CULP-450 Globalization, Diplomacy, & the Politics of Exhibitions
Fall for 2014-2015
Global exhibitions, born as a vehicle for national propaganda, today command press attention and impact cultural-economic policies worldwide, mobilizing not only artists, curators, and gallerists, but sponsors, celebrities, and politicians alike. This course examines the rising role of international art biennales, art fairs, and global museums in the world of cultural diplomacy and global exchange. We will trace a critical genealogy that begins with the rise of World’s Fairs, industrial modernity and colonial spectacle, and various national museum projects, to dissident art in the age of social networks, contemporary “glocal” exhibition practices, and the transnational urban enterprises and geographies of art/museums/biennales today, connecting DC and Doha, Paris and Shanghai, among others.
We will critically explore the ways museums—through their policies, programs, exhibitions, and architecture—define regional or national values, shape cultural attitudes, inform social and political views, and even effect one’s understanding of the meaning of a work of art. Museums and World’s Fairs have served as pivotal knowledge-generating apparatuses, deeply implicated in national rivalries, class struggle, cultural authority, conquest and commercial dominance. This course builds on their historic and global significance to explore the shifting role of exhibitions today, in the context of transnational and “glocal” culture, practices, and citizenship. Exhibitions continue to serve as potent instruments of cross-cultural exchange and formative sites of regional, national, and global identities, as well as of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism.
We will investigate some of the most famous examples of the twentieth and twenty-first century recurrent state-sponsored exhibitions, contextualized by critical literature on the relationship among culture and politics. Case studies may include: the Venice Biennale, Johannesburg Biennial, Havana Bienal, Kassel Documenta, various Asian biennals, and the soaring number of contemporary art fairs. These sites will prompt reflection on diplomacy and the geopolitics of art exhibitions, architectural and urban development, and the deeply intertwined relationship among cultural institutions and knowledge, power, and place. We will additionally analyze the impacts of social networking, virtual exhibition spaces, and contemporary museum development and display technologies. Particular emphasis will be placed on culture as practice, integrating theoretical discussion with applied examples and case studies.
Course work involves: a commitment to debate and plurality in the classroom; the production of a series of critical readings and critical reflections; the collating of keywords that serve as building blocks for the study of the politics of exhibitions, globalization, and power/knowledge relations; and regular participation in a series of in-class exploratory gallery visits and prompts about your own positions. The course will culminate in the production of a final synthesis paper or critical virtual exhibition that puts course materials to work and demonstrates your intellectual development.
The course draws on the unique resources and expertise of The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, and will be co-taught by a Georgetown Culture and Politics Program core faculty member and seasoned Phillips museum professionals. Students will also have the opportunity to participate in special co-sponsored events linked to the cultural policy arena of Washington, DC and beyond, including the SFS-Qatar campus and Doha museum development.
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