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Between authority and autonomy : critically engaged interpretation in the art museum Meszaros, Cheryl


This dissertation proceeds from the premise that the art museum has a singularly important responsibility to carry out in a democratic society. I argue that the museum's task is "to make art public," that is, to move art—and the interpretive apparatus that support and maintain it—from the relatively private spheres of the artist's studio and the academy into the public realm. In a post modern milieu, where art consists just as much of its interpretability as it does in the physicality of the object, the museum is faced with the even more difficult task of making the art object as the range, depth, and breadth of its interpretive repertoires available to the public. I suggest that the museum can take up this public responsibility by creating self-consciously critical spaces of interpretation for the public. In order to create these spaces, the museum must embark upon a critique of the discursive coordinates that have privileged a pedagogy of display and that have installed schooling as the primary interface between art and the public. In so doing the museum can begin to articulate the spaces between its own interpretive authority and the equally undeniable autonomy of the public to make whatever meaning they will in the face of a pedagogy of display. I propose that it is from the spaces in between notions of authorial truth and excessive relativism that the museum can begin to pay heed to the kinds of interpretive repertoires that are currently embedded in its practices and from there begin to develop critically engaged sites of interpretation for the public. I put forward the concepts of "being-singular-plural" and "co-appearance" as productive ways to re-imagine how critically engaged forms of interpretation in the art museum can work intentionally and productively from the spaces between the poles of authority and autonomy.

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