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Under Discussion: The Encyclopedic Museum

Edited by Donatien Grau

In almost thirty interviews, Donatien Grau probes some of the world’s most prominent thinkers and preeminent arts leaders on the past, present, and future of the encyclopedic museum.

Over the last two decades, the encyclopedic museum has been criticized and praised, constantly discussed, and often in the news. Encyclopedic museums are a phenomenon of Europe and the United States, and their locations and mostly Eurocentric collections have in more recent years drawn attention to what many see as bias. Debates on provenance in general, cultural origins, and restitutions of African heritage have exerted pressure on encyclopedic museums, and indeed on all manner of museums. Is there still a place for an institution dedicated to gathering, preserving, and showcasing all the world’s cultures?

Donatien Grau’s conversations with international arts officials, museum leaders, artists, architects, and journalists go beyond the history of the encyclopedic format and the last decades’ issues that have burdened existing institutions. Are encyclopedic museums still relevant? What can they contribute when the Internet now seems to offer the greater encyclopedia? How important is it for us to have in-person access to objects from all over the world that can directly articulate something to us about humanity? The fresh ideas and nuances of new voices on the core principles important to museums in Dakar, Abu Dhabi, and Mumbai complement some of the world’s arts leaders from European and American institutions—resulting in some revealing and unexpected answers. Every interviewee offers differing views, making for exciting, stimulating reading.

Includes interviews with George Abungu, National Museums of Kenya; Kwame Anthony Appiah, New York University; Homi K. Bhabha, Harvard University; Hamady Bocoum, Musée des Civilisationes Noires, Dakar; Irina Bokova, UNESCO; Partha Chatterjee, Columbia University; Thomas Campbell, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco; James Cuno, J. Paul Getty Trust; Philippe de Montebello, New York University; Bachir Souleymane Diagne, Columbia University; Kaywin Feldman, National Gallery of Art; Marc Fumaroli, Collège de France; Massimiliano Gioni, New Museum; Michael Govan, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Camille Henrot, artist; Max Hollein, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Henri Loyrette, Musée du Louvre; Jean Nouvel, architect; Zaki Nusseibeh, United Arab Emirates; Mikhail Piotrovsky, State Hermitage Museum; Grayson Perry, artist; Krzysztof Pomian, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales; Mari Carmen Ramírez, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Fiammetta Rocco, The Economist; Sabyasachi Mukherjee, CSMVS Mumbai; Bénédicte Savoy; Collège de France; Kavita Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Amit Sood, Google Arts & Culture.

Donatien Grau is head of contemporary programs at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. He is the author of Plato in L.A. (Getty, 2018). 

“This collection will interest those researching museum studies, nationalism, national identity, provenance, and repatriation.”
—J. Decker, CHOICE

“Grau’s compilation of interviews essentially asks us not simply to rebuild, reorganize, or reconfigure the encyclopedic museum, but to conceptually reimagine such museums and their place in a globalized civilization divided into contentious nation-states.”
—Ezrha Jean Black, Los Angeles Review of Books

“An interesting opportunity to listen in on the thinking of prominent figures in the field, Under Discussion: The Encyclopedic Museum offers a birds-eye view of their renegotiation of a legacy of the European Enlightenment to serve twenty-first-century populations across the globe.”
—Bernard Zirnheld, La Gazette Drouot

256 pages 
6 x 9 inches
ISBN 978-1-60606-719-2

Getty Publications
Imprint: Getty Research Institute