The Roles and Responsibilities of Museums in Civil Society: CIMAM Annual Conference 2017, Singapore

CIMAM returns for its annual conference on 10-12 November 2017 at National Gallery Singapore.

On the occasion of the three-day CIMAM conference in Singapore, Art Radar spoke with Dr Eugene Tan, Director of National Gallery Singapore, about the role of museums and institutions.

National Gallery Singapore façade. Image courrtesy National Gallery Singapore.

National Gallery Singapore façade. Image courrtesy National Gallery Singapore.

In 2017, National Gallery Singapore has co-organised the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM) 2017 Annual Conference, taking place at the Singapore museum from 10 to 12 November 2017. With the main theme being “The Roles and Responsibilities of Museums in Civil Society”, the CIMAM conference brings together speakers from various professional roles in the art world to discuss issues over three days, including Art and the City: From Local to Transnational? (Day 1), Re-Learning Southeast Asia (Day 2), What do Museums Collect, and How? (Day 3).

During Day 1, the conference at National Gallery Singapore will look at the role of the city and its importance for art, identity and history within the context of the national, regional, international and supranational. On Day 2, the discussions will consider the multifarious cultural and artistic contexts of Southeast Asia, looking at the specificity of art museums and spaces in the region to consider their driving forces. On Day 3, the conference will envision how collections can be activated to manifest their potential for civil society.

Appointed by members of CIMAM’s Board, the conference committee for the 2017 Annual Conference is led by Dr Eugene Tan (Director, National Gallery Singapore) and includes Corinne Diserens (independent curator), Mami Kataoka (Chief Curator, Mori Art Museum), Sarah Glennie (Director, Irish Museum of Modern Art), Saskia Bos (independent curator) and Suzanne Cotter (Director, Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art).

National Gallery Singapore Former Supreme Court Terrace. Image courtesy National Gallery Singapore.

National Gallery Singapore Former Supreme Court Terrace. Image courtesy National Gallery Singapore.

Among the speakers at the conference are curators, artists, researchers and museum directors, all leaders in the field with international expertise and perspectives and many of whom have worked with or in Asia. The three keynote speakers are Nikos Papastergiadis (Director, Research Unit in Public Cultures, and Professor, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia), Patrick D. Flores (Professor of Art Studies, University of the Philippines, Manila, Philippines) and Donna De Salvo (Deputy Director for International Initiatives and Senior Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA).

Nine speakers will present specific case studies from the region, including:

  • Ute Meta Bauer (Founding Director, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Singapore)
  • Andrea Cusumano (Deputy Mayor for Culture, Palermo, Italy)
  • Chen Chieh-Jen (Artist, Taipei, Taiwan)
  • Ade Darmawan (Artist, Curator and Director, ruangrupa, Jakarta, Indonesia)
  • Gridthiya Gaweewong (Artistic Director, Jim Thompson Art Center, Bangkok, Thailand)
  • Post-Museum (Jennifer Teo & Woon Tien Wei), (Artists, Singapore)
  • Adriano Pedrosa (Artistic Director, Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand, São Paulo, Brazil)
  • Tiffany Chung (Artist, Vietnam/USA)
  • Suhanya Raffel (Executive Director, M+, Hong Kong)

Art Radar spoke with Dr Eugene Tan to gain some insight into the role of institutions today and what to expect from CIMAM Annual Conference in 2017.

View of the Padang Atrium from the Upper Link Bridge, National Gallery Singapore. Image courtesy National Gallery Singapore.

View of the Padang Atrium from the Upper Link Bridge, National Gallery Singapore. Image courtesy National Gallery Singapore.

How can art institutions help bridge different perspectives, and expose and encourage people to dialogue?

One of the fundamental missions of all art museums and institutions is to break down the barriers and foster dialogue in our societies by presenting the art and culture of other societies that might not be familiar to a local public. However, this also extends to presenting differing perspectives within a society, so that the museum can become an inclusive and safe space for the diversity of opinions to be shared, debated and discussed. This is precisely the theme behind this year’s CIMAM conference in Singapore: “The Roles and Responsibilities of Museums in Civil Society”. The conference seeks to address how museums can continue to foster a ‘discursive public sphere’ where citizens are able to discuss freely about shared concerns in a framework underpinned by freedom, equality and non-violent interaction.

Given how civil society today is under threat from a combination of widespread economic instability, unrestrained individualism and inequality in every sphere of life, increasing government surveillance and political repression, populist nationalism and xenophobia, as well as, increasing commercialisation and consolidation of ownership of the media and other channels for free expression. What then can art museums do to counter the erosion of the public sphere in contemporary societies? The conference aims to examine how museums around the world can uphold and be hospitable to this universal expression of collective action, in its diverse and varied manifestations – from street protest to satire and other forms of non-violent action.

Visitors interacting with a display in the DBS Singapore gallery, National Gallery Singapore. Image courtesy National Gallery Singapore.

Visitors interacting with a display in the DBS Singapore gallery, National Gallery Singapore. Image courtesy National Gallery Singapore.

Audiences ‘consume’ culture differently around the world. Are there common ways that art and institutions develop globally to present content in a way that it is ‘consumable’ and understandable for different audiences? How can institutions appeal to a broad spectrum of audiences, without creating an intimidating, elitist environment that favours those who are in the field of art and culture?

All museums and institutions have to take into account the profiles of their audiences in developing their programmes. This includes the differences in their audience demographic make up as well as the differences in the levels of art appreciation. To this end, we have developed programmes to cater to the different audience types and segments that we have identified. They range from our Keppel Centre for Art Education programmes for children and art festivals which are aimed at families, to exhibitions, talks and conferences, which seek to engage different audiences and foster a deeper appreciation and understanding of art.

Could you comment on the idea that cultural institutions have a responsibility to educate the wider public?

The mission to educate lies at the heart of all museums and cultural institutions, but by this, I don’t mean education in a didactic sense. The exhibitions and programmes of a museum, by presenting the unfamiliar, have the ability not only to educate about other cultures and perspectives, but also to inspire, which is the most important effect that education can have.

"Between Declaration and Dreams", UOB Southeast Asia Gallery, National Gallery Singapore. Image courtesy National Gallery Singapore.

“Between Declaration and Dreams”, UOB Southeast Asia Gallery, National Gallery Singapore. Image courtesy National Gallery Singapore.

What are the main topics discussed in CIMAM this year? Could you talk about a few highlights?

In relation to the conference theme of “The Role and Responsibilities of Museums in Civil Society,” the sessions during each of the three days of the conference will examine a specific topic. The first day will look at: “Art and the City: From Local to Transnational? – what artists, museum professionals and citizens can do to activate the public’s consciousness and how they contribute to identify problems. Day 2 will focus on the region, ReLearning Southeast Asia – how can this region further inform our understanding of art institutions in relation to collective action and civil society, while the last day will examine the topic of collections, What do Museums Collect, and How? – the roles and responsibilities of the museum in respect of collecting art: how do museums determine what is ‘relevant’? What is the civic role of the collection?

The theme and topics of this year’s CIMAM conference are particularly timely in this global climate of upheavals and uncertainty. If building a more inclusive society that embraces diversity and change requires dialogue and understanding, how museums and art can bridge gaps and bring people and perspectives together must be acknowledged and better understood. CIMAM is the global forum where issues pertinent to institutions of art are explored and debated, with far-reaching effects. I look forward to the ideas and discussions we shall be having in Singapore.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

1939

Related Topics: conferences, talks and lectures, museums, Southeast Asian art, events in Singapore, interviews

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