A Greek vase that symbolizes Italy and is housed in a New York museum might represent the future of museums, according to James Cuno.
Cuno, president of the Art Institute of Chicago, spoke Monday at the Yale University Art Gallery about the evolving role of museums. Students and elderly museum-goers, many with note pads and pencils in hand, listened to Cuno talk about the meaning and role of antiquity, nationalization and globalization in today’s art world.
Yale University Art Gallery Director and long time friend of Cuno’s, Jock Reynolds, said the two worked together as artists in the Bay Area, living and breathing art. From being a Dada performance artist to becoming the director of the Courtauld Institute in London, Cuno has explored a range of artistic roles. In his 25 years at major teaching museums, Cuno became extremely interested in the phenomenon of public education in museums, he said.
“I am always curious to learn more, and I like the openness of the whole thing,” Cuno said, explaining the allure of the museum for him.
He added that museums are unique tools for public education because they are open to everyone, allowing visitors to glean what they wish from the collections they view.
The “enlightened museum,” according to Cuno, strives to present work in a way that resists cultural boundaries and speaks to a larger sense of hybridity and interaction — concepts the museum should strive to shed light on, he said.
Every imitation of art is an adaptation of it through a different perspective, Cuno said, explaining the progression of culture.
He then spoke about the importance of resisting the use of museums for national propaganda. Globalization transcends political boundaries and encourages the destruction of cultural boundaries founded on hate and fear, Cuno said.
The encyclopedic museum — an institution that strives to showcase the international roots of all art — is a vision for museums today, he said.
Citing the story of a vase recently given back to Italy from a museum in New York City, Cuno explained that despite its Greek origin, the vase became celebrated as a testament to the strength and power of the Italian nation.
He argued that nationalistic art manipulates the true history of art, because its only goal is to assert cultural superiority. Art then loses its role as a multicultural heritage and serves the selfish purposes of one nation, Cuno said.
Kevin Adkisson ’12 said Cuno made him reconsider the questions of the origin and ownership in art.
“I had never thought about the fact that Romans had looted the Greek art of Athens,” Adkisson reflected. “It brought up ideas of authenticity and gave the repatriation of art many new layers, with so many arguments to be made.”
Cuno said the encyclopedic museum aims at achieving plurality, inspiring in viewers the idea of being a citizen of the world.
“The world is about the untidy mixture of gray, to inspire a potent kind of thought away from the concrete.”