In the early 1950s, then-Penn Museum Director Froelich Rainey created a popular television show-What in the World-featuring a rotating panel of Museum scholars and celebrities who examined individual artifacts from the Museum's vast collections, puzzling out where they came from and how they would have been used. The national television show, a pioneer project in the field of museum education at the dawn of the telecommunications age, lasted for several seasons.
As one of five "Out of Print" cultural partners participating in the Philagrafika 2010 international contemporary art festival, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology hosted New York-based artist Pablo Helguera. After exploring the Museum and its collections, he developed a project that tapped into the rich archival resources of the institution. The result is What in the World, a provocative new installation that features a recreated set from the famous television program, Museum artifacts, and a series of videos designed to provide "an unauthorized biography" of the 123-year-old Penn Museum. The videos will also be posted as a "season" on YouTube after the installation's opening.
The What in the World installation is on view January 29 through April 11, 2010, with a public opening and reception to meet the artist on January 28, 5 to 7 pm (pay-what-you-want, cash bar). A special live event is set for Sunday, February 28 at 2 pm, when artist Pablo Helguera, Museum Director Richard Hodges, and a panel of experts, including artist Mark Dion, participate in a program that recreates the spirit of the original What in the World television show (free with Museum admission donation).
With What in the World, Mr. Helguera offers a new perspective on the Museum's collection, "not through the traditional reading of an artifact as representative of the ideas and customs of an ancient culture, but instead as representative of the ideas and customs of those who collected it in the first place, bringing to the fore the singularities of historical curatorial visions."
"Penn Museum is one of the premiere institutions of its kind in the world," Mr. Helguera noted. "With this project, I hope to provide the public with a glimpse into the institutional unconscious of the Museum and the complex social and cultural fabric of its history."
An accompanying book, What in the World, written by Mr. Helguera and published by Jorge Pinto Books, will be available by late February 2010.
Born in Mexico City, Pablo Helguera is a New York-based artist working with installation, sculpture, photography, drawing, and performance. Mr. Helguera's work focuses on a variety of topics ranging from history, pedagogy, sociolinguistics, ethnography, memory and the absurd, in formats that are widely varied including lectures, museum display strategies, musical performances and written fiction. He has exhibited extensively in many museums and biennials internationally. In 2008 he was awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2005, he received a Creative Capital Grant that supported his recent project "The School of Panamerican Unrest" (www.panamericanismo.org), a nomadic think-tank that physically crossed the continent by car from Anchorage, Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, covered almost 20,000 miles, and made 40 stops. It is considered one of the most extensive public art projects on record.
Mr. Helguera is currently Director of Adult and Academic programs at the Education Department of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. As a museum educator, he has worked for two decades in a variety of contemporary art museums including the Guggenheim and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. He is the author of eight books including The Pablo Helguera Manual of Contemporary Art Style (2005; Spanish edition; 2007, English edition), a social etiquette manual for the art world; the novel The Boy Inside the Letter (2008) and an anthology of his performance texts, and other performance lectures, Theatrum Anatomicum (2009).
What in the World is made possible with a grant from the Barra Foundation.
Philagrafika 2010 is an international festival that celebrates the role of print as a vital force in contemporary art, running from January 29 through April 11, 2010 throughout the city of Philadelphia. Curated by Artistic Director José Roca with a curatorial team of John Caperton, Sheryl Conkelton, Shelley Langdale, Lorie Mertes, and Julien Robson, Philagrafika 2010 offers regional, national, and international audiences the opportunity to see contemporary art that references printmaking in dynamic, unexpected ways and to experience Philadelphia's rich cultural life in the process. The festival was initiated by the Philagrafika organization, formerly known as the Philadelphia Print Collaborative.
The festival is divided into three components: a core curated exhibition titled "The Graphic Unconscious," "Out of Print," and "Independent Projects." Penn Museum is joined by four other Philadelphia organizations with historical collections participating in the "Out of Print" program: the American Philosophical Society Museum, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Rosenbach Museum & Library, and the Independence Seaport Museum.
The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 400 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind's collective heritage.
Penn Museum is located at 3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (on Penn's campus, across from Franklin Field and adjacent to SEPTA's University City Regional Rail station serving the R1, R2, and R3 lines). Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 am to 4:30 pm, Sunday 1:00 to 5:00 pm. Closed Mondays and holidays. Admission donation is $10 for adults; $7 for senior citizens (65 and above); $6 children (6 to 17) and full-time students with ID; free to Members, Penncard holders, and children 5 and younger; "pay-what-you-want" after 3:30 pm Tuesday through Saturday, and after 4:00 pm Sunday. Penn Museum can be found on the web at www.penn.museum. For general information call (215) 898-4000.
Caption: From the 1950s What In The World television show, Carleton Coon, Loren Eiseley, and Schuyler Cammann study an object, while Alfred Kidder II moderates. A cameraman is in right foreground. Photographed at WCAU TV Studios, ca. 1955. Penn Museum image 140916.