention might have been positive, I ended up hurting you, which I need to acknowledge”); triggering of trauma; consent to view; censorship of art. Here’s one of the most comprehensive and thoughtful analyses I’ve read about this issue. You’ll also see some photos of the mural as well as a mural painted in response to it by African American artist Dewey Crumpler (see below), who along with writer Alice Walker, actor Danny Glover, philosopher Cornell West, and historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (author of An Indigenous People’s History of the United States) did not want the murals covered over, though all of them would acknowledge the problem of the trauma many people of color experience in viewing the murals. There are, of course, other prominent people of color, including museum director Nikki Myers-Lim, who wanted the murals painted over.

Americas, Africa, and Oceania Gallery Highlights

The Americas, Africa, and Oceania galleries offer collections of art and objects, many originally stolen directly and indirectly by European and American collectors. Though the de Young has abided by the 1970 UNESCO “Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property,” these galleries may need some contemporary interventions in order not only to attract more visitors, but also to give a more honest portrayal of their contents, which we can talk about next week. The de Young has not repatriated work obtained before 1970; however, it has entered into agreements with countries of origin to ensure that they have permission to keep the work permanently or on loan. 

Docent Carmen Mahood started out by talking about the book Steal like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You about Being Creative (New York: Workman Publishing, 2012) by Austin Kleon, which brings up the topic of cultural appropriation. He explains how artists have always drawn from and inspired each other. Consider the practice of sampling, the remix, in Hip Hop music. The problem with cultural appropriation occurs when you “steal” ideas, rituals, customs, traditions from another culture, a culture whose material resources your people actually stole, whose people your people have financially exploited and may have mass murdered or enslaved. It is no longer an innocent cultural borrowing. An older book that takes this point of view and claims that, yes, Picasso did “steal” from African sculpture is Hal Foster’s Recodings: Art, Spectacle, and Cultural Politics (New York: The New Press, 1998). Later we will consider the difference between cultural appropriation and interventions and disruptions where motive is key. 

Carmen highlighted several works from the Americas gallery. She introduced us to the fragments from the richly detailed fresco murals of Teotihuacan, from 7th century C.E. (aka A.D.) near Mexico City (See the fragment from “The Feathered Serpent” shown above). She explained how Harold Wagner, a San Francisco architect, obtained these fragments during the 1960s. The fragments had been looted around the time of the 1960 Mexican Olympics, prior to the UNESCO convention (see page 97 in Riches, Rivals, and Radicals). Wagner eventually willed them to the de Young in 1976. The de Young now exhibits them with the permission of the Mexican government. The collaborative and trusted relationship that the de Young maintains with Mexico allowed the Museum to install “Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire” in 2017,

Then we stopped at a Mayan stela (large limestone monument), which is a fragment of a larger (761 C.E.) complex of buildings. The hieroglyphic text (see Breaking the Maya Code by Michael D Coe [London: Thames and Hudson, 1992]) identifies this figure as Queen lx Mutal Ahaw. Her skirt, belt, and headdress, associated with corn (maize) deities, signal her political power and ability to communicate with the gods, in this case the rain god. The Mayans depended on maize for their survival. A highly skilled and trained artisan would have carved this image of the queen. It was found on the border of Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico and after a number of years in negotiations which each of those three countries, the de Young has been given permission to retain it.

Next we looked at the Native American gallery and the Thomas Weisel donated collection of Mimbres pottery dating from the 11th century and known for its painted geometric designs and animal figures. They were most likely created by women and derived from hallucinatory datura plant dreams. Once again this pottery would have been looted from where it was found in southwest New Mexico near Arizona, then sold. The old rule in the United States was that if you owned the property, objects found on it were yours. As the repatriation movement among indigenous peoples builds in the United States, we should watch what might happen with some of these objects. It is thought that contemporary Pueblo people are related to Mimbres culture. Since the Mimbres pottery is associated with funereal rites, they are considered sacred objects, a subject which is addressed in one of your readings for next week. We will also be discussing Al Farrow’s Man with a Gun, which you also had the opportunity to examine in the Specters of Disruption exhibition, which I recommend to you.

The de Young is currently hanging El Anatsui’s “Hovor II” in the “Specters of Disruption” exhibition. El Anatsui is a Ghanaian artist who came from a family of weavers. Though this piece reflects on the importance of gold in Ghanaian culture, the artist uses aluminum strips from liquor bottles that he found on the ground. Imitating woven cloth, they are bound together with fine wire.

Next week we will examine how the Cantor Arts Center makes a decolonizing move by bringing together work by contemporary African artists with traditional objects. 

When we moved briefly into the Africa gallery, Carmen focused on a sculpture from West Africa of a priestess of Oshun, a Yoruba orisha (deity), the goddess of sacred waters. The priestess carries a fan and is adorned with a blue head covering. Blue is the color associated with Oshun.. Two figures (twin children?devotees?) are present at either side of her, and a child is strapped to her back. The Yoruba would have employed this object in a ceremonial ritual. “Art for art’s sake”—taken to mean that art has an intrinsic value–is a 19th century European concept.

I asked Carmen to end the tour in the New Guinea Gallery, built around the collection of John Freide. The Freide collection, is adjacent to the original Oceanic art collection that contains objects Michael de Young purchased from the California International Midwinter Exposition in 1894. You can read about the controversy related to the Freide Collection, aka The Jolika Collection (from the first names of his three children), here (Scroll down to “Origins of the de Young” and “The Jolika Collection of New Guinea Art”). This Shaping San Francisco article takes a sharply critical though honest view of the Jolika Collection. You can read a review  of the gallery in 2007 (Jolika Collection of New Guinea Art), two years after it opened, by California College of the Arts professor Margaret Mackenzie, which is somewhat kinder toward the de Young. 

The “ethics of acquisition” remain key to our studies. Let’s think about how artists and others might “talk back” to the colonial energy still lurking at the de Young.

Please don’t forget to return to the de Young to explore other free/public spaces, some of which I have mentioned here. Visit “Architecture and Grounds” on the de Young website.



– Readings:

Hand-out (See Resources: “Decolonizing/Indigenizing Museums” September 19, 2019)

Chicago Art Institute Postpones Mimbres Exhibition over Cultural Insensitivity

Honor Native Land Guide (pages 3-10)

Jolika Collection of New Guinea Art 2

Better Safe than Sorry: American Museums Take Measures Mindful of Repatriation of African Art

Indigenous Art on Its Own Terms

– Blog: Field Trip Reflection

– Museum Research for Poster Session on-going

Class #4: The GLBT Historical Society Archives

We began class in our Downtown classroom. 

“The Collections” Slideshow

I presented an overview of the main points of “The Collection” chapter, which looked at a century of collecting practices in American museums. See the PowerPoint presentation posted in class handouts in the Resources section of the website, which you can download and view at your leisure. It includes the establishment of the California Historical Society located in San Francisco’s Museum District across the street from the Museum of the African Diaspora. 

Dream Museum Case Studies

I invite you to re-visit the Blog Archives for more details about the three museums in the Case Study as well as all of the other inventive, diverse, thoughtful approaches to this early prompt.

Group One addressed Constance’s textile museum with a global focus, involving the arts and practices of basketry, weaving, spinning, knitting, embroidery, batik. They located it in an urban center, maybe near an art school. The building would need a rigid climate control system. The museum would be funded mostly by corporate sponsorships, which might also contribute to the permanent collection. Temporary exhibitions could lean on loans from places like the de Young Museum. The role of conservators would be extremely important to preserve the organic fibers of many of the objects. Registrars would also occupy a central place because the collected and exhibited objects could very well “not have a nice history.” There would be a well-developed policy for authentication, ethical acquisition, and respectful presentation.

Group Two explored Enrique’s museum of dreams and talents of children with disabilities, orphans, foster kids, cancer patients, and others less fortunate. They decided to situate the museum in pop up locations. When placed in a larger city like San Francisco, the site could “pop up” in an established museum. In smaller towns, the city halls could serve as venues. Objects and art would be collected from local children. Charities, fundraisers, and grants would fund the museum. Conservators would need to take great care of the children’s loaned work and return (if requested) to them in the same condition as they were received. All admissions would be accepted. There would be no guidelines.

Group Three focused on Beverly’s museum of depth of understanding that would extend explanations, signage, and other discursive practices to include historic context, creator personal experience/education, creative process, as well as significance and impact of the object over time. The museum, with an ongoing website, would either pop-up or become part of an exhibition in existing museums. Community and artist engagement would drive the collecting practices. College art history and other departments could offer historical records and documentations. Registrars would find the source of the creations for input. Creators and visitors could contribute to hands-on demonstrations. A heightened awareness to the ethics of acquisition could include double-blind studies so that not just one person’s point of view would inform controversial and/or contradictory issues.

Prompt: Compare and contrast the GLBT Historical Society with the California Historical Society. Consider, for example, founders and funders.

GLBT Historical Society Archives (aka the Dr. John P. De Cecco Archives and Special Collections) Tour

The GLBT Historical Society (GLBT HS) was founded in 1985 and grew from two sources: personal collections of individuals and belongings/personal effects of AIDS epidemic victims, some of which were “salvaged” by friends and community members before estranged family members could destroy and dispose of them. The mission of the GLBT HS, in addition to collecting and preserving materials is to educate the public about LGBTQ history, culture, and arts.

We began the tour of the Archives, located in a Mid-Market office building, in the reading room where our three guides introduced themselves to us: Kelsi Evans, director; Ramón Silvestre, registrar; Isaac Fellman, reference archivist. We learned that the two major spaces of the archives are the research center, which includes the reading room where we initially convened, and the archives, aka, “the vault,” which is temperature controlled for consistency. Our guides explained the difference between an archives and a library. Library clientele are free to roam and browse contents as they like. Archives users make requests in advance of their visits. Staff pull the requested information from the archives and set it up for the visitor in a reading room area.

The GLBT Museum, founded in 2011 and located in a storefront (a former laundromat) in the Castro, proudly promotes itself as “the first stand-alone museum of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender history and culture in the United States.” There is some overlapping staff between the Museum and the Archives, but most workers are volunteers. The Museum’s permanent exhibition examines queer history and draws heavily from the Archives. It also offers two temporary exhibitions. Currently on display are “The Mayor of Folsom Street: The Life and Legacy of Alan Selby” in the community gallery and “Chosen Familias: LGBTQ Latinx Stories” in the front gallery.

The GLBT HS Archives offers a broader collection of objects than a traditional history archives. Beyond the usual paper and page-based materials, the GLBT HS Archives houses art collections, costumes, hats, furniture, hair, even make-up. The Archives has a large collection of ephemera: flyers, posters, book marks, matchbook covers, etc.. They were the major lender to the recent Queer California exhibition at the Oakland Museum and will loan objects to the upcoming Levis exhibition at The Contemporary Jewish Museum. In the last five to ten years, the Archives has been receiving more loan requests from non-queer focused institutions. They also work with the James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center at the San Francisco Public Library. The Hormel’s collection includes Harvey Milk’s papers.

When we entered the vault, the first item the staff had laid out for us was one of the costumes of singer and gender queer pioneer Sylvester. The Archives houses costumes and memorabilia from his estate. We explored items from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, , Finocchio’s, Samois, The Ladder (Daughter of Belitis). It was fun to see some ephemera from the original “Gay and Lesbian Studies” Department at City College of San Francisco, now known as the LGBT Studies Department. Some other notable collections: Elsa Gidlow’s poetry; Lou Sullivan’s diaries; Victoria Schneider’s make up. José Sarria’s election campaign material.

Isaac talked about how sometimes researchers experience strong emotions, and part of his job is to help them through that challenge. He and Kelsi also explained their cataloging system. Ramón answered questions about insurance practices when the Archives make loans. He and Kelsi talked about their post-graduate academic training and how their situation of an archivist and a registrar working so closely together is a unique one. It’s clear that the three of them are passionate about their work and committed to the mission of the GLBT HS. Kelsi’s mentor’s wise assessment of objects in archives–“a thing is just a long event”–helps us to frame their work as both heroic and humbling.



– Readings: “People and Money” (pages 171-217)

– Blog: Field trip reflection—wows and wonders. 

– Research: Explore de Young museum website and write notes on mission and related programs/resources in your journal. 

Class #3: The Contemporary Jewish Museum September 5, 2019

Docent Protocol; Reflection Paper #1 Free Write; Decolonizing Museums

We opened with a review of the “Protocol for Interacting with Docents” and then moved to the Reflection Paper #1 assignment. As Laura shared the contents of her free write, I started to map her story, and we began to see which parts of her childhood museum memory could most readily entice a first time visitor to a museum. 

We also took a brief look at the Decolonizing/Indigenizing Museums section on the Resources (LINK) page. You will be receiving a more detailed hand-out on this “critical perspective” at our de Young Museum visit, and we will explore some of the articles on the topic posted on the Resources page the following week.

Class Dialogue on “The Building”

Again, you organized into groups with each one this time assigned a section of “The Building” chapter. Collectively, you chronicled the evolution of museum architecture in the United States, moving from “humble beginnings to the Beaux Arts style” popular in museum architecture in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Around 1920, John Cotton Dana, director of the Newark Museum, and others supported modernist design principles and downtown locations instead of park palaces. Though modernist buildings (clean lines rendered in metal, concrete, and glass) began marking city skylines after World War I, palace-like styles borrowed from Europe persisted in museum architecture through the first third of the century, while at the same time colonial villages were becoming “museumfied.” 

Interactive science and children’s museums were part of the mid-century movement to attract working and middle-class families. Less accessible park locations in wealthy neighborhoods gave way to commercial district sites. Museums also established themselves as tourist attractions, with “museum districts” anchoring “urban renewal/revitalization” developments, which as we’ve discussed had its downside. Other museums sprung up in repurposed sites: storefronts, railway depots, abandoned factories and warehouses. Though at one time the populists wanted to move museums out of parks in elite neighborhoods to working class downtown districts, the irony is that, with gentrification, downtown museums are catering to cultural tourists in high-end hotels.

In the 1980s, entrepreneurial museum spots (with cafeterias turning into higher end cafes and gift stores seeking to entice customers with large glass windows) were ubiquitous. The 90s marked the start of the era of celebrity architects, “starchitects,” such as Frank Gehry, Mario Botto, and Santiago Calatrava. Shopping malls with their atriums and escalators influenced museum architecture as did postmodernism, an era marked by, some say, the end of World War II and, others say, by the Vietnam War. Truth became multiple and postmodern architecture often melded old and new traditions, with an ongoing and unending dialogue between them. 

We reviewed the establishment of tribal museums, funded in part by The 1988 National Gaming Act, which allowed for casinos on reservations. “The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990 mandated that museums return certain sacred objects to their tribes of origin” (Schwarzer, 63). Tribal museums inspired a green architecture movement that paid attention to natural surroundings and sustainability.

I loved that there were different opinions about the de Young’s “new” building. That kind of lively debate will always invigorate class discussions. Often there is no right answer but instead multiple perspectives.

Back to “The Building”: The Contemporary Jewish Museum, our field trip destination, is a good example of postmodern architecture. Consider how the old Classical Revival style brick power station is melded to an angular light filled addition through the vision of now “starchitect” Daniel Libeskind.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum is most precisely an example of deconstructivist architecture. There are those who do see deconstruction as a post-modernist tendency in architecture as well as literature, but there is a clear distinction between the angular, fragmented, and distorted buildings called deconstructivist and the whimsical designs of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. What links “postmodern” architecture and thought is the notion that there is no unitary whole, no one “new” truth, a major tenet of modernist thought. 

Tour at The Contemporary Jewish Museum with Ron Glait

And that’s what Ron Glait laid out for us, how the design of The Contemporary Jewish Museum reflects the mission of the museum. Grounded in Jewish tradition, it offers a contemporary “inflection.” The old Classical Revival style brick power station, designed by City Beautiful architect Willis Polk, melded to an angular light filled addition, designed by postmodern architect Daniel Libeskind. At once stable and dynamic. A grand idea reflected in a grand building. The highly stylized Hebrew letters that refer to the expression “L’chaim.” “To life.” The Jewish “salud” or “cheers.” Symbolism in the number of stairs (18 for good luck; also representing “life”) and the number of windows in the YUD (36 for double good luck; also sometimes read as “two lives”).

In the lobby we looked up at the Dave Lane installation “Lamp of the Covenant,” where you kept seeing, thinking, and wondering. The more you look, the more you see, uncovering one after another layer of meaning. “The longer you look, the more you learn.” The Lamp asks us to consider multiple universes, which could not be a better message for our class vision.

Bonus for you, not part of the tour: The PaRDeS wall (leaning toward us), an architectural installation incorporating an abstract representation of the Hebrew acronym PRDS. The word PaRDes means “orchard,” but is also an acronym referring to four distinct levels for interpreting traditional Jewish texts: literal, allegorical, moral, and mystical.  Each of the four letters of the acronym is embedded into the wall and illuminated, creating a visually dynamic atmosphere that evokes The Museum’s philosophy of embracing multiple interpretations and layers of meaning. Additionally, the word Pardes comes from the same root as “Paradise.”

Next week we will meet at home base and then walk over for our tour of the GLBT Historical Society Archives (LINK) on Market Street after the break.

Please bring your Reflection Paper #1 to class this week. See you then.



– Readings: “The Collection” (pages 69-119)

– Blog: Field Trip Reflection

– Write Reflection Paper # 1.

– Explore link GLBT and related programs/resources in your journal

Class #2: Yerba Buena Gardens/Yerba Buena Center for the Arts August 29, 2019

We opened class with thanks for your intriguing and inspiring dream museum blog entries, which ranged from the ephemeral to the traditional. You received the “Protocol with Docents” which we will review next week. Then we briefly looked over the prompt for the “Museums and Me” Reflection paper. I reminded you to stay in “Creative Mind” this week as you play with your ideas through a free write. There is plenty of time for you to enter your “Critical Mind” space before Reflection Paper #1 is due on September 12. As you begin to contemplate the experience you will write about, I encouraged you to think about museums in broad terms:

A museum is a public place/space that “collects, preserves, displays and interprets”

paintings, prints, sculptures, photographs, installations, video art, performance art (art museums)

installations + interactive exhibitions about the natural and physical worlds (science and natural history museums)

artifacts (history and anthropology museums)     

plants (botanical gardens; conservatories; parks)

animals (zoos)                                        

 fish (aquariums)

heavens/the universe (planetariums)

 for the purpose of

inspiration, contemplation, education, agitation, congregation, recreation

So please have fun freewriting this week about a personally transformative experience in a museum and telling the story in a way that would entice someone who hasn’t been to a museum to venture in one day.

Small Group Discussions about Introductory Chapter of Riches, Rivals, and Radicals

Next you split into four small groups to examine sections of the “Introduction” to Riches, Rivals, and Rebels. By digging into Schwarzer’s overview, you moved through the evolving purposes of museums over the last 100 years while documenting tensions and struggles during that period. You described how museums evolved from small private collections to large, imposing institutions, emerging into a multiplicity of methods, means, personnel, and audiences. You documented the battles between the traditionalists and progressives, such as John Dewey, between conservation and innovation, between classical art and popular culture. You appropriately framed the tensions as a form of class struggle. Should money be spent on lavish acquisitions or education programs? Generally, museums reflected their times–not immune from social oppressions, including racial segregation. Sometimes museums lagged behind the times and the needs of an empowered populace. Other times, they responded to social demands. And during times of collective trauma, museums offer solace and healing. 

Exploration, Observation, Analysis at Yerba Buena Gardens and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

After the break we headed out for our first museum exploration, where each of you was assigned to one of several inquiries: Yerba Buena Gardens; the architecture surrounding and in the Gardens; the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts lobby and bookshop. You met up later with the folks who shared your assignment to report back to the rest of the class what you saw, thought, and wondered about the subjects of your exploration. Your reports were sophisticated, playful, critical, and informative. 

You liked the green space, the feeling of oasis and sanctuary with auditory attractions: birds, small animals, and water flowing. Some of you some the noise of the waterfall as a distraction that ironically prompted a kind of focusing, forcing the viewer to engage, while others saw the sounds as unsettling which reflected the issues of the civil rights movement. You noticed the diversity of flowers, plants, colors, portable furniture, activities. Some of you liked the bright colors; others preferred muted tones. Most people liked the juxtaposition of old and new architecture surrounding the Gardens, including the traditional St. Patrick’s church and the glass asymmetrical addition to the old power station, which now houses the Contemporary Jewish Museum (sneak preview for next week’s tour), and how brick melded with “other” in the new SFMOMA. Inside the YBCA lobby you noted that though it might appear pretentious, it clearly welcomed all including a woman struggling with homelessness. Who is this place for after all? How does the Bookshop operate (it is “curated” by the California College of Arts, aka CCA)? Are the books for sale (they are)? Can I pick the books up, or are they art objects that can’t be touched? You noted the lending library on a remarkable honor system created by YBCA Fellows.

FYI Yerba Buena Gardens (YBG) is owned by the successor agency to the Redevelopment Agency of the City and County of San Francisco, known as the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure. MJMMG, a private property management firm, manages YBG.

Though many of us are admittedly fans of Yerba Buena Gardens, as I mentioned and some of you already knew, Yerba Buena Gardens, which sits in the heart of what some call the Museum District of San Francisco, grew out of the displacement of thousands of blue collar workers South of Market. Here are links to some of that history: This article is less critical of the Redevelopment Agency, which was responsible for that displacement. This article is more critical of the displacement process. This article features the struggle of the Tenants and Owners in Opposition to Redevelopment (TOOR), which succeeded in the building of 2,000 units of low-rent housing—Woolf House and Mendelsohn House, named after two of the working class leaders of that struggle. I mentioned photographer Janet Delaney’s work documenting the South of Market neighborhood before “Redevelopment” radically changed the neighborhood. Here are some of Delaney’s photographs.

Please bring your book next week if you have one. It will help as we split into small groups again to talk about “The Building” chapter. Please also review the “Protocol with Docents” hand-out, which we will review before we head out to our first docent tour at The Contemporary Jewish Museum.

We will meet in our regular classroom (625) and move over to the Contemporary Jewish Museum after the break. Heads up: The CJM needs to inspect purses and backpacks for security purposes.


– Readings: “The Building” (pages 29-66).

– Blog: Field trip reflection.

– “Museums and Me” Free Write

– Explore the Contemporary Jewish Museum website and write notes on mission and related programs/resources in journal.

See you next week!


Class #1: Introduction August 22, 2019

Ann and I were thrilled to meet all of you and to get to know a little bit about you and your reasons for enrolling in Museum Studies. As we move through dialogue and debate this semester, taking on the serious topic of the meaning of museums in our lives, we will keep in mind that one of the John Cage favorites was “be happy…it’s lighter than you think.” The goal, of course, is that we develop a coherent learning community where everyone feels welcome and each person’s voice finds its way into the room. We made a good start on that goal during our first class together.

Marjorie Schwarzer Interview

As I listened while Ann facilitated your engaging discussion about the Marjorie Schwarzer interview, I enjoyed hearing how you wrestled with Schwarzer’s main ideas and how the conversation moved in new ways from those ideas, which we could categorize into three areas:


–Though museums are often repositories of history, museum professionals often don’t know the history of museums.

–The hope is that the future of museums will include a thoughtful stewardship of the planet.

–The role of digital technologies in museums will continue to evolve.

–Museums respond to economic booms and busts, changing over time.


–How should resources be distributed? When people are hungry, should millions be spent on the restoration of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris?

–Ideas are built on each other. History is filled with examples of cultural appropriation and exploitation where some people do not give credit to ideas that they “borrowed” from other cultures. Consider the differences between cultural competence, cultural humility, and cultural sustainability.

–Paying attention to provenance–the origins of a museum object (art, artifact, etc.)– remains essential in ethical acquisitions.

–Women, mostly white, are finally being acknowledged for their contributions to museums. People of color are still underrepresented on museum staffs and boards, rendering museums less equitable and less accessible.

–Often indigenous voices and stories have been excluded from museum interpretations.


–Museums operate as sites for critical thinking and self-reflection.

–All of us have a role to play in what we think the purpose of museums should be and how we can push those purposes forward.

–What if museums did not collect examples of cultural production? Would they be lost, or would they find other ways to survive?

…all of which leads us to the question “What exactly are museums?” A great segue to next week’s class.

Website and Blog

Next Ann introduced you to the class website and the blog, where we look forward to reading about the museums of your dreams. It’s another way of getting to know each other.


We ended with a short introduction to Groundswell (link to website), our dream museum, which you will hear more about as the semester progresses, 

Looking forward to a great semester together!

Please bring your book next week if you have one. It will help as we split into small groups to talk about the Introduction. We will meet in our regular classroom and walk over to Yerba Buena Gardens after the break.


– Readings: “Introduction” (pages 1-27) Use reflection protocol

– Blog: Technical issues–if you need help, we are here

– Set up Reflection Journal.

 -Explore the website for Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (LINK) and write notes on mission and related programs/resources in journal.