Ivan Gaskell, professor of cultural history and museum studies at the Bard Graduate Center, New York City, will discuss the display of objects in museum spaces in a lecture on Thursday, Feb. 20, at 6 p.m., in the Overlook in the Wellin Museum. The lecture is free and open to the public.
At the Bard Graduate Center, Gaskell runs the Focus Project, an ongoing series of experimental exhibitions and publications emerging from faculty research and teaching. Mobilizing non-written traces of the past, he addresses intersections among history, art history, anthropology, and philosophy. Besides writing case studies ranging from seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish paintings, Native American baskets and Congo textiles, he works on underlying philosophical questions.
A cultural historian, Gaskell looks at what it might mean for things, both ostensibly natural and artificial, to have life. Can certain human-made things have life in some sense, and how might such things relate to the sacred or numinous realms, especially when exhibited in museums and elsewhere? Considering a wide range of material from various cultures and time periods—Niitsítapi (Blackfoot) shirts, Mi’Kmaq baskets, Hawai’ian heiau (temple) figures, Russian Orthodox icons, and Spanish Roman Catholic statues—Gaskell proposes variable worlds in which the character of life itself varies, and the pertinent question for those concerned with exhibiting the sacred is not “What is the sacred?” so much as “When is the sacred?”
While at Cambridge University, Gaskell edited a 10-book series of multi-author volumes, Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and the Arts, with the late Salim Kemal. He organized numerous experimental exhibitions at Harvard University, where he taught and curated between 1991 and 2011. Gaskell is the author, editor or co-editor of 11books, and has contributed to numerous journals and edited volumes in history, art history and philosophy.
His lecture is part of the “Exhibiting the Sacred” series, co-sponsored by Hamilton’s Art, Art History, Religious Studies and History departments, and the Wellin Museum.