Intriguing Stories of Science Arrive at Broad Museum

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Thursday, January 30, 2020, 4:45 pm
By: 
Christopher A. Wardell

According to Broad Museum spokesperson Morgan Butts, the taxidermy parakeet, above, is a symbolic stand-in for Humboldt’s Parrot, a specific specimen that the curator, David Ayala-Alfonso, viewed on a trip to the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin. (Photo courtesy of the MSU Broad Museum)

If you consider yourself an art aficionado with a knack for the esoteric and mysterious nature of how certain pieces of artwork are obtained, the MSU Broad Museum has an exhibit for you.

The museum debuted a new traveling exhibit, “Never Spoken Again: Rogue Stories of Science and Collections,” on Saturday, Jan. 25. According to the museum’s website, the exhibition “reflects on the birth of modern collections, the institutions that sustain them, and their contingent origin stories.”

The mixed-medium exhibit runs until mid-August.

Curated by the Colombian-born David Ayala-Alfonso, the exhibit attempts to piece together stories behind the art, which often reveal the varied and random histories of their procurement. The exhibit features pieces from different Michigan State University collections, bringing together different cultures, political ideologies, and iconography.

Morgan Butts, director of communications for the museum, said the Broad was the perfect place to showcase the exhibit.

“This exhibition is a great fit for Michigan State because it takes a critical approach to exploring the practice of collecting and producing knowledge,” Butts said. “Michigan State has a variety of campus collections — from the MSU Museum to the Library’s Special Collections to our very own permanent collection — and as a top-tier research institution, is a site of public knowledge and education. This exhibition asks us to not only acknowledge our history of compiling objects and knowledge, but also to reimagine more inclusive ways of documenting our histories and futures alike.”

International array of artists

In addition to being curated by Ayala-Alfonso, the exhibit is produced by Independent Curators International (ICI), and features an international array of artists including: Morehshin Allahyari, Maria Thereza Alves, François Bucher, Giuseppe Campuzano, Sofía de Grenade, Alia Farid, Laura Huertas Millán, Duane Linklater, Ulrik López, Carlos Motta, Erkan Öznur, David Peña Lopera, Claudia Peña Salinas, Michael Rakowitz, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, Reyes Santiago Rojas, Daniel R. Small, Felipe Steinberg, and Fred Wilson.

According to the museum’s website, "artists in the exhibition make use of the languages of museum display and ethnography to uncover stories of colonial exploitation, myths, fake currencies, war games, and the slow violence of systematic racism — all historical underpinnings of modern collections. They examine not only collected objects and the systems of distribution that facilitate their circulation, but also the subjects of study they trade in. Their work thus encourages us to consider our own agency in documenting and reimagining our histories and futures, alike.”

“David [Ayala-Alfonso] proposed the exhibition through a new series of programs, generated with the support of the Hartfield Foundation which is aimed at providing opportunities to alumni of ICI’s Curatorial Intensive as they move through the stages of their career,” Butts said. “His exhibition is particularly exciting because it is the first exhibition curated for ICI from an alumnus of their Curatorial Intensive. Our Associate Curator, Steven L. Bridges, is also an alumnus of this program.”

Many applied for the chance to curate the exhibit, but Ayala-Alfonso ultimately rose to the top.

“David’s exhibition proposal was selected from a large pool of applicants affiliated with Independent Curators International, which was realized through their support and coordination,” Bridges said.

MSU Museum shares a significant symbol

The collaborative process with the MSU Museum is another highlight of the exhibit. One piece involves a mysterious taxidermy parakeet, which is actually a stand-in for a parrot.

“One of the things that excites me the most is that we’ve worked with our friends at the MSU Museum to incorporate an item from their collection to further root the exhibition in the local context,” Butts said. “The piece is a taxidermy parakeet and is actually very significant to the show. The bird is a symbolic stand-in for Humboldt’s Parrot, a specific specimen that the curator, David, viewed on a trip to the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin. They told David a number of stories about the significance of the parrot, how it was acquired, and how it came to exist in this particular museum. These stories were woven with violence and questionable transactions, and informed more by word-of-mouth than anything. So, David really uses this story of Humboldt’s Parrot as a case study to illustrate the complicated history of collecting.”

While the history of collecting art is complicated, viewing the exhibit is not and people will have a chance to view it until August 20. After that, the exhibit and its mysterious will travel to another museum.

For this exhibit, the Broad is the inaugural museum, which is important to Butts and Michigan State’s visibility as an arts community.

“A traveling exhibition is one that is created to tour multiple venues by an outside organization,” Butts said. “Traveling exhibitions provide us with a great opportunity for us to bring new curatorial voices into the museum.”

The MSU Broad Museum is open from noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, admission is free. For more information, visit broadmuseum.msu.edu.

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