The Museum of Discomfort: Exhibiting Colonial Histories at the Statens Museum for Kunst

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesis

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In recent years there has been an increased focus on critical interrogations of colonial history within art exhibitions. However, the importance of colonialism for the very idea of art, for the discipline of art history, and for its institutions still needs to be further understood. This thesis is an examination of interlinkages between art museums and colonialism with a particular focus on the SMK – the National Gallery of Denmark. On one level, the thesis analyses how colonial history has appeared in both historical and contemporary exhibitions. On another level, the thesis discusses how to analyse and work within the intersecting fields of art history, museology, and studies of colonial history: how should one approach it, what should one look for, and how should one account for the changing historical foundations for how colonial history has appeared?

The thesis is structured around the analyses of three exhibitions at the SMK: "Jakob Danielsen" (1941), "What Lies Unspoken" (2017), and "Kirchner and Nolde – Up for discussion" (2021). The focus of the first part of the thesis is how and why colonial history has disappeared from the physical museum space, not least through the historical formations of the collection that separated “art” from “ethnography”. As Jakob Danielsen shows, this Greenlandic artist’s works were considered within tropes of primitivism as something that did not fit easily within the art museum. The second part of the thesis takes the notion of discomfort as its main focus. With a focus on two recent exhibitions at the SMK, the thesis examines the affective structures of colonial history in art museums. In particular, the thesis’ central argument is that colonial history appears as something uncomfortable within exhibitions and the museum space: both in terms of the “affective work” done by external collaborators and in terms of the practical work and decision-making in curatorial processes.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCopenhagen
PublisherUniversity of Copenhagen
Number of pages187
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes

Note re. dissertation

4 Feb. 2022. Assessment Committee
Associate Professor Anne Folke Henningsen, Chair (University of Copenhagen)
Associate Professor Chiara de Cesari (University of Amsterdam)
Professor Mårten Snickare (Stockholm University)
Leader of the defence:
Associate Professor Rune Gade (University of Copenhagen)

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