“Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial,”
Bob Dylan, from Visions of Johanna, 1966
In 1986, when I first went to work at a museum (MoMA in New York), my husband gave me a desk plaque inscribed with this quotation by Bob Dylan, and it has sat on every museum desk I’ve occupied since. Each time I see it, it reminds me that museums are an arena where ideas about history, culture, and social life are in play. Dylan continually admonishes me to question the role of the art museum and my responsibilities within it.
As the new director of Carnegie Museum of Art—and as a new museum director—I’m eager to consider these and other issues with you, the museum’s dedicated patrons, Members, and friends. This is the first in a series of informal monthly e-messages in which I’ll discuss everything from current issues in the local, national, and international art world; to discoveries in art scenes in Brazil, Mexico, or Korea; to important new acquisitions such as Haegue Yang’s Series of Vulnerable Arrangements—Domestics of Community (installed in the galleries in January). One of the great pleasures of museum work is living with and thinking about art. I’d like to share that sense of gratification with you.
Carnegie Museum of Art is a unique institution: Take its impressive Hall of Architecture, which contains full-sized casts of ancient and medieval monuments. A real treasure, it speaks with great clarity about cultural values in 1895, when Andrew Carnegie first opened the Carnegie Institute. Seventy-seven years later, when Dylan wrote Visions of Johanna, the belief in eternal verities embodied in Carnegie’s creation had eroded. In the fast-paced, globalized environment of today, the very notion of permanence upon which museums are based is challenged, and as we learn more about other cultures, we, of necessity, question the idea of universal values. Institutions such as Carnegie Museum of Art must protect their legacies while looking beyond them into a future that may accept or reject their founding principals. So, what should the 21st-century museum stand for? What is its public role?
As we attempt to answer these questions, we at Carnegie Museum of Art can be flexible. We are far enough from major cultural centers to experiment, and close enough to be relevant. Every few years, our historical collections share space with the International—the oldest, largest, and most important international contemporary art survey in the United States—which brings visitors from around the world. Our galleries are intertwined with those of a fine natural history museum, allowing for unusual and creative interdisciplinary programming. We have a strong and growing local arts community, and we have the dynamic city of Pittsburgh, which has reinvented itself as a center for advanced technologies.
Carnegie Museum of Art is in an exceptional position to shape and respond to the future of the field. I look forward to sharing our work with you.
Until next time,
The Henry J. Heinz II Director of Carnegie Museum of Art