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Synopses & Reviews
A Place That Matters Yet unearths the little-known story of Johannesburgandrsquo;s MuseumAfrica, a South African history museum that embodies one of the most dynamic and fraught stories of colonialism and postcolonialism, its life spanning the eras before, during, and after apartheid. Sara Byala, in examining this story, sheds new light not only on racism and its institutionalization in South Africa but also on the problems facing any museum that is charged with navigating colonial history from a postcolonial perspective.and#160;Drawing on thirty years of personal letters and public writings by museum founder John Gubbins, Byala paints a picture of a uniquely progressive colonist, focusing on his philosophical notion of andldquo;three-dimensional thinking,andrdquo; which aimed to transcend binaries and thusandmdash;quite explicitlyandmdash;racism. Unfortunately, Gubbins died within weeks of the museumandrsquo;s opening, and his hopes would go unrealized as the museum fell in line with emergent apartheid politics. Following the museum through this transformation and on to its 1994 reconfiguration as a post-apartheid institution, Byala showcases it as a richandmdash;and problematicandmdash;archive of both material culture and the ideas that surround that culture, arguing for its continued importance in the establishment of a unified South Africa.
and#8220;Paris Primitive is a delicious combination ofand#160;art, anthropology, and politics, as well as an intricate dissection of French alliances and institutions. Along the way, in this well-written and fast-paced narrative, Sally Price also illuminates the ethics of acquisition and display and the battle between aesthetics and ethnography. What a tale! Everyone involved in cultural representation should read this book.and#8221;
and#8220;At once wry and serious, Paris Primitive offers a unique backstage look at the art world, French cultural politics, and the shifting value of other peopleand#8217;s artifacts.and#160;The result combines a captivating story with rich anthropological analysis.and#160;If only all museums had a book like this!and#8221;
and#8220;Paris Primitive offers a wide-ranging, informed, and historically well-grounded analysis of the ideology that undergirds French cultural identity and its management of difference. Writing deftly and lightly, with an eye for the utterly telling anecdote, Sally Price avoids the pretensions that could overwhelm such a study and allows us to comprehend the building of a museum as an eminently human enterprise.and#8221;
“It takes a muckraker to piece together such a sordid tale, and Price is up to the challenge. By turns breezy, gossipy, provocative, insouciant, and aggravating, she is generally perspicacious, entertaining, and enlightening.”
“A crackling good story.”
“This is a fascinating, entertaining, and troubling book. I read it in one (transatlantic) sitting and recommend it highly.”
“A riveting story of how museums literally become pieces of a board game of professional and political one-upmanship. All of the major issues confronting France (and Europe) today are present in this short history. . . . A superb lens through which to see the debates about ‘otherness’ and current French preoccupations with it.”
and#8220;Byala shows in sharp detail that the nature of power redefines the nature of exhibits and their format.and#8221;
and#8220;There could be no better place than South Africa with its turbulent colonial history, past institutionalized racism, and postcolonial conditions that want to forgive the past to carry out such an informed study. Byala demonstrates the power of culture in understanding the history of people and a modern nation, however problematic this may be. . . . This book achieves high standards of academic excellence and offers a critical analysis of an institution, a person, and a country within a rich theoretical framework. Byala succeeds in opening up hidden histories in an arena of political and cultural interplay that has created and shaped one of the great and complex nations in Africa. It is a must read for heritage professionals, political scientists, and those interested in the politics of heritage in nation-making.and#8221;
andldquo;There is something fresh, rewarding, and even courageous in Sara Byalaandrsquo;s approach in A Place That Matters Yet. She not only manages to reconstruct the history of MuseumAfrica but also demonstrates quite clearly that none of the new museums in South Africa today were created without some institutional (or bureaucratic) connection to it. In other words, the cutting-edge community of new historiography museums that have so captured the imagination of recent scholarship did not appear in an institutional vacuum but rather must be understood and framed within the context of a deeper museological past. It is this longue durandeacute;e that Byala gives us in A Place That Matters Yet, and we should be grateful to her for having done so in such an elegant and extraordinarily interesting way.andrdquo;
and#8220;Sara Byala has given us a meticulously detailed and researched account of the history and transformation of a single institution: MuseumAfrica. In so doing, she reminds the reader of the value of micro-history as a tool for comprehending the broader issues raised by museological developments in South Africa today.and#8221;
and#8220;Byalaand#8217;s book is a significant study of how a major cultural institution developed and changed over the last century. Her careful research makes the most of a rich archive of letters, manuscripts, and museum records, supplemented with interviews for recent periods. She particularly brings insight into the ways that Gubbins and MuseumAfrica can illuminate shifting liberal politics and white identities, the nature of colonial and postcolonial institutions, and the heritage landscape that has developed in recent decades.and#8221;
In 1990 Jacques Chirac, the future president of France and a passionate fan of non-European art, met Jacques Kerchache, a maverick art collector with the lifelong ambition of displaying African sculpture in the holy temple of French culture, the Louvre. Together they began laying plans, and ten years later African fetishes were on view under the same roof as the Mona Lisa
. Then, in 2006, amidst a maelstrom of controversy and hype, Chirac presided over the opening of a new museum dedicated to primitive art in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower: the Musand#233;e du Quai Branly.
Paris Primitive recounts the massive reconfiguration of Parisand#8217;s museum world that resulted from Chiracand#8217;s dream, set against a backdrop of personal and national politics, intellectual life, and the role of culture in French society. Along with exposing the machinations that led to the MQBand#8217;s creation, Sally Price addresses the thorny questions it raises about the legacy of colonialism, the balance between aesthetic judgments and ethnographic context, and the role of institutions of art and culture in an increasingly diverse France. Anyone with a stake in the myriad political, cultural, and anthropological issues raised by the MQB will find Priceand#8217;s account fascinating.
About the Author
Sally Price is the Duane A. and Virginia S. Dittman Professor of American Studies and Anthropology at the College of William and Mary. She is the author or coauthor of more than fifteen books, including Primitive Art in Civilized Places, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
Table of Contents
Where to Beginand#160;
JACQUES AND JACQUES
The Primal Moment
The Presidentand#8217;s Secret Garden
The Passionate Connoisseur
MUSEUMS IN THE CITY OF LIGHT
The State of Culture
The Grandest Museum in the Worldand#160;
THE MOVE TO THE LOUVRE
Down with Hierarchy
A Dream Come True
Artifactual Question Marksand#160;
THE ORGAN DONORS
Trouble at the Trocadand#233;ro
Colonies and Crocodiles
AN ANTI-PALACE ON THE SEINE
The Turn to Concrete
Preparing the Transplants
Behind the Hairy Wall
Glass, Gardens, and Aborigines
A River Runs Through It
Art of Darkness
Epilogue: Cultures in Dialogue?and#160;
An American in Paris