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Did Michael Govan Really Say This?

It was a typical museum director panel last week in Georgia, at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s deFINE Art conference. I wasn’t there, but thought I’d read the account of it on Hyperallergic, which carried the perfunctory headline, Museum as Tool: Directors on How They Run Their Art Institutions.

GovanThen, I read this: “Universal museums were the result of colonialism. The Metropolitan Museum’s narrative is false. It’s a creative act to assemble the narrative of the past.” [Boldface mine.]

Wow. It was attributed to Michael Govan, the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The only context given was this:

Govan thinks of LACMA as a “civic museum,” an institution that “can impact a city.” He wants to adapt the form of the encyclopedic museum into a new era, emphasizing multiculturalism and forming a “contemporary point of view,” connecting with the city of Los Angeles. It’s a revision of the encyclopedic museum’s history.

Now, I have high respect for Govan — he’s a very sharp thinker and doer. And he’s not afraid to break a few eggs — this would not be the first time.

But seriously, false? All of it? I wonder what Tom Campbell has to say about that.

This has certainly been a wild week for museums.

*I consult to a Foundation that supports the Met.



  1. Paul Jeromack says:

    What the hell is he talking about?!?

    • He is making an esoteric statement about the nature of collecting and the slippery slide of interpretation–ANY collecting whether it’s a museum of things, a recording of sound, or the taking of a picture distorts the thing by fixing it in time and thereby affects its meaning. Such collections are as much about the collector/recorder/curator as the collection itself. The term “false narrative,” is a provocative one, to be sure. Especially as it pertains to one of the leading cultural institutions in the U.S.

      ALL collectors and curators manufacture narratives — it doesn’t necessarily follow that they’re false. They are true for SOMEBODY.

  2. Pretty funny, actually. The quote suggests that there’s a “true” narrative, in which case I’d love to know that it is.

  3. Curatorial authority is at risk! In an email from a young friend this morning, he tells me he is curating an exhibit for his workplace. Using art to reflect to his social service agency co-workers a narrative on their daily activities, challenges and triumphs.

    We are all curators of our experience. We write our own narratives. That’s the newly modern world view – And yet, the Met, ah the Met! What glorious world views it has offered! How distinctive the curatorial voices are! Am salivating to see what LACMA’s reinvention encompasses, and how esteemed curators differentiate themselves from the authenticity of my young friend Sam.

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