Howard Morphy is a leading authority on Aboriginal art and the director of the Centre for Cross-Cultural Research at The Australian National University. In his article, Seeing Aboriginal Art in the Gallery, he explores a number of issues that I have been writing and thinking about. Here is one idea excerpt:
The theory of a universal aesthetic is intertwined with a theory of viewing that opposes the art gallery to the museum. In this theory works of art should be allowed to speak for themselves. Thus they need their own space for contemplation, and though their meaning and impact will be affected by their relationship to adjacent works, and to the hang as a whole, it is desirable that the act of viewing should take place in space as uncluttered as possible by supplementary information. While the density of hangs varies, as does the amount of information provided, these broad principles apply in art galleries around the world. Museums, on the other hand, are often defined in opposition to art galleries as places where objects are contextualised by information, by accompanying interpretative materials, by dioramas, and by being seen in association with other objects. I think that it is desirable to distinguish the Western concept of ‘seeing things’ as art from the presumption of a universalistic aesthetic and indeed to separate ‘seeing things’ as isolated or decontextualised objects from ‘seeing things’ as art.