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IDSEMUG 2071 - Vernacular Museums

Intertidal detritus, taxidermied Torah beasts, DIY protest banners, disembodied statue noses, endangered seeds: these are all real collections displayed in “vernacular museums”— communal, unofficial, and often playful anti-institutions that emerge in out-of-the-way places like barns, shipping containers, and elevator shafts. Like vernacular language—everyday forms of speech that remain outside a standardized dialect—vernacular museums are informal, and their organizers resist typical museum organizational structures to preserve and care for curiously specific collections and their communities. In this class, we will explore how knowledge, practice, and affect are produced between people and things in vernacular museums. How might we account for their multiplying as sites of memory, spaces of radical practice, and laboratories for imagined futures? What are their connections with early modern Wunderkammer, cabinets of curiosity, artist-led social practice, natural history dioramas, and the corporate pop-up display? Reading across anthropology, curatorial studies, and critical museology, we will consider this vernacular moment in the history of museums through the work of Walter Benjamin, Fiona Candlin, Marianne Moore, Kathleen Stewart, and Michael Taussig, among others. We will also analyze museums and artist projects including the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the Natural History Museum, the Museum of Longing and Failure, BUSH Gallery, Mmuseumm, and the Museum of Everyday Life.
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