University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Past Special Exhibition at the Penn Museum

What in the World was open from January 28, 2010 through July 14, 2013

What in the World is an interactive installation created by multi-disciplinary artist Pablo Helguera as part of the Philagrafika contemporary art festival.

The interactive exhibition is based on the popular 1950s TV show What in the World? created by former Penn Museum director, Dr. Froelich Rainey. 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."

As one of five "Out of Print" cultural partners participating in the Philagrafika 2010 international contemporary art festival, the Penn Museum hosted New York-based artist Pablo Helguera. After exploring the Museum and its collections, he developed a project that taps into the vast archival resources of the institution. The provocative new installation 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.

"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."

This exhibition was made possible with the support of the Barra Foundation.

What in the World

What in the World? was the Penn Museum's Peabody Award-winning popular weekly half-hour television program which was first seen in 1951 and which ran for 14 years. By the early 1960s it was one of the oldest programs on television, bringing positive reviews and a steady stream of fanmail to the Museum which continues to this day. On each What in the World? program, four or five unidentified objects were presented to a panel of experts who were asked to guess what each piece was, where it came from, how old it was, and how it was used. Objects were selected from storerooms and had never before been seen by the panel. Before the experts guessed, the audience was told what the object was, and, during the course of the program, could watch the thought processes of real (and often fallible!) anthropologists and archaeologists. After they had completed their identification, the moderator, Froelich Rainey, Director of the Museum, told them whether they were right and if not, gave the correct identification. Only four episodes of the show survive. The special guest on one of these was the famous actor (and collector) Vincent Price.

Read the Fall 1961 Expedition Article by George Dessart, What in the World: A Television Institution

Watch all five What in the World videos produced by Pablo Helguera on YouTube.

Pablo Heguera

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" (, 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).

Philagrafika Arts Festival

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.

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