Category Archives: Quotes

Marcia Tucker on Museums as ‘Agent Provocateur’

“I see art history, and museums in particular, as a process, an interface, a tool, an ‘agent provocateur’ whose role, rather than being didactic, is to get people to see and think for themselves.”

Marcia Tucker

Marcia Tucker was the founding director of the New Museum in New York and a visionary curator, also working for many years as a free-lance art critic, writer, lecturer, and professor.  Her defiance of conventional practice has always inspired me, even though I only became familiar with her work and writings during the year that she sadly passed away, 2006.  Marcia founded the New Museum when she was 37 after being fired from the Whitney Museum of American Art. According to the New York Times, her motto in founding the museum was, “Act first, think later — that way you have something to think about.”  This quote by her has driven my own personal philosophy of museum teaching — to “get people to see and think for themselves.”

p.s.  the image below from an installation at the Mattress Factory was the best I could come up with for a visual of museums as a real interface and provocateur.  My only visit to that institution a couple years ago was quite a unique experience in seeing, exploring, wondering, and thinking for myself — culminating in my encounter with this permanent installation space by artist Yayoi Kusama.

Photo by Anjan Chatterjee

Michael Brenson on Conversation

“I believe in conversation. In the best conversations, no one is used; ownership is shared. Everyone leaves with a sense that the ideas exchanged belong to each person present. Everyone leaves respecting those who were part of the exchange, whether or not there was agreement.”

—Michael Brenson, art critic/writer

Merce Cunningham on Discovering

“One only has to get one’s mind out of the way about deciding that something is good or bad, and rather allow for different kinds of things to take place, so that you are or I am constantly on the point of discovering something I don’t know about, rather than repeating what I do know about.”

– Merce Cunningham

Merce Cunningham was a pivotal artist and choreographer of the 20th century who redefined modern dance and expanded the frontiers of both the visual and performing arts. In a 1985 interview with Terry Gross, he was asked about how he pushed forward in response to such heavy criticism and mocking during his early groundbreaking performances. The quote above was his powerful response.