The Carnegie Museum’s “Panorama” documents the life cycles of the museum’s artifacts
“exhibition”Amy Siegel: Panorama“Investigates current changes in the museum ecosystem, exploring the life of an artifact as it transforms into a museum exhibit, forever stuck in time behind glass panels bearing fingerprints and wall texts. New York-based artist Amy Siegel and the museum’s curatorial team selected pieces from the museum’s collection for the exhibition Which will run from September 22, 2023 to March 10, 2024.
The Carnegie Museum of Art commissioned Amy Siegel, who has had a long-standing artistic relationship with the life cycles of objects. The artist displays artistic media – such as film, prints and gouache – through the exhibition to explore questions of cultural property, systems of value and image-making. Her research and artistry lift the curtain to see behind the scenes of Carnegie’s “Panorama” exhibitions.
The space, compared to the well-lit galleries on the art museum’s upper floor, is black and compact, comprising two rooms. In the first room, viewers can admire an extensive collection of vases, field journals, lockets with detailed painted eyes, and tulip teacups.
The second room contains a 75-minute film about diorama art. Photographs for the documentary came from the museum’s archives, dating back to the years when the museum acquired the animals to build dioramas. The film shows the landscapes of Afghanistan, Alaska and other places around the world between the 1930s and the 1970s. Montages of animals in their natural habitat involve artists peeling back the skins of dead animals and building a model that mimics the animals’ habitats, from crystalline glassy rivers to insects buzzing among the flowers.
Cynthia Stuckey, curatorial assistant for contemporary art and photography at the museum, said the collaboration began before the COVID-19 pandemic interruption.
“After acquiring Amy Siegel’s ‘Fetishes,’ we began working with her on this show,” Stuckey said. “We started work in 2019, but had to stop due to the pandemic.”
Stuckey said the exhibition pushes to explore the connections between humans and nature, or even the separation between them.
“One of the big concepts of the exhibition is how we construct materials through the lens of nature, or even our own perspective on nature,” Stuckey said. “The birds, for example, in the center of the exhibition, mimic the colors of a parrot, but are anatomically similar to a pigeon.”
Maria Lotsmanova, exhibition assistant at the museum, mentioned how closely the pieces are connected to the surrounding nature. At the same time, she studies form and how it changes the value of plants and animals.
“(Objects) do not serve their primary purpose. (The body’s) function has been abolished,” Lotzmanova said.
Stucki said it puts the audience in the eyes of the collector, with binoculars on the left and field day drawings on the right.
“There are connections to the romance of the expedition,” Stuckey said. “We see that starting with binoculars.”
This exhibit is the perfect bridge for art and natural history, which the public often sees as two very different fields, said Megan Benfer, associate curator of the exhibition at the museum.
“People are really drawn to dinosaurs and physical things, and I think people think, ‘Oh, this is an art gallery, let’s move on,’ when it comes to a natural history museum,” Benfer said.
As of October 4, the Carnegie Museum has removed the painting “Lions Attacking a Dromedary” — which was found in the entrance to the Museum of Natural History — from display. The taxidermy depicts two lions attacking a man on a dromedary. The removal of the diorama, which has been on display for 124 years, is the result of new museum policies regarding human remains found within exhibits.
While the museum did not intentionally align the closing of the diorama and the opening of the “panorama,” Stuckey said the museum recognizes the importance of helping understand how humans interact with objects.
“When you come to a museum and see this world and don’t understand what it is, it creates a fantasy,” Stuckey said. “You see only one point of view, one moment. It is a moment that reflects the relationships we perceive in ourselves.