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MUSEUM DIRECTOR SEEKS TO BRING SCIENCE TO ART
STANFORD -- A museum director without a museum, Thomas K. Seligman is busy making plans for galleries without boundaries.
The Stanford University Museum of Art, closed since the October 1989 earthquake, is scheduled to reopen in 1995. When it does, Seligman wants to draw on and reflect the entire campus and community - engineering, science and medicine, as well as humanities.
He envisions, for example, a show on robotics, co-sponsored by the Engineering School, with perhaps an accompanying concert presented by the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics.
Why not invite the dance division to choreograph a work to go with such a show? he asked. Or perhaps the communication department would be interested in documenting the effort on film.
Another merger of art and science might spotlight the work of Stanford bioengineers in an exhibit of mechanical body parts, which are not only functional "but also wonderfully articulate pieces of sculpture," Seligman said.
A university museum should take a leading role in educating people, he said, about abstract art for example.
"How do you look at it, what is encoded in the work, what are the references and symbols?" Seligman said. "Many people don't understand contemporary art, and some find it offensive or silly or overblown."
In its extreme form, this alienation contributes to such things as Sen. Jesse Helms' campaign against the National Endowment for the Arts.
Seligman wants to organize shows that will help people grasp what the artist is trying to do, "without belittling the artist or making the exhibit pedantic. We should be able to better inform people so they are equipped to look and understand."
As an illustration, Seligman cited a series of lithographs of a bull done by Roy Lichtenstein, which are among the 650 prints and monotypes by many of the major American artists of the late 20th century recently given to the Stanford Museum by Harry (Hunk) and Mary Margaret (Moo) Anderson.
The series, done in Lichtenstein's comic-book style, starts with an essentially naturalistic depiction of a bull that through six manifestations becomes completely abstracted. With the entire series, "you can see the progression the artist went through to create the abstract image," Seligman said. "Otherwise you would have a hard time understanding why the last drawing was called a bull."
Another form of education would take visitors behind the scenes to see the kinds of operations - cataloging, conserving and storing objects, for example - that are essential to a museum's smooth operation.
Seligman also can educate on the repatriation of cultural property - art that is considered an essential part of a country's national heritage. He serves on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to the President of the United States.
Museum officials have to exercise care both in purchasing art and in accepting gifts of art, he said, to be sure that they don't, even inadvertently, provide a market for illegally excavated and exported works.
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