Edward Burtynsky is a renowned Canadian photographer and artist who has achieved international recognition for his large-format photographs of industrial landscapes. His work is housed in major museums across the globe including a current exhibition at the Glenbow Museum of Calgary.
There is much written about his collection and his artwork. This blog post is not about Burtynsky’s work per se. Instead this post is a story about a museum and its patrons.
On March 15th, 2012, members of PIVOT group at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary experienced the result of a unique undertaking the museum. The PIVOT Encounter the Art Series event sponsored by Enbridge was related to an ongoing exhibition at the Glenbow titled Edward Burtynsky: Encounters
An excerpt from Glenbow’s exhibition website describes this exhibition best.
For this exhibition, 30 Canadians, representing diverse views and life perspectives, each chose a work by Burtynsky. The result is a combination of places and moments Burtynsky has photographed over the course of his career, combined with written commentary by the guest curators whose reflections are thoughtful, thought-provoking, sometimes surprising and always personal
Some of the notable guest curators involved with the project were:
George Stomboulopoulos (television host)
Robert Thirsk (astronaut)
Mark Tewksbury (Olympic swimmer and motivational speaker)
Danny Michel (musician)
W. Brett Wilson (business leader, philanthropist and television personality)
Among the guest curators were also patrons/members (including the PIVOT membership level) and staff of Glenbow. The Burtynsky photograph selections made by the following members are listed below:
Cam Christiansen (Animator): Shipyard #11, Qili Port, Zhejiang Province, China
Melanie Kjorlien (Glenbow’s Vice President, Access, Collections and Exhibitions): Shipyard #17, Qili Port, Zhejiang Province, China
Tara Shaw (Senior Legal Counsel): Shipbreaking #4, Chittagong, Bangladesh
Jenn Grimm (Teacher) and her class of Grade 5 & 6 students at Glendale School: Rock of Ages #2, Granite Quarry, Beebe, Quebec
For the next hour, the audience listened to the thought process that each of the above guest curators undertook to pick and choose among Burtynsky’s extensive collection.
What I found amazing about this whole concept is how the Museum became more than a repository of collections – it allowed its walls to be ‘painted’, not just by the artist being showcased, but by the ideas and thoughts of its members, community leaders, and children, thus becoming a fabric of the society through the interactive medium of collaborative effort.
According to Zusy (1998), the practice of hiring contract staff to curate shows has been common in American museums for more than a decade. In fact, the use of guest curators dates back to the 1940s when The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., hired guest curators for one of their very first exhibitions.
Not only did Glenbow successfully showcase the collection of Burtynsky through the eyes and minds of all the guest curators, the latter group were probably just as excited and honored to have been selected to showcase a collection for the museum.
Some of this passion and excitement was evident among the panelists during the PIVOT event that I attended. Click on the images below to view two short videos that prove this point.
What this overall process did I think is to facilitate interest and discussion about the museum, collection, art, creative space among those who would not be typically considered ‘patrons’ (5th and 6th grade school kids! huh?) and develop a deeper bonding among the patrons/members with the museum by allowing them to participate in the collection showcase.
So, what were you doing on this evening?
Zusy C., 1998, ‘The Stranger Among Us: Managing the Guest Curator Relationship’; Museum News [Link: http://www.aam-us.org/pubs/mn/MN_SO98_ManagingGuestCurator.cfm. Last Accessed on: March 27, 2012]