Opening reception: Thursday, 9/14, 6-8 pm
Curators: Catherine Acosta,
Yachen Han, Adrian Madlener, Jeffery McCullough, Annaleigh McDonald, Binglei Yan
Academic Advisor: Glenn Adamson
We live in uncommonly disputatious times. American political discourse
is as polarized as it has ever been, to the extent that expressions of conflict
– based on class, ideology, party, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation,
geography, and other forms of identity – are increasingly overwhelming other
forms of public discourse. The sense of opposition is further exaggerated by
new mass media and social technologies.
Objects of Dispute
considers this situation of mass disagreement through the focusing lens of
objects. It is based on a course taught by Dr. Glenn Adamson in the fall term of
2016 in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies M.A. program–
coincidentally, right as the American presidential election occurred. The
course examined the role that material culture studies may be able to play in
an environment of heated debate and misinformation. Rather than adopting the
historian’s usual stance of objectivity and detachment, students looked closely
at objects from the American past that relate directly to contemporary
The goal was to surface narratives through the study of these
artifacts, and ideally, to find ways of opening up multi-textured discursive
space that oppositional models do not allow. In addition, the class thought
about the value of the fixed object – a static fact in the world – as an anchor
for interpretation; and by extension, the value of the material culture
historian as a public intellectual. This exhibition follows the course closely.
Students and faculty selected objects that seem to them relevant to
contemporary issues, and examine them as thought experiments from that point of
The curators invite you not only to consider the case studies presented
here, but also the broader framework of the project. Do you agree that
historical objects can serve a useful purpose in the context of contemporary
debate? What methodological problems arise when undertaking that challenge? And
if you were to choose an object from the past as a way of confronting the
present, what would it be?
This exhibition was made possible, in part, with support from the
Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Parsons School of Design: School of Art and
Design History and Theory and the History of Design and Curatorial Studies M.A.
66 Fifth Ave., Ground FloorArnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries
Open daily 12 noon - 6:00 p.m., Thursdays late until 8:00 p.m. Closed all major holidays.
Sheila C. Johnson Design Center
The New School