More New Books: Monkeys and Museum Education

Posted in books by Editor on September 27, 2011

Nicole Garnier-Pelle, Anne Forray-Carlier, and Marie Christine Anselm, The Monkeys of Christophe Huet: Singeries in French Decorative Arts (Los Angeles, Getty Publications, 2011), 176 pages, ISBN: 9781606060650,$50.

Although monkeys had been used to mimic man and his foibles in the margins of medieval illuminated manuscripts, a taste for depictions of elegant monkeys developed among the French aristocracy at the end of the seventeenth century. This delightful book traces the evolution of the monkey motif into a distinct genre known as singerie (from the French word “singe” meaning monkey) during the exuberant Rococo period.

The designer and engraver Jean Bérain (1640–1711) was the first to insert monkeys into scenes of Renaissance grotesque decoration, surrounding them with scrolling foliage, fantastical creatures, and Chinese motifs. Claude Audran III (1658–1734) developed this style further with his satirical wall painting of monkeys at Louis XIV’s Château de Marly. But it was Christophe Huet (1700–1759), an acclaimed painter of animals, who produced the best-known surviving examples of singeries for the Château de Chantilly north
of Paris.

Huet’s life and work is the focus of this book. In his whimsical paintings monkeys, acting as surrogates for the château’s aristocratic occupants and guests, are shown singing and dancing, bathing, hunting boar, and sledding on the frozen lake. Huet’s work is placed in context through an examination of lesser-known interiors with singeries decoration as well as monkey motifs in the decorative arts ranging from tapestries and teapots to furniture mounts and fireplace accessories.

Nicole Garnier-Pelle is curator in charge of cultural heritage at the Condé Museum in Chantilly, France. Anne Forray-Carlier is chief curator at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. Marie Christine Anselm is an art historian specializing in harpsichords and their decoration.

N.B.Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell provides a useful review at WornThrough (added 14 October 2011).

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Rika Burnham and Elliott Kai-Kee, Teaching in the Art Museum: Interpretation as Experience (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2011), 192 pages, ISBN: 9781606060582, $30.

At the heart of all good art museum teaching is an effort to bring people and artworks together in meaningful ways. But what constitutes an experience of a work of art? What should be taught and why? What kinds of uniquely valuable experiences are museum educators alone equipped to provide? This book—unlike any other publication currently available—addresses these and myriad other questions and investigates the mission, history, theory, practice, and future prospects of museum education. Every critical issue that has preoccupied the profession throughout its hundred-year history is considered, including lecture- versus conversation-based formats; the place of information in gallery teaching; the relation of art museum teaching to the disciplines of art history, curation, and conservation; the use of questions to stimulate discussion; and the role of playfulness, self-awareness, and institutional context in constructing the visitor’s experience.

The book will prove invaluable for all professional museum educators and volunteer docents as well as museum studies students, art and art history teachers, curators, and museum administrators. The essays distill the authors’ decades of experience as practitioners and observers of gallery teaching across the United States and abroad. They offer a range of perspectives on which everyone involved with art museum education may reflect and in so doing, encourage education to take its proper place at the center of the twenty-first century art museum.

Rika Burnham is head of education at The Frick Collection in New York. Elliott Kai-Kee is an education specialist at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

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