Critic Edward Rothstein’s Struggles with the ‘Identity Exhibition’

An interesting read by the NY Times critic Edward Rothstein yesterday about an age old problem in the museum industry that the writer calls “identity” but could possibly also be referred to as “perspective.” Taking two recent exhibition openings, one in Queens at the New York Hall of Science and another in Philadelphia with the newly opened President’s House, Rothstein sees that both set out to tell history but wound up revising it by omitting certain pieces of information or focusing too strongly on others. The critic sees this as something he calls ‘the identity museum’ or ‘identity exhibition,’ and serves as a response to the many empire-collects-from-other-cultures-to-demonstrate-their-worldly-might types of museums, and which, he explains, are “designed to affirm a particular group’s claims, outline its accomplishments, boost its pride and proclaim, ‘We must tell our own story!'” Of course with any telling of history, in any medium, it’s impossible to capture every angle and is a constant challenge within the museum industry. It’s a great read and if you find yourself wanting more after reading, know that your local library is likely filled with Benjamin and Foucault.

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