Objects as Characters

Before taking this class, I always thought exhibitions were based around objects and never thought of the larger story they were used to tell.  Once Tim mentioned that exhibitions always started out as stories and that objects were just one means of telling it, I began to view exhibitions in a different light. I became more critical of the importance and inclusion of certain objects.  Why was this vase included, and not a different one?… What role did it play in the narrative?… What was it trying to tell me?…  All these questions constantly circle in my mind and honestly, have made my exhibition viewing process much more enjoyable. On that note, I stumbled on a review of the new permanent exhibition at the Museum of the American Indian in NYC called “Infinity of Nations“. The review stresses the same idea of objects as characters in an exhibition. I recommend reading it, it’s very interesting to see how much larger and lively issues are addressed through the use of inanimate things.

Ryan Massey

2 responses to “Objects as Characters

  1. Catherine Shteynberg

    Read thee some material anthropology. Start with some of the classics, like Kopytoff in “The Social Life of Things,” and Pierre Bourdieu’s, “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste,” and then move on to things like, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s, “Objects of Ethnography,” and Daniel Miller’s “Possessions.” Any search for a material anthropology/culture syllabi should result in a reading list of super relevant articles in this area.

  2. Ryan, I think your observation is something we have all learned while developing our final projects for this class and creating galleries/sets from our Flickr collections. Your point about the objects as “characters” who tell a story and support the exhibition, instead of serving as the be-all end-all of the exhibition is something I’ve noticed as well while working on the final project for this class and an exhibition proposal for a textiles class. Objects might inspire an exhibition, but the stories behind objects or an overall story or theme that can be presented by a group of objects is what is really at the foundation of an exhibition.

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