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Diane Mullin is senior curator at the Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota.  She earned her PhD in Art History from Washington University in St. Louis. Mullin was director of Minneapolis College of Art and Design Gallery (2002-2004) where she ran the MCAD/McKnight and MCAD/Jerome fellowship programs. Her exhibitions include “Paul Shambroom: Picturing Power,” “Common Sense: Art and the Quotidian,” and “Piotr Szyhalski: First We Survey Then We Dig.” She has been published in a number of journals including ArtReview, Public Art Review, Art South Africa, Flash Art, New Art Examiner, and caa.reviews. Her essay “Working All the Time: Artistic Citizenship in the 21st Century” was recently published in the anthology A Handbook of Artistic Citizenship, Oxford University Press.

Michel Foucault. The History of Sexuality: Volume 1, An Introduction. First published in 1978. New York: Vintage/Random House, 1990.

When I read Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality: Volume 1, An Introduction in a graduate seminar, it shockingly challenged my world view. The claim that sexuality was a social construction was extremely controversial in the 1980s and took serious intellectual effort to work through for me. This and two other related assertions made by Foucault tested the solidity of my thinking and shaped my intellectual practice going forward.

Foucault’s theory of “the repressive hypothesis” posits that the predominant view of power as repression presents an incomplete model of how power has worked in modern history. In this, Foucault radically altered the simple model of the cultural avant-garde, whose belief in the top down nature of power predominated ways of thinking about resistance and the possibility for change. In addition, Foucault’s use of historical analysis to deeply question any “given,” in this case the idea of “sexuality” as an identity rather than a description of an act, ultimately clarified and sharpened my historical and theoretical practice.

Griselda Pollock. Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism, and the Histories of Art. First published in 1988. London and New York: Routledge, 2003.

Griselda Pollock’s book Vision and Difference refreshingly educated and challenged my feminist practice. Its subtle, nuanced and pragmatic point of view about gender and difference opened avenues for third wave feminists like myself to think beyond exclusively working on correcting the art historical canon by identifying and adding women to its roster. (It also showed me that that work was indeed valuable, but not broad enough.)

Pollock’s adept social critical practice married with speculative theory, while never sacrificing rigorous historical investigation, was a daunting but ultimately richly rewarding model with which to grapple. Using psychoanalysis as a sociological tool, Pollocks’ smart reintroduction of biography along with a focus on the woman artist’s labor and the conditions of that labor was eye opening and inspiring. After reading this book, I had the great fortune to study briefly with Pollock late in my graduate student career, where her methods and commitments were made more forceful and clear, which forever changed my own practice as an art historian and curator.

Exhibition Experiments. Edited by Sharon MacDonald and Paul Basu. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2007.

This book is one of the first on museum and gallery exhibitions that focuses on the practice of exhibition making as a theoretical endeavor that is in a state of continuous becoming. It is a wonderful collection of essays that address museum displays from multiple perspectives and disciplines. Its emphasis on experiment as key to successful and engaged museum exhibitions is both instructive and stimulating. As a museum professional, I appreciate its use of advanced theory to frame important issues in museum practice today. From accommodating new artistic media to interrogating the status of conventional notions of such foundational museum staples as the object and representation, Exhibition Experiments offers not only fine examples of pioneering new strategies of display but also provides imaginative and rigorous models for thinking experimentally about exhibitions. In order to remain relevant in our media saturated present, museum professionals like myself must both engage in the issues raised in these essays and work to build the bibliography Museum Experiments started.