In speaking at Harvard about “dOCUMENTA (13),” Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the exhibit’s artistic director and the Edith Kreeger Wolf Distinguished Visiting Professor at Northwestern University, found great meaning in a piece of art “the size of an iPod.”
The 2012 show was based in Germany with installations in Egypt, Afghanistan, and Canada that attracted scores of visitors. One installation featured several small Bactrian princess statues originating from the northern part of what is now Afghanistan and dating to 2000 B.C. Curators know of only 80 such statues in the world.
Each princess is unique. The composite figurines are made up of separately carved stones. The individual sections, which together give each princess form, are not bound by glue or secured by any other mechanism. Balance is the crucial factor.
History and equilibrium were also fundamental to the theme of the larger exhibit, Christov-Bakargiev said. Those concerns helped address the question of connectivity and separation, how to “make something that has a togetherness, and at the same time is a centrifugal structure outward.”
Christov-Bakargiev spoke at Harvard on Wednesday as the inaugural lecturer of a new program by the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture and the Harvard Art Museums. The joint effort will focus on innovative curatorial practice, offering seminars and a public lecture annually.
“One of the most important ideas behind the formation of the new partnership of the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture was to develop programming for both Harvard and public audiences that bridges the historic and contemporary intellectual domains of the separate museums and fosters dialogue among them,” said Jane Pickering, executive director of the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture. “This new initiative is a wonderful beginning to such an effort and inviting a world-renowned curator like Carolyn, who thinks creatively across the disciplines, provides a fantastic opportunity for us to explore new avenues to achieve this goal.”
“The Harvard Art Museums, as part of their teaching and research mission, seek to inspire thoughtful discourse and debate around the importance of art in society,” said Thomas W. Lentz, the Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard Art Museums. “All Harvard’s museums aim to emphasize the role that original works of art, specimens, and artifacts play in an advanced education.”
He continued: “We expect that these annual seminars will inspire students and young scholars from diverse fields of knowledge and will encourage new collaboration among all Harvard museums.”
“Together the Harvard Museums hold millions of objects that represent the natural and cultural world, from anthropology to zoology,” said Peter L. Galison, Joseph Pellegrino University Professor and Director of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments. “We want to use these collections to provoke the way we think about curating objects, to link collections to teaching and research at the university, and to bring to the broader public new ideas about how museums could bridge the sciences and the arts.”
In addition to Christov-Bakargiev’s lecture, seminars were hosted across Harvard museums — Adolphus Busch Hall at the Harvard Art Museums, the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, and the Harvard Museum of Natural History — through Thursday. The seminars allowed students from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School of Education, and the Graduate School of Design to join invited faculty and members of the community in conversations about questions raised by Christov-Bakargiev as well as issues connected to curating objects across disciplinary divides.