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Carnegie Museum Bids To Become A “Living Laboratory”

Photography is big at museums of late — more exhibitions, more dedicated curators and so on — and today came an announcement from the Carnegie Museum of Art on the topic: With a gift from the William T. Hillman Foundation, it is launching the Hillman Photography Initiative — “a living laboratory for exploring the rapidly changing field of photography and its impact on the world.” Lynn Zelevansky (below), the museum’s director, said that “The Initiative positions the museum to be a leader in a subject area with broad appeal and profound relevance to contemporary society. We are deeply grateful for the [Foundation’s] support and partnership in this effort.”

LYNN2-235x300As a daughter of Rochester, home to Eastman Kodak and the George Eastman House, I have mixed emotions… but competition is good.

Let me quote from the press release –which admittedly is a little vague. Here goes:

For much of its history, photography has pervaded our world, but never more so than today, when non-stop technological innovations make it ever easier to take photographs and share them instantaneously. There are over eight billion pictures on the social media site Flickr; photographs on the Internet appear for seconds and then disappear, lost in a pictorial “newsfeed.” How does that affect their meaning? Our belief in their veracity? Our way of valuing them as keepsakes? And where in the midst of all these images and new technologies does art reside? What are the intellectual and aesthetic criteria by which we value photographs made with new means (for example, cell phones, computational photography) today? And how will we value those made by other means tomorrow?

the Hillman Photography Initiative is a special project within the photography department of Carnegie Museum of Art that will offer an adaptable framework for engaging with these provocative issues. Favoring an approach that is experimental and open to new perspectives, the Initiative will be driven by the collaboration of five “agents,” consisting of four external experts and Carnegie Museum of Art curator Tina Kukielski, who is also co-curator of the 2013 Carnegie International. The Initiative will follow a 12-month cycle, beginning with an intense three-month planning period during which the agents will work together with program manager Divya Rao Heffley to identify a key theme that will inspire a wide range of activities such as exhibitions, programs, collaborations, publications, commissioned works of art, artist residencies, and online experiences. Nathan Martin of the innovation/design studio Deeplocal will facilitate the process. Following the planning phase, Kukielski and Heffley will work with other museum staff to manage the implementation of the activities over the nine months that follow. Rollout of activities is expected in early 2014, although some may begin more quickly. Additionally, the Initiative will co-sponsor and/or collaborate on related projects at the museum and with other institutions.

See what I mean? A bit more:

The first group of agents includes, along with Tina Kukielski, Marvin Heiferman, independent curator and writer; Alex Klein, program curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; Illah Nourbakhsh, professor of robotics and director of the CREATE Lab, Carnegie Mellon University; and Arthur Ou, assistant professor of photography and director, BFA photography, Parsons The New School for Design. The group will meet for the first time on April 21–22 to begin the development cycle.

I can’t post the press release because it’s not yet online, but the good news is that the initiative has a website with a few more details. I will be curious to see how this develops.

UPDATE, 5/3: the museum has now released a video update with more information on the project.






  1. yvonne michelle wehrer says:

    I would like to see the Initiative include sevreal works from International artists. One such artist that I am particularly interested in seeing in the collection is Sergey Kireev. I came across his work recently and I am absolutely convinced that his work will benefit the Initiative immensely. His work has had several shows Internationally as well as in America, and I would hate to see Pittsburgh fall behind the curve with this. Please look into this artist and BRING HIS WORK TO PITTSBURGH! Thank you.

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