The Internet - Your Best Friend or Worst Enemy

I must say that I have been obsessed with computers since I first sat down in front of a 486 in 1984. If you are old enough to understand that last sentence, then you know something about dos command lines and the maddening restrictions imposed by the magical number 642. For those of you that wonder what planet I come from suffice it to say we live in a far better and maybe far worse world now than we did then. I am delighted that I no longer need to rely on a talking head to formulate my political beliefs.. I can now just go on You Tube and see for myself exactly what the politician said then that they are denying now. That is a powerful tool. The ability to research almost any subject easily makes it possible for anyone who wants to invest a little time to be more informed. That's the good side that Google and the many other search engines provide. The bad side is that misinformation lives forever. In the past if you did or said something dumb, sooner or later the deed would be forgotten and you could move on. Not so now and this is in my judgment troubling. Awareness of this fact gives us an added responsibility to speak up when you know something to be wrong. That is the message.

In my 36 year career I have met some people that I respect for their commitment to their jobs under difficult conditions. Recently a blog posted a piece that implied the former curator of Oceanic and Pre-Columbian art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art was at best a little oblivious and at the very worst incompetent. The blogger is not important but if someone in the future is searching the Internet on Molly Huber I hope they find this piece as well.. because she deserves the respect. The blogger wrote:

"When the curators at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) selected 20 pieces from their collection to display as part of their “In Pursuit of a Masterpiece” exhibit, Molly Huber selected a fake. And one that wasn’t very good, either.

But it was a fake that fooled everyone for years, a fake that toured museums in Europe. The statue was of a figure first made famous at Chichen Itza known as a “Chac Mool.”
According to Huber, the MIA acquired the statue in 1947. The museum exhibited the statue for years as an example of pre-Columbian artistry. In the 1950s it loaned the statue to museums in Rome, Berlin and other European cities.

Its true nature was only revealed in the mid-1970s, when research by the first curator of what was then called the primitive art department showed it to be a 20th-century fake, created with intent to deceive and likely modeled loosely after a Chac mool from the Chichen Itza in the collection of Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology,” Huber wrote in the new exhibition’s online catalog.

The original Chac Mool found at Chichen Itza.

Huber, until recently, was the MIA’s assistant curator of African, Oceanic and Native American Art. She did not explain, at least not in any online materials, why she selected the Chac Mool and unfortunately, she is no longer working at the institute and therefore unavailable to answer questions about it. But if you happen to be in Minneapolis and would like to see the fake that fooled everyone for decades, drop by the MIA."
If the blogger had taken the time to research the Internet on this exhibition, he or she would have learned that inclusion of this sculpture was done to make the point that ongoing research in a museum is critically essential to fulfilling the responsibility of the museum:

"...The biggest factor was the lack of a pre-Columbian expert on staff, someone who would have known not only that the style and materials are wrong, but also that, compared to authentic examples, the carving is clumsy and awkward. When I first saw this sculpture in storage many years ago, it seemed almost laughably bad, and now it's hard to believe so many were taken in by it for so long. The sculpture remains valuable, however, as an example of the importance of ongoing research to determine the authenticity of even well-respected artworks "
Molly Huber, Assistant Curator, African, Oceanic, and Native American Art

So obviously Huber chose this object because it was a fake and it illustrated an important point. And by the way Huber did include in this show a superb Veracruz yoke from the the collection that is certainly authentic.

Maybe the more important point is do our museums in fact really honestly pursue the issues of authenticity within their collections or do they just offer political lip service to a serious problem. Museums and their problems do not lend themselves to simplistic descriptions or easy solutions. Any museum director must carefully weigh all the implications and ramifications of any decision.;however, there is not much that is more fundamental to the success of an institution than their credibility in representing their collections honestly. As an important teaching tool, I wish more museums would openly display their fakes as a teaching tool for their members.