With Museums Matter, James Cuno, president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust and former president and director of the Art Institute of Chicago, offers a rousing defense of encyclopedic museums and their unparalleled ability to engage, enlighten, and educate the public. Cuno begins by taking us on a brief tour of the modern museum, from the creation of the British Museum—the archetypal encyclopedic collection—to the present, when major museums host millions of visitors annually and play a major role in the cultural lives of their cities. Along the way, he acknowledges the legitimate questions about the role of museums in nation-building and imperialism, but he argues strenuously that even a truly national museum like the Louvre can’t help but open visitors’ eyes and minds to the wide diversity of world cultures and the stunning art that is our common heritage.
Engaging with thinkers such as Edward Said and Martha Nussbaum, and drawing on examples from the politics of India to the destruction of the Bramiyan Buddhas to the history of trade and travel, Cuno makes a case for the encyclopedic museum as a crucial component of contemporary public life, promoting values that are essential in our ever more globalized era.
James Cuno is the president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust. He served as president and director of the Art Institute of Chicago from 2004 until 2011, the Courtauld Institute of Art from 2002 until 2004, and the Harvard University Art Museums from 1991 to 2002.." http://www.press.uchicago.edu/news/2012/January/1201cunoprs.html
2. Stone of Kings, In Search of the Lost Jade of the Maya by Gerard Helferich
In "Stone of Kings," Gerard Helferich describes not just how the gem achieved such status in the great Mesoamerican civilizations but how one of the original mines was finally located in Guatemala in 1974 by amateur prospectors Jay and Mary Lou Ridinger. That the two fell in love while searching for the mine is a gift for his narrative, and their continuing and dedicated quest for other jade mines over the next 30 years provides a compelling tale.
At times Mr. Helferich becomes a little breathless at the excitement of his own story and ladles on the superlatives. The story is exciting enough in itself; like jade, it needs no embellishment. But his description of the growth of the early Olmec and later Maya civilizations draws on respected academics such as Michael D. Coe, and he rescues the green stone from much of the Indiana Jones hokum that usually surrounds "lost treasure" (one group of rival prospectors even called themselves "the Jade Raiders"). This well-focused and well-told account brings America's most mythologized gemstone into sharp relief." Hugh Thomson, Online Wall Street Journal
Cities of Gold, by Bill Yenne
"The Spanish may have rejected jade, but their quest for precious metals was relentless, as Bill Yenne documents in "Cities of Gold." The figures for gold alone are astonishing. A relatively scarce metal in Europe before the conquest of the New World, by 1560 the Americas had supplied Spain with more than 100 tons of gold, much of which went to fund Charles V's European wars. In the following four decades, the Spanish mined so much silver that its price fell some 85%. They might have done better to follow the example of the Vikings, who simply buried much of their loot upon their return from plundering England.
The flood of 16th-century adventurers questing for gold in sites stretching across the Americas, from the U.S. Southwest to Brazil, has been told many times, and Mr. Yenne does not add greatly to previous accounts. Tellers of popular history need an engaging and accessible style, but Mr. Yenne veers so far towards down-home folksiness as occasionally to be risible. "Columbus was following the money," he explains. Another Spanish conquistador is said to have turned to his guide and asked, "Are we there yet?"
This is history as re-imagined by Homer Simpson, and can at times be good knockabout fun: Pizarro is described as "a middle management type" of only average ability—perhaps unfairly, given that while unprincipled and illiterate, he did conquer an Inca empire of many millions with less than 200 men. Many a corporation would be happy to have him on the staff.
Along the way, his account does cast interesting sidelong glances at a parallel narrative: the tales of great Amazonian civilizations recounted by the first conquistadors to travel down that river. These accounts were dismissed as fanciful by those who followed years later and found nothing, but archaeologists have recently uncovered evidence of substantial settlements built in wood, not stone, whose builders may have been vulnerable to European diseases and quickly died out after "first contact." As archaeological methods continue to improve, we are likely to learn far more about these "missing civilizations" who built in such perishable conditions—in many ways a fresher and more important history than that of the gold which so lured European adventurers." Hugh Thomson, Online Wall Street Journal