November 5, 2018 - RISD Museum - Why Art Museums? The Unfinished Work of Alexander Dorner
November 5, 2018

RISD Museum

Publication Cover. Courtesy RISD Museum. 

Why Art Museums? The Unfinished Work of Alexander Dorner
Edited by Sarah Ganz Blythe and Andrew Martinez

RISD Museum
224 Benefit Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02903
United States
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 10am–5pm

T +1 401 454 6500

risdmuseum.org
Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Artsy

Why Art Museums? The Unfinished Work of Alexander Dorner
Edited by Sarah Ganz Blythe and Andrew Martinez

RISD Museum
224 Benefit Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02903
United States
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 10am–5pm

T +1 401 454 6500

risdmuseum.org
Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Artsy

Why Art Museums? The Unfinished Work of Alexander Dorner
Edited by Sarah Ganz Blythe and Andrew Martinez
Co-published with MIT Press. Purchase

Alexander Dorner (1893–1957) became director of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum in 1938 and immediately began a radical makeover of the galleries, drawing on theories he had developed in collaboration with modernist artists during his directorship of the Provinzialmuseum in Hanover, Germany. Dorner formed close relationships with the Bauhaus artists and made some of the first acquisitions of works by Lázló Moholy-Nagy, Kazimir Malevich, El Lissitzky, and others. The Nazi regime actively opposed Dorner's work, and he fled Germany for the United States. The saturated museum environments Dorner created sought to inspire wonderment and awe, immersing visitors in the look and feel of a given period. Music, literature, and gallery talks (offered through a pioneering audio system) attempted to recreate the complex worlds in which the objects once operated. At the RISD Museum, Dorner clashed with RISD officials and Providence society and contended with wartime anti-German bias. His tenure at RISD was brief but highly influential.

Why Art Museums? considers Dorner’s legacy and influence in art history, education, and museum practice. It includes the first publication of a 1938 speech made by Dorner at Harvard University as well as galleys of Dorner’s unpublished manuscript “Why Have Art Museums?,” both of which explore the meaning and purpose of museums and art in society. The contextualizing essays make clear the relevance of Dorner’s ideas about progressive education, public access to art and design, and the shaping of environments for experience and learning. Andrew Martinez chronicles Dorner’s significant and often challenging changes to museum practices—methods that not only worked against established notions of display and spectatorship, but were often at odds with typical approaches to administration and stewardship. Rebecca Uchill charts Dorner’s reading of history as a “march of dimensions” that informed his refashioning of galleries that could engender a spectrum of experiences of perspective. Dietrich Neumann places the innovative 1939 exhibition Rhode Island Architecture—which Dorner organized with architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock—in relation to the burgeoning field of architectural exhibitions and growing recognition of industrialization and progress in the local built environment. Daniel Harkett explores how the initial commitment to Dorner’s campaign was eroded by issues of class and ethnically based suspicion as he became seen as a disruptive outsider. Sarah Ganz Blythe investigates Dorner’s methods of fixing change, which meant integrating diverse cultures into reductive histories and pinning the role of objects on the production of experiences that would help create engaged citizens committed to progress.  

 

Book launch
Thursday, November 15
6-8pm, RISD Museum

In 1938, German exile Alexander Dorner became director of the RISD Museum, where he immediately began applying radical theories he had developed in collaboration with modernist artists during his directorship of the Provinzialmuseum in Hanover. Dorner’s mark remains evident in the RISD Museum galleries. Join the authors for a tour followed by a salute to his unfinished work. 

Free. Registration requested.

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