Museum Skepticism

A History of the Display of Art in Public Galleries

Museum Skepticism

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 22 illustrations Published: May 2006

Author: David Carrier

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory

In Museum Skepticism, art historian David Carrier traces the birth, evolution, and decline of the public art museum as an institution meant to spark democratic debate and discussion. Carrier contends that since the inception of the public art museum during the French Revolution, its development has depended on growth: on the expansion of collections, particularly to include works representing non-European cultures, and on the proliferation of art museums around the globe. Arguing that this expansionist project has peaked, he asserts that art museums must now find new ways of making high art relevant to contemporary lives. Ideas and inspiration may be found, he suggests, in mass entertainment such as popular music and movies.

Carrier illuminates the public role of art museums by describing the ways they influence how art is seen: through their architecture, their collections, the narratives they offer museum visitors. He insists that an understanding of the art museum must take into account the roles of collectors, curators, and museum architects. Toward that end, he offers a series of case studies, showing how particular museums and their collections evolved. Among those who figure prominently are Baron Dominique Vivant Denon, the first director of the Louvre; Bernard Berenson, whose connoisseurship helped Isabella Stewart Gardner found her museum in Boston; Ernest Fenollosa, who assembled much of the Asian art collection now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Albert Barnes, the distinguished collector of modernist painting; and Richard Meier, architect of the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles. Carrier’s learned consideration of what the art museum is and has been provides the basis for understanding the radical transformation of its public role now under way.


Museum Skepticism . . . will appeal to scholars, artists, museum administrators and curators, and art enthusiasts alike. Carrier's writing style is clear and his wry sense of humor frequently emerges throughout the text. Moreover, his theories and arguments are forthrightly sound, and he comes across as someone who is earnestly committed to the history, state, and fate of what is—or was—the modern museum. . . . Museum Skepticism is an important tool for bridging the gap between the often-theoretical realm of the academic and the hands-on world of the public art institution.” — Lyz Bly, Angle

Museum Skepticism certainly delivers, what it promises-a valid and convincing theory that answers the question: "What is it to lead the life of a work of art?" It offers a glimpse into the lives of several iconic public art museums and the personalities that contributed to the development of these institutions and their collections. . . . With its passionate tone and accessible language, it should be part of any art student’s library.” — Alise Piebalga, Leonardo Reviews

“Carrier’s book . . . provides both a good entry into the history of some of the most paradigmatic public art collections in modern Europe and 20th-century America, such as the Louvre and the Getty Foundation, and as well as others (e.g. those institutions founded by Albert Barnes and Isabella Stewart Gardner), whilst at the same time enquiring into the changing status of both the institutions and the objects displayed within them.” — Arnd Schneider, Museum Anthropology Review

“In this intriguing study, David Carrier brings a philosophical viewpoint to bear on the institution of the art museum. . . . [E]ngaging. . . . [T]hought-provoking. . . .” — Kimerly Rorschach, Duke Magazine

“Rather than a work in philosophical aesthetics narrowly conceived, Carrier’s latest book, informed by architecture, art history, economics, philosophy, and political theory, is a welcome and substantial interdisciplinary contribution to the steadily growing field of museum studies.” — Jeffrey Wilson, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

“Reading Carrier’s later books, I always want to get up and go to a museum. Carrier puts the emotion back in looking at art.” — George J. Leonard, San Francisco Humanities Review

“This is a book which invites one to stroll around it, pausing and disgressing. . . .” — Keith Miller, TLS

“This is an informative book, packed with provocative ideas and informed by substantial research by a scholar familiar with the bibliography of museology and the history of collecting. It is enjoyable to read, well produced, and very reasonably priced.” — Jeffrey Weidman, ARLIS/NA Reviews

“With its wide range of sources, its fascinating structure, and its commitment to the defense of the institution it attempts to kill off prematurely, Carrier’s book will be widely purchased, much read. . . .” — Richard Brettell, History: Reviews of New Books

Museum Skepticism is a fascinating study, original, brilliant, and erudite. I absolutely loved reading this book.” — Ellen Handler Spitz, author of The Brightening Glance: Imagination and Childhood

“David Carrier is one of only a handful of scholars who inhabit with ease the diverse worlds of philosophy, art history, art criticism, and now museology. His philosophical acuity probes the responsibilities, shortcomings, and achievements of art museums, and the responses of their academic critics. Carrier’s provocative reflections on the successive metamorphoses of these irreplaceable yet infuriating institutions are sure to be a stimulus to the democratic conversation about their future that he so warmly advocates. Reading Carrier is like reading Montaigne: no one could be a more thoughtful, witty, or erudite imaginary interlocutor for the fortunate reader of this impassionedly personal yet highly disciplined book.” — Ivan Gaskell, Harvard University


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

David Carrier is the Champney Family Professor of Art History at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institute of Art. His books include Sean Scully; Writing about Visual Art; The Aesthetics of Comics; High Art: Charles Baudelaire and the Origins of Modernist Painting; Principles of Art History Writing; and Poussin’s Paintings.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Overture 1

1. “Beauty and Art, History and Fame and Power”: On Entering the Louvre 17

2. Art and Power: Time Travel in the Museum 39

3. Museum Skeptics 51

4. Picturing Museum Skepticism 74

5. Art Museum Narratives 91

6. Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Museum 110

7. Ernest Fenollosa’s History of Asian Art 126

8. Albert Barnes’s Foundation and the Place of Modernist Art within the Art Museum 146

9. The Display of Absolutely Contemporary Art in the J. Paul Getty Museum 165

10. The End of the Modern Public Art Museum: A Tale of Two Cities 181

Conclusion: What the Public Art Museum Might Become 208

Notes 225

Bibliography 269

Index 305
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3694-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3682-2
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