Museums make sense of things that have happened. We ask and attempt to answer: In what past do these objects belong? What do these objects tell us about that past? Museums like the one I work at believe they’re useful for offering profound lessons about history with things that are still with us.
Elections allow societies to imagine new beginnings. Just eight years after the American political system delivered an early-arriving multicultural future, it has returned us to a time of dangerous contradiction and nonsense. How should museums then make sense of this fatalistic trajectory for the future? Or should we even try?
Curating in a museum can be a beautiful process. It is simultaneously grinding and hurried, hermetic and collaborative. Through this highly schizophrenic practice, we can propose how what has been done is part of a logical continuum of culture and history. But we can’t go along making the same arguments with the same language. And we can’t wait for our present to recede far enough in the past before we make sense of it.
Museums need to start treating the future as if it was the past, not the other way around.