Many individuals contribute to a museum’s success, including curators, educators, registrars, and exhibition preparators. The museum director serves a critical role in developing the vision for the museum and interacting with the public. The following is an interview with Peter Blume, director of the David Owsley Museum of Art.
Nicole Griffetts: What motivated you to become involved in the museum field?
Peter Blume: I always knew that I would organize my life around art, even from a very early age. I thought that this meant being an artist and as I was facile and could make things with ease, this seemed to be a reasonable career path. I discovered art history in my freshman year in college and took an art history course every semester while following a studio curriculum. Still there was no inkling that there was a career path in museums until Syracuse University instituted a graduate program in museum studies in response to the federal Belmont Report that identified a critical shortage of personnel trained to work in small to mid-size museums of any kind.
NG: How do you decide what works within our collection to display and which to keep in storage?
PB: Usually we determine what goes on exhibition by the quality of a work of art and how it fits thematically in the development of a gallery. Given the depth of this collection, this has led to many poignant decisions about what stays in the dark. In making our collection accessible we have realized that every object on exhibition distracts from every other one on exhibition. I have endeavored to simplify our installations for easier readability by our audiences. If one selected Japanese tea bowl will tell the story of wabi sabi, why exhibit twelve?
NG: What are the advantages of art museums in smaller communities such as Muncie?
PB: Most of my early museum experiences were in upstate New York where I grew up. There were and still are fine art museums in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Albany. Even Canajoharie, where beechnut gum used to be made, has a very good collection of American Impressionist paintings. All of these museums are immensely rewarding to visit and visit again. While the scale and degree of specialization of the museums in the great art capitols of the world are exhilarating they are also exhausting. Next time you are in Italy, skip the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and skip the Accademia in Venice. Go instead to the fine collections of the d’Este family at the Palazzo della Pilotta in Parma or the wonderful Venetian paintings at the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo. They are not crowded and you will have an adventure in smaller Italian cities. The personalities of (regional) museums are often a surprise.
NG: What advice do you have for first-time visitors or those who are unfamiliar with museums?
PB: My advice to first-time visitors to an art museum is not to see too much, to limit your time in the galleries then take a break for coffee or lunch. Too much visual stimulation will dull your senses.
Don’t expect to like everything that you do see, but at the same time I would advise not to make it into a shopping experience: Like it, don’t like it, etc.
Stay tuned for interviews with other staff members as we explore their interests and insights.