Culture vs. Craft and the Transformation of the American Museum
January 16, 2008
Associate Professor of Fine Arts
Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut
In her lecture, Dr. Curran examines the intellectual origins of American municipal art museums — such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Chicago Art Institute — and the transformative effect that so-called “cultural history” had on them.
Cultural history, which posited that objects (paintings, sculpture, decorative arts) be studied as reflections of the cultures or “periods” that produced them, had wide impact on American museums.
This idea affected the planning and organization of museums, as well as their display practices, which included period rooms. It replaced the older classification systems and display practices that characterized the so-called craft museums such as London’s South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria & Albert Museum), which American museums had earlier used.