How Art Museums Can Stay Relevant in the 21st Century

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Museums have the power to support artists not only by offering them exhibitions, but also by acquiring their works. By embracing the works of a diverse group of practitioners, museums can create a more equitable public understanding of art and artists. Done well, it helps guard against the case of under-recognized artists not getting their due due (most often) to their gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. When future generations think of early 21st century art, they will conceive of a group that extends far beyond white men. Collecting institutions have the power to push this reality even further.

Carin Kuoni, director of the New School’s Vera List Center for Art and Politics, adds that it is no longer enough to show the art of a diverse group of individuals. “Museums and cultural institutions are expected to change structurally and reflect the constituents they serve and the programs they offer,” she says. Everything in a museum, from its board of trustees to its exhibits, should reflect the same values.

Similarly, Bishop writes that “the representation of the other is not enough”. An institution must respond to the issues and movements of society in its displays and educational offers. She praises Reina Sofía’s free, intensive seminars on critical practices and workshops, which teach teens how to see the museum itself, not just the art inside. (That museums are the locus and creator of such forums designed for their own criticism is an ironic problem that probably has no real solution.)

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