Designing the Museum: Associate Curator Shawn Yuan at the AAM Annual Conference

This week’s post is by our Associate Curator and Gallery Director Shawn Yuan, who recently attended the annual conference of the American Association of Museums, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. AAM is the national organization for museum professionals, and is responsible for providing guidance about museum standards, best practices, resources, and networking for museums of all kinds and sizes. The annual conference is a great way to get a snapshot of the state of the field—as well as to connect with friends and colleagues from across the country!

From April 29 to May 2, I attended the annual conference of American Association of Museums in Minneapolis. This is my third time of joining the conference, and, as always, I have found it is quite helpful and enlightening in my pursuit of career development.

The four-day conference offered hundreds of sessions and panel discussions, covering almost every important topic and challenge faced by today’s museum professionals. The conference provided wonderful opportunities for networking as well—people reconnect with previous colleagues, speak with curators whose work has been known in the field, and meet with leaders from other museums. In conjunction with the conference, a Museum Expo was organized, showcasing the latest technologies and strategies for presenting exhibitions and supportive programming. Being involved in the process of planning the OSU Museum of Art, I benefited greatly from visiting this Expo and familiarized myself with state-of-the-art gallery and storage tools, equipment, and materials.

The main entrance of MIA screened by a series of towering Ionic columns and flanked by two large Chinese fu dogs can be interpreted as a symbol of its encyclopedic collections. Photograph by Shawn Yuan.

In this conference, I was honored to serve as the co-chair for the panel Creative Practices in Education and Public Programs in the U.S. and China. As AAM becomes an international organization, each annual conference has attracted a growing number of overseas attendees, in particular, museum leaders from China. This panel offered both Chinese and American museum colleagues an insight about how creative educational programming was developed in China and U.S. I am proud to represent the OSU Museum of Art, an academic art museum, and informed the audience about what we have achieved. Panelists in this session also included senior staff from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., Smithsonian, and the Crow Collection of Asian Art in Dallas.

Ken Krenz, MIA Associate Registrar, is giving a tour of the museum’s state of the art storage. Photograph by Shawn Yuan.

Another highlight of attending this conference is that I joined a tour of the art storage of Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). I gained a rare glimpse of how the collection is managed. As one of the nation’s leading cultural institutions, with over 80,000 pieces of objects in its permanent collection, MIA art storage certainly sheds light on how we should design our own in the Postal Plaza. The MIA registrar spoke about the facility. In particular, he pointed out the successes and challenges of working with the MIA’s current storage. Not surprisingly, he emphasized how critical it is to have a large enough and well functioning facility for a new museum. Though not visible to the public, poorly designed storage can eventually cripple the entire museum’s functionality. To correct problematic storage after the museum is in operation will certainly be very expensive.

This cabinet coated with glaze provides an ideal condition for storing the Museum’s precious Asian scrolls. Photograph by Shawn Yuan.

While in Minneapolis, I could not have missed the Weisman Art Museum in the University of Minnesota and the Walker Art Center. Both museums are designed by internationally acclaimed architects. The post-modernist buildings with geometric outlines, covered with silvery metal sheets render the two museums as landmarks that few can miss. However, what makes the two institutions a cultural treasure for the city is the stimulating exhibitions of contemporary art on view. Regardless of your own opinions about the exhibitions, all provoke you to ponder and question the art created in our own time. Visiting the two museums, I immersed myself in experiencing all details—lighting, labels, installation layout, museums shops, and so on. I was always wondering what I can learn and what I may do differently for our OSU Museum of Art.

This Jar of Sunflower Seeds by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is featured in the exhibition Lifelike at the Walker Art Center. This small group of hand-made and identical-looking porcelain sunflower seeds is just a part of millions, symbolizing the suppression of individuality and freedom of expression in China. Photograph by Shawn Yuan.

The annual conference of AAM is only an enriching and stimulating experience when people attend it with some goals and proactively explore it—not only the conference itself, but the vibrant cultural scene of the hosting city.

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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