Curator (seated), deciding the positions of paintings during installation 

Curator (seated), deciding the positions of paintings during installation 

Source publication
Article
Full-text available
he aim of this article is to theorize how materials can play an active, constitutive, and causally effective role in the production and sustenance of cultural forms and meanings. It does so through an empirical exploration of the Museum of Modern Art of New York (MoMA). The article describes the museum as an “objecti- fication machine” that endeavo...

Context in source publication

Context 1
... the exceptions of some iconic artworks perennially on display, the life artworks at MoMA is characterized by an ongoing movement within different internal and external circuits. Internally, the endless carousel of exhibitions keeps artworks traveling back and forth between the museum galleries in midtown Manhattan and its main storage facility located in Queens. Only in 2012, MoMA organized more than 30 temporal exhibitions and four floor rotations of the permanent collection, which resulted in several hundreds of artworks traveling each week in the especially conditioned trucks that cover the three-mile trip between Queens and MoMA. This ongoing process of circulation poses a constant threat to the physical well-being of these artworks as well as to their constituencies, which can be damaged in transit, or even go amiss. But here again oil paintings tend to behave as exemplary “ docile ” objects, being typically highly portable and able to be moved without posing a significant risk to their integrity thanks to the physical stability of their components. The limited number of components in their constituencies also means that they can be easily monitored and tracked while traveling. These properties are even more important once these artworks arrive at the physical space of the museum. Far from being neutral containers of art, museums provide the built environment of meaning. The physical space of the museum plays a key role in shaping the circulation of art and, through it, the kind of narratives and meanings that can be produced. Indeed, the kind of physical positions artworks can occupy are often dependent on seemingly banal things like the locations of windows and doors, the presence of loading docks, elevators, or retaining walls, or the existence of art handling equipment and specially trained personnel. 9 One of the advantages of oil paintings is that their portability makes them compat- ible with most museum architectures. These paintings tend to be slim and not exces- sively heavy or big, which allows them to be easily transported through museum doors, corridors, and lifts. Moreover, unlike more unwieldy artworks, like ponderous sculptures requiring especially designed spaces, or media-based artworks demanding complex technological installations, most oil paintings can be hung on virtually any wall. This adds great flexibility and pliability to the creation of curatorial narratives, as curators can play around with the position of these artworks to enable different narrative structures, something that is not possible with those artworks whose position cannot be modified at will as they require specific installations for their display. This portability of oil paintings serves to reinforce the kind of division of labor and subject- positions that I have already described in relation to curators and conservators. Specifically, it reinforces the autonomy and power of curators, who can exert full control over the emplacement of narratives in the museum without requiring the intervention of other museum staff, like conservators, typically confined to an auxiliary role (see Fig. 4). The portability of oil paintings also plays a key role in the configuration of the external circuits connecting MoMA to other museums and institution of the art world. Over the last decades, the globalization of the art world has created a massive system of exchange in which artworks are continually circulating as part of traveling exhibitions or as loans (Halle and Robinson 2010). MoMA loans around 600 works per year and receives around 1,250. This enormous physical movement of culture has required the development of a complex set of regulations designed to enable the movement of artworks across political borders as well as the development of costly institutional and transport infrastructures to guarantee their physical safety. Each artwork must travel on specially designed climate-controlled crates that produce artificial “ traveling environments. ” Specially trained couriers must accompany traveling works to verify that the works are not mishandled and are properly unpacked and installed at the receiving institution. Additionally, receiving museums must comply with a set of stringent architectural and climatic standards that guarantee the physical well-being of the artwork while it is on their premises. Oil paintings tend to be amongst the most docile objects to circulate in these circuits. Their uniform form — they tend to be either squares or rectangles — has enabled the standardization of storage and traveling infrastructures. In contrast to sculptures, which require custom-made crates, oil paintings can use exchangeable crates, something that lowers considerably their traveling costs. Their uniform form also means that they do not require complex unpacking and installation instructions, thus enabling the standardization of these processes. More importantly, their stability and homogeneous material constitution has also enabled the standardization of environments, architectural designs, and procedures that are necessary to display these artworks. The properties of these paintings makes them a crucial lubricant in the system of exchange connecting MoMA to other museums and art institutions, as well as key agents enabling processes of organizational isomorphism and institutional homogenization among contemporary art ...

Citations

... In recent decades, the sociology of culture has shifted from treating meaning as a mere outcome of social relations to exploring how meaning is also key to influencing these relations (Alexander 2008;DeNora 2000;Kaufmann 2004). Sociologists have examined how the material qualities of cultural objects shapes their interpretation (Domínguez 2014;McDonnell 2017), how individuals engage in meaning-making in the production and reception of artworks (Eyerman and McCormick 2006;Griswold 1987a), and how social scientists can measure meaning (Lee and Martin 2015;Mohr et al. 2020). ...
Article
Full-text available
In cultural fields, where audiences view meaning as indeterminant, how do experts communicate their interpretations of multivocal artworks? Drawing on an archival dataset of contemporary art reviews, I examine how critics discuss ambiguous and complex meanings. Critics do not convey multiple, discrete meanings but instead focus on the relationships among multiple meanings. In particular, they use spatial metaphors to map these relationships. They describe the imagined physical features of spatial metaphors, such as shape, density, and movement, to portray concepts as discrete or intermingling, synchronously or asynchronously activated, having equal or unequal importance, or having a fixed or fluid relationship to one another. Critics’ portrayals of these different infrastructures through which meanings are linked shape their overarching interpretations of works. By articulating different kinds of multivocality via spatial metaphors, critics guide audiences to attend to certain meanings and their relationships, without foreclosing multivocality and ambiguity in meaning.
... Employing these data sources, I ethnographically followed the substance of concrete-qualities of the matter that people try to make material or erase. I took the substance' s 'transformative states' (Gregson et al. 2010) as its focus: its degradation, its cleaning, its being painted over, and its being drilled through (Abourahme 2015;Archambault 2018;McFarlane 2011;Rubio 2014)-along with social transformations of the housing estate in question. ...
The article examines the devaluation of concrete in Central and Eastern Europe and local residents’ and architectural professionals’ commitment to ‘modernize’ socialist-period concrete housing estates due to the perceived ‘poor’ quality of materials and their ‘unaesthetic’ appeal. Using the case of the estate Wrocław Manhattan built in 1972–1978 in the Polish city of Wrocław and renovated in 2015–2016, I argue that, although modernist estates in the region and in western European contexts share seemingly identical aesthetic stigma and devaluation, different forces drive their regeneration. Drawing on archival research, interviews, go-alongs, and photo-elicitations with architectural professionals and inhabitants, this article demonstrates that ‘modernization’ of socialist-period housing estates in Central and Eastern Europe is motivated not by classist stigmatization of their inhabitants, but by a social imaginary that socialism ‘deviated’ from western European modernity and it therefore requires aesthetic ‘improvement’ and ‘fixing’. To address this insight, the article uses a sociology of valuation lens to follow people’s practices of valuing, devaluing, and transforming various properties of the estate’s concrete so as to ‘modernize’ it. I propose the concept of fugitive modern that connotes people’s quest to update the built environments associated with an ‘unfinished’ socialist modernity and calls attention to the catch-up labor poured into adding value to built environments commonly perceived as devoid of quality and beauty.
... Materials are important at a heuristic level in terms of how we learn things, influencing the processes of durability, classification and display, as well as the cultural forms and meanings associated with things. It is in this sense that Domínguez Rubio (2014) distinguishes between docile and unruly objects, with the former generating stability and the latter acting as vectors of change. In their public talk, Varvara & Mar did indeed discuss the 'thingness' of artworks and the way in which they retain material potentialities and require specific measures of maintenance. ...
Book
Ethnographic Experiments with Artists, Designers and Boundary Objects is a lively investigation into anthropological practice. Richly illustrated, it invites the reader to reflect on the skills of collaboration and experimentation in fieldwork and in gallery curation, thereby expanding our modes of knowledge production. At the heart of this study are the possibilities for transdisciplinary collaborations, the opportunity to use exhibitions as research devices, and the role of experimentation in the exhibition process. Francisco Martínez increases our understanding of the relationship between contemporary art, design and anthropology, imagining creative ways to engage with the contemporary world and developing research infrastructures across disciplines. He opens up a vast field of methodological explorations, providing a language to reconsider ethnography and objecthood while producing knowledge with people of different backgrounds.
... In the context of these previous studies, we are able to explore how different objects of curation come to matter differently, asking how specific features of animals as objects become important for curators empirically. In this, we build on efforts to extend the new materialism inspired by science and technology studies in the direction of a project of comparative ontology (Guggenheim 2009, 2016, Domínguez Rubio 2014. ...
Article
Full-text available
This paper examines how zoos decide which animals to keep, drawing on guidance produced by zoo membership organisations and in-depth interviews with zoo curators. Zoos make curatorial decisions within constraints posed by each zoo’s legacy of buildings and animals. Different versions of ‘conservation value’ inform decision-making alongside other criteria such as education value, visitor value and whether or not animals are available. We find that an international agenda to rationalise zoo collection planning in the name of environmental conservation has only partially reshaped existing practices. As a ‘bald object’ in the Latourian sense, ‘conservation’ presents a clean surface, which also means that it invites projections that attach to concrete practices only in loose ways. Given the ambiguity of conservation as a value, conservation presents zoos with a range of options and can be made to fit a broad range of choices, which make sense to actors for other reasons. Reform efforts gain traction where they are inserted as ‘hairy objects’ and resonate with practical problems zoos are already facing. Reforms in the name of conservation have led to networks of exchange and co-operation, which help zoos to secure new animals in the context of new regulations.
... Taylor et al. (2019) offer one promising attempt, identifying contexts in which neural binding leads to innovative meaning-making versus stabilizing meaning-maintenance. Moreover, they show how the mind binds the perception or memory of objects to the objects' membership categoriessomething that helps explain the cognitive workings of concepts such as family resemblance (also see Domínguez Rubio 2014). ...
Article
Paul DiMaggio's (1997) Annual Review of Sociology article urged integration of the cognitive and the cultural, triggering a cognitive turn in cultural sociology. Since then, a burgeoning literature in cultural sociology has incorporated ideas from the cognitive sciences—cognitive anthropology, cognitive psychology, linguistics, neuroscience and philosophy—significantly reshaping sociologists’ approach to culture, both theoretically and methodologically. This article reviews work published since DiMaggio's agenda-setting piece—research that builds on cross-disciplinary links between cultural sociology and the cognitive sciences. These works present new ideas on the acquisition, storage, and retrieval of culture, on how forms of personal culture interact, on how culture becomes shared, and on how social interaction and cultural environments inform cognitive processes. Within our discussion, we point to research questions that remain unsettled. We then conclude with issues for future research in culture and cognition that can enrich sociological analysis about action more generally.
... In the process of mediation, industrial nature as a spontaneous and "lively" thing acquires a scientific and administrative presence and consequence. However, by virtue of their unruliness, heritage objects which are distributed, complex and consist of many separate components may act as vectors of transformation in conservation practice ( Domínguez Rubio 2014, 2016. It is in this sense important to recall the assumption that motivated and opened this chapter, namely that non-human entities and materials exercise a distinct gravity and agency, which feeds back into practice. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
... Taylor et al. (2019) offer one promising attempt, identifying contexts in which neural binding leads to innovative meaning-making versus stabilizing meaning-maintenance. Moreover, they show how the mind binds the perception or memory of objects to the objects' membership categoriessomething that helps explain the cognitive workings of concepts such as family resemblance (also see Domínguez Rubio 2014). ...
Article
Full-text available
Paul DiMaggio's (1997) Annual Review of Sociology article urged integration of the cognitive and the cultural, triggering a cognitive turn in cultural sociology. Since then, a burgeoning literature in cultural sociology has incorporated ideas from the cognitive sciences-cognitive anthropology, cognitive psychology, linguistics, neuroscience and philosophy-significantly reshaping sociologists' approach to culture, both theoretically and methodologi-cally. This article reviews work published since DiMaggio's agenda-setting piece-research that builds on cross-disciplinary links between cultural sociology and the cognitive sciences. These works present new ideas on the acquisition , storage, and retrieval of culture, on how forms of personal culture interact, on how culture becomes shared, and on how social interaction and cultural environments inform cognitive processes. Within our discussion, we point to research questions that remain unsettled. We then conclude with issues for future research in culture and cognition that can enrich sociological analysis about action more generally.
... The conversations that have taken place in museums around what collections are, and how digital objects may be collected (e.g. Altshuler 2013 ;Rubio 2014;Boyle and Hagmann 2017 ;Were 2014 ), demonstrate the ways in which museums contribute to very particular philosophies and theories of the object world. Rubio (2016 ) describes how museum practices of curation and conservation produce objects out of things by stabilizing the material world into very specifi c institutional assemblages. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
... This understanding of culture is macro-cultural, and it underlies critical notions of ideology and discourse. It is an understanding of culture that has long been challenged by microsociologists and against which I see many colleagues in the sociology of culture actively working (Becker 1984;Benzecry and Krause 2010;Calhoun and Sennett 2007;Dominguez Rubio 2014;Jerolmack and Khan 2014;Lizardo et al. 2016;Mangione and McDonnell 2013;Vaisey 2009;Zerubavel 1993). It should at least be contextualized within accounts of other factors shaping knowledge. ...
Article
Full-text available
This article offers a critique of the self-observation of the social sciences practiced in the philosophy of the social sciences and the critique of epistemological orientations. This kind of reflection involves the curious construction of wholes under labels, which are the result of a process of “distillation” or “abstraction” of a “position” somewhat removed from actual research practices and from the concrete claims and findings that researchers produce, share, and debate. In this context, I call for more sociological forms of reflexivity, informed by empirical research on practices in the natural sciences and by sociomaterial approaches in science and technology studies and cultural sociology. I illustrate the use of sociological self-observation for improving sociological research with two examples: I discuss patterns in how comparisons are used in relation to how comparisons could be used, and I discuss how cases are selected in relation to how they could be selected.
... Pour Durkheim, rappelle Domínguez Rubio (2014), les objets ne sont pas des opérateurs décisifs de la sociogenèse, car ils ne possèdent pas d'élan vital. Durkheim reconnaît que le milieu social est hétérogène, composé à la fois de sujets et d'objets, et que l'évolution du social dépend aussi de la présence des objets. ...