Tue 19 Oct, 2021
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, studies of ‘primitive’ and ‘tribal’ arts were closely identified with museums and collecting; when the field re-emerged in the early 1970s it was inspired by ethnography and new theorisations of symbolic systems but relatively unconnected with the vast collections of Oceania, African and native American art in the galleries and stores of ethnography museums in Europe and elsewhere. The lecture reflects on the constitution of collections, and in particular on the artefact, proposing that the museum, in dialogue with contemporary art, again has the capacity to constitute a ‘method’, to empower interpretations of art objects and cross-cultural art histories.
Nicholas Thomas has written extensively on art, empire, and Pacific history, and curated exhibitions in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, many in collaboration with contemporary artists. His early book, Entangled Objects (1991) influentially contributed to a revival of material culture studies; with Peter Brunt and other colleagues, he co-authored Art in Oceania: a new history (2012), which was awarded the Art Book Prize. Since 2006, he has been Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, which was shortlisted for the Art Fund’s Museum of the Year Prize in 2013.