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CLS Class Highlight – Controversy and the World of the Museum

controversial exhibits in museum

What class?

LSMS 5423: Controversy and the World of the Museum

Why is it cool?

Controversies in this country are not simply products of the modern world; Controversies caused by art in America actually date back almost 200 years, and the topics range from nudity to gigantism.

For all of the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth, a critical function of the art museum was to provide the visitor with a sense of structure and impose order: chronological, national and stylistic. Since the 1960s, however, museums have undergone unprecedented change. 

Owners and directors of art galleries began deliberately displaying the work of provocative artists, and museums soon became a battleground for the control of expression. Conflicting camps began to clash over stylistically, politically, religiously and sexually sensitive art, expanding the public’s awareness that we live in an increasingly diverse world and pushing “hot buttons” to drive social change.

This class is cool because it broaches a subject that is not often openly discussed. It looks at some of the most controversial exhibitions of the 1990s, including shows about ethnicity, slavery, Freud, the Old West, the dropping of the atomic bomb by the Enola Gay, Jewish genocide and other examples from the museum history of the United States. Students are introduced to case studies from other countries to show how these controversies emerged on a multinational scale.

Students will leave this class with an understanding of how the threat to concepts of morality, pluralism and art itself has changed, and how this can indicate social transformation and increasing democratization of museums. Students will leave knowing well that controversy, though often difficult and stressful, can still be used as a tool to push a society toward enlightenment.

See what else is offered at the College of Liberal Studies.

Mary Wuestewald
Mary Wuestewald specializes in digital and content marketing at OU Outreach. In 2015, she earned a master's degree in Strategic Communication from OU’s College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She currently contributes to Insight magazine, the CLS blog and CLS social media efforts.

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