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Documenting Curatorial Practices in Dutch Art Museums (1945-Today)

Rachel Esner

The Netherlands has a tradition of innovative curatorial practice in temporary museum exhibitions and collection presentations. Much of this practice – once dismantled – has unfortunately become invisible. This pilot-project represents the first step in creating a database that will make available to art historians, museologists, curators, educators, exhibition designers, and the general public the wealth of photographs and subsidiary material documenting exhibitions and displays in Dutch art museums from 1945 to today. The growing interest in exhibition history gives this project a particular urgency, as does the realization among museum professionals that their archives should be accessible to future generations. Moreover, many current debates surrounding heritage and identity center around museum presentations and their role in creating shared cultural memory. This unique project will make the usually hidden but crucial curatorial processes involved in their realization available for interpretation. Its realization will enable comparative research that will lead to new insights into (Dutch) museum and exhibition history, canon formation, and the history of art.

Starting with the archives of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, the pilot will examine the materials available. Since different kinds of institutions generate different kinds of documents, a comparison will be made with the (digitized) archives of the Van Abbe Museum. The aim is to produce research questions and a glossary of terms that can serve as the basis for the digital infrastructure. These will be presented at two expert meetings with museum curators, archivists and academics, and the outcomes reported in a scholarly article.