Approaching Art, the Princeton University Art Museum
Posted December 19, 2011; 12:00 p.m.
Museum director James Steward and others talk about the Princeton University Art Museum's new approach to displaying art. Read more.
Video Closed Captions
James Steward: We wanted to answer the question of why an individual work of art matters.
â€” why someone who isnâ€™t a specialist in the discipline ought to find something engaging, how does it
relate to its moment, how does it speak to the career output of the artist in question distinct
from it being simply an object in a vacuum? I think one of the real challenges in contending with
art from the past, especially from cultures that seem quite remote from our own, is the challenge
of bringing the original work of art back to life. And instead of simply talking or telling people
verbally about the extent to which European artists re-engaged with the ancient world to consider
how to represent the human form, weâ€™re actually showing it. So, weâ€™re juxtaposing a great anonymous
painting of St. Sebastian with a second-century Roman torso to make very direct that sense of
causality that there was indeed a formal relationship between these objects.
Christopher Heuer: Jamesâ€™ approach is one which is going to make the museum not just kind of more accessible,
more marketable, but will do what museums across the country, across the world are being forced to do now,
which is make art relevant to the present day in a way thatâ€™s more than kind of superficial.
These kind of comparisons heâ€™s drawn are just one way to do that.
My view is that every art museum is by definition (or should be) a teaching museum. Through looking at
a broad array of letâ€™s call them cultural artifacts, we can get a better understanding about the
impulses of a culture at any given point in the past. And weâ€™re encouraging students and other
visitors to make these direct connections to see linkages and to re-awaken a sense of: How would
this have been viewed in the time that it was created, and what were the factors in society that
gave rise? Why do paintings or any other works of art look the way they look?
Caroline Harris: This is a portrait of Jean Cocteau by Modigliani and it shows the translation into his
painting of the aesthetics of African sculpture. These are actually instruments used in weaving
in association with the Modigliani because this is exactly the sort of African art that
he was looking at and was interested in. And when you look at the treatment of the face,
all of those stylizations of the features really resonate with the African
objects that he was interested in.
James Steward: All of this combines, we hope, to create a more accessible approach to very
rich content no matter what oneâ€™s background is.