Subversion within the “exhibitionary complex”
The “exhibitionary complex” is a phrase coined by Tony Bennett (see below) to describe the set of institutions that reinforce state power through the practice of exhibition. In Bennett’s account, a curious phenomenon takes place within these spaces: Museums are so closely linked with canonicity and power that even radical ideas, once placed in the museum context, become tamed and made safe — simply by virtue of existing within the museum! Is this conundrum resolvable? Or is there no escape from the exhibitionary complex?
- Synchronous discussion: 1:30pm-2:30pm PST
- Guest lecture: Tyree Boyd-Pates, Autry Museum of the American West, 3pm–4pm PST
- Begin assignment six together: 4pm–5pm PST
Read and watch for this class:
- Bennett, Tony. “The Exhibitionary Complex.” New Formations 4 (Spring 1988): 73–102. (This is an annotated version of the article that I hope will make it easier to understand.)
- 🔒 Wilson, Fred, and Howard Halle. “Mining the Museum.” Grand Street, no. 44 (1993): 151. https://doi.org/10.2307/25007622.
- Caballero, Cecilia. “Mothering While Brown in White Spaces, Or, When I Took My Son to Octavia Butler’s Exhibit.” Chicana M(other)work, August 23, 2017.
- Laura Poitras and Forensic Architecture, “Triple-Chaser” (video).
Extras you might find interesting
- Clair Wintle’s article for British Art Studies, “Mapping Decolonisation: Exhibition Floor Plans and the ‘End’ of Empire at the Commonwealth Institute,” applies Bennett’s exhibitionary complex to a really interesting reading of a museum floor plan.
- Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby brilliantly pushes against the limits of the exhibitionary complex, not only in its physical presence but also by forcing us to confront the callousness of some viewers’ responses.
- Kerr Houston, “How Mining the Museum Changed the Art World,” Bmore Art. Wilson makes some fascinating remarks about how he “coerced” museum visitors into having a specific experience. He also talks about the response of the Historical Society: “It was kind of overwhelming for them…It was a good thing, but they couldn’t stay the same; that was the problem for them. You couldn’t put the genie back in the bottle.”
Guest speaker: Tyree Boyd-Pates
TYREE BOYD-PATES is a Los Angeles-based museum curator, historian, and public speaker with a career in history spanning across multiple disciplines.
Tyree started his career as a Professor of Africana studies at California State University Dominguez Hills, where he taught introductory courses into the discipline and the Harlem Renaissance. Simultaneously, he served as a leading contributor for Huffington Post’s Black Voices and was selected to Fusion’s Rise Up: Be Heard fellowship program for his work in capturing marginalized voices of southern Los Angeles, California as a writer and activist. After a series of successful events, particularly regarding his digital advocacy, community building, and social media savviness, Tyree pivoted into museums as a History Curator and Public Program Manager at the California African American Museum.
Tyree’s critically acclaimed history exhibitions have attracted thousands and have been featured in TIME, The New York Times, Vogue, Hollywood Reporter, Fast Company, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, and many other outlets. Tyree has also organized and facilitated popular public programming that has featured conversations with Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Ava Duvenay, Ruth Carter, Terry Crews, Rakim, Chuck D, and KRS-One. Additionally, Tyree regularly consults Fortune 500 Companies on Black History and has supported major museum exhibitions and projects for the Smithsonian, the Getty Museum, the Broad museum, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Recently, Tyree joined The Autry Museum of the American West as the Associate Curator of Western History. At the Autry, he organizes History exhibitions to stimulate and engage communities that have been omitted from American history in the West through exhibits, programming, and partnerships using a cultural and creative lens.