by Mark W. Rectanus. University of Minnesota Press, January 2020. 328 p. ill. ISBN 9781517908249 (pbk.), $30.00.
Reviewed July 2020
Eboni Jones, Curator of Interpretive Resources, Memorial Art Gallery, firstname.lastname@example.org
As the world navigates the present-day pandemic and protests on police brutality in the black community, museums are facing a compounded challenge of how to thoughtfully engage with visitors within the museum walls and beyond. In Museums Inside Out: Artist Collaborations and New Exhibition Ecologies, author Mark W. Rectanus’ overarching argument is that “collaborative projects launched by museums and artists have become a critical force in rethinking and transforming the contemporary museum landscape.” The author succeeds in sharing some of these projects and asking questions of the reader to consider how they can use the information to collaborate in their own circles of influence.
Rectanus is a professor of German at Iowa State University. He has written previously about museums, artists, and corporate sponsorships in his 2002 monograph Culture Incorporated (University of Minnesota Press). In Museums Inside Out, he explores the working relationship of artists and museums as they expand the boundaries of the museum space and elevate the collective experience and understanding of history, memory, activism, and the environment.
In each chapter, the argument is clearly stated and supported with case studies and examples that illustrate how a thoughtful work of art brings a new awareness to museum practice. The author’s writing style is accessible and easy to follow. The notes section is rich with occasional deeper commentary of works cited. There is a thorough index. The museums that Rectanus chose are primarily international with a range of scopes; science, cultural history, art, university affiliated, and corporate. The book has a readable font size and is well designed. The image reproductions are black and white and well sized throughout.
The strongest arguments are in chapters two and five. In chapter two, “Architectures of Memory: Museums, Artists and Zones,” Rectanus presents a case study of both the Haus der Kunst and the Jewish Museum Munich and how history has shaped their institutions, and what they are doing to create a dialogue about this complicated history between them, artists, and the public. Chapter five, “Museums and the Creative Economy: Soft Power, Financialization, and Activism” is referred to heavily throughout the book and is the most related to the author’s previous publication. Here the author goes in depth about the financial, technical, and political ecosystems of a museum, and how artists and activism are creating performative opportunities.
Museums Inside Out is a timely book for museum studies students and museum professionals alike. It is recommended for museum libraries and academic libraries that support art history, museum studies, or related programs.