Category Archives: Museums

Ready for Homecoming? Its arts-and-culture focus turns 5 this year.


It’s been five years since the University introduced an arts-and-culture focus to Homecoming weekend — a focus we here at the Arts Blog happen to love. Each year we bring you a roundup of the events we’re most excited to attend. Here is this year’s list. (Note that advance online registration for certain events, available here, closes at 5 p.m. on Nov. 4. You can find the full schedule of events for Homecoming weekend here.)

FRIDAY, NOV. 8, 2013

  • Tour of Penn’s 19th-Century Architectural Masterpieces (2 – 3: 30 p.m., leaves from the steps of College Hall): David Brownlee, the Frances Shapiro-Weitzenhoffer Professor of Art, will guide alumni through the 19th-century architectural gems on campus. (Advance registration is required. A tour focused on Penn’s 20th-century architectural masterpieces departs from the top level of Garage #40 on Saturday at 2 p.m.)
  • Opening Reception: Penn Alumni Artist Exhibit (4 – 7 p.m., 2nd floor of the Inn at Penn): The Burrison Gallery presents its first show devoted to alumni artists. Works on display will include photographs, paintings, mixed-media and etchings, all of which will be up for sale. The exhibition will remain on view through Dec. 20, 2013.
  • Film Sound: The evolution of the subversive art of sound in movies (3:30 – 5 p.m., Claudia Cohen Hall): Alumni filmmakers David Novack EAS’86 and Nancy Levy Novack C’87 return as co-curators for the Alumni Film Festival this year. In this session, they’ll discuss film sound’s history and evolution. (Advance registration is encouraged, and a reception follows from 5 – 5:30 p.m. On Saturday at 5:45 p.m., the Film Festival will screen Head Games, which exposes the concussion as a leading public health issue and features several Penn scientists and clinicians.)

SATURDAY, NOV. 9, 2013

  • Classes without Quizzes: The City and the Museum (10 – 11:30 a.m., Meyerson Hall): David Brownlee will join Gail Harrity, president and COO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and architect Tod Williams to discuss museums’ design history and their continuing impact. (Registration at
  • Life in the World of Theatre Today (10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m., Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts): This broad discussion of the theatrical professional boasts a number of distinguished panelists: Jed Bernstein C’77, Broadway producer and president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; Lori Fineman C’92 W’92, executive director of Transport Group Theatre Company; Stephanie Kramer (Penn Parent ’16), board member of the Roundabout Theatre Company; and Brett Sirota C’89, CEO of The Road Company. Vickie Reiss, executive director of The Shubert Foundation, will moderate.
  • Curator Conversation: Jason Rhoades, Four Roads (11 a.m. – 12 p.m., Institute of Contemporary Art): ICA Senior Curator Ingrid Schaffner leads a Q&A discussion of the museum’s current exhibition, Jason Rhoades, Four Roads. Roads kicks off the ICA’s 50th anniversary year and marks the first U.S. survey of the artist’s work. (Docent-led tours of the exhibit will follow from 1 – 5 p.m.)
  • Classes without Quizzes: How to Teach Poetry to 42,000 Students at Once: ModPo, MOOCs, and Online Learning (4 – 6 p.m., Kelly Writers House): Al Filreis, Kelly Professor and faculty director of the Writers House, is in the midst of teaching ModPo — a massive open online course on modern and contemporary American poetry — for the second time right now. His students number in the tens of thousands and live all over the world. In this session, he’ll discuss teaching poetry via MOOC.
  • Gallery Hop (4 – 6 p.m., starts at the Arthur Ross Gallery): This year’s hop stops at the Arthur Ross Gallery (Auguste Rodin: The Human Experience), the architectural archives (Louis Kahn: Three Houses) and the special collections center at the library (Recent Acquisitions). A director or curator will be available at each stop to discuss the works on view.

SUNDAY, NOV. 10, 2013

  • Mural Arts Tour (10 a.m. – 12 p.m., departs from Inn at Penn): The group will explore Center City and West Philadelphia via antique trolley, taking in the murals each has to offer. (Pre-registration is required and there is a $35 fee for this event.)

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Tukufu Zuberi: Penn professor, TV show host, documentary filmmaker and curator

tz_headshotIt’s been a whirlwind year of arts-related activities for Tukufu Zuberi, a professor of sociology and Africana studies at Penn and the University’s Lasry Family Professor of Race and Relations.

First an exhibit he curated for the Independence Seaport Museum opened May 4. Then on June 2, Black Bodies in Propaganda: The Art of the War Poster — an exhibit of wartime propaganda posters that Zuberi both collected and curated — opened at the Penn Museum.

On top of all that — and while hosting the tenth season of PBS’s History Detectives TV show — Zuberi somehow also found time to write, direct and produce the feature-length documentary film African Independence. It won Best Director and Best Documentary at the San Diego Black Film Festival in January.

While we can’t claim to know how Zuberi finds time to sleep, we can give you this overview of his recent arts-and-culture projects:

Tides of Freedom: African Presence on the Delaware River
On view at the Independence Seaport Museum on Penn’s Landing through 2015.

Screen shot 2013-06-12 at 11.13.45 AM

Spanning 300 years of African-American history along the Delaware, Tides of Freedom explores the concept of freedom through the museum’s collection and four major moments in Philadelphia’s history: enslavement, emancipation, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights era. Zuberi himself recorded introductions to each section of the exhibit, which is the first in the Seaport Museum’s new “Freedom” series.

The museum’s recovered “waste book” — a 250-year-old ledger that documents commercial transactions on the wharf — is one of the artifacts on display. Zuberi discovered more than 60 entries of bought and sold African slaves in the book, which is said to be the only document of its kind in Philadelphia.

You can see scans from the “waste book” online here.

Black Bodies in Propaganda: The Art of the War Poster
On view at the Penn Museum through March 2, 2014.


From the collection of Tukufu Zuberi

Zuberi combed through his personal collection of propaganda posters to curate Black Bodies in Propaganda at the Penn Museum. The exhibit presents 33 wartime posters, the majority of which target African and African-American civilians. According to the Penn Museum, “these carefully designed works of art were aimed at mobilizing people of color in war efforts, even as they faced oppression and injustice in their homelands. The exhibition explores changing messages on race and politics through propaganda—from the American Civil War, to World War I, World War II, and through to the African independence movements.”

As Zuberi explained: “These posters tell a story about the dynamics of race. Black bodies are racialized in these posters as they capture defining moments in history. Race is always about second-class citizenship, it is always about a relationship between two groups and how one group is defined as superior and the other group is defined as inferior. These posters represent definitive moments in this historical process.”

Zuberi has done several radio interviews about the exhibit that you can listen to online, including:


Power99 FM


African Independence
Screening at select events and locations, including Penn’s State of the Field of Africana Studies Conference on Oct. 17, 2013.

Here’s the official synopsis for the 2013 feature-length documentary that Zuberi wrote, directed and produced:

The film highlights the birth, realization, and problems confronted by the movement to win independence in Africa. The story is told by channeling the voices of freedom fighters and leaders who achieved independence, liberty and justice for African people.  This film offers a unique presentation designed to enlighten and provide audiences with insights from Africans into the continent’s past, present, and future. Through the lens of four watershed events—World War Two, the end of colonialism, the Cold War, and the era of African Republics—AFRICAN INDEPENDENCE shows a unique side of Africa’s recent history.  

This is the trailer:

And here’s an interview Zuberi did about his academic career and making the film:

History Detectives
historydetectivesZuberi has been a host for all 10 season of PBS’s History Detectives, the most recent of which aired last June through October. (We’re told that Season 11 is being filmed right now.) He’s one of five “detectives” on the show who each travel the country delving into historical mysteries, local folklore and family legends.

In this video, Zuberi explains why he enjoys working as a history detective.

You can also watch full episodes from the show’s tenth season here.

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Penn Museum welcomes a new director — and the Gazette Arts Blog looks back on those who preceded him

As of this summer, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology will have a new director.

Julian Siggers — “a pioneer in advancing public engagement with museums and archaeology” — will officially assume the post on July 1. He is currently the vice president for programs, education and content communication at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. In that role, he has created partnerships with government agencies, secured a weekly show on the Discovery Channel and directed a Dead Sea Scrolls project that helped the museum attract more visitors than it had in 20 years.

He’ll be joining the Penn Museum in the middle of a busy year. The museum turned 125 this year and on Saturday, its newest exhibition opened to the public. (For an in-depth look at the new show, MAYA 2012 Lords of Time, check out this feature in the May|June Gazette.)

The combination of Siggers’ appointment and the museum’s banner anniversary made us curious about the cultural institution’s past leaders. We’ll be sharing a few of their stories in the coming months, starting today with George Byron Gordon.

Born in Canada in 1870, Gordon went on to study at Harvard during the late 19th century. In 1892, he traveled to Copan, Honduras, for a Harvard-sponsored excavation led by John G. Owens. When Owens died in the field, Gordon assumed leadership and directed the next six sessions in Copan.

He became an assistant curator at the Free Museum of Science and Art (later reclassified as the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology) in 1903 and led expeditions to Alaska in 1905 and 1907 with his brother, MacLaren Gordon. On a trip down the Yukon River in their canoe (named the Penn), the brothers discovered a previously unknown source of the Kuskokwim River and an equally unknown tribe of people who they called “Kuskwagamutes.”

Gordon began teaching at Penn in 1907, offering the first regular anthropology lectures for undergraduate and graduate students. Shortly after the Department of Anthropology was established, he became the museum’s director in 1910. In that role, he enhanced the museum’s reputation and its collections, purchasing artifacts from Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt and the Americas and establishing the museum’s Chinese collection.

In 1926, the University conferred the honorary degree of Doctor of Science on Gordon. He died the following year after an accident at the Philadelphia Racquet Club. By then, he was supervising field work in Bet Sh’ean and Ur.

The Penn Museum’s G.B. Gordon Central America collection includes diaries, survey notes, reports and stories from his Copan Expeditions and Yucatan Expedition (1910), along with Gordon’s original stories, articles and book reviews. It also features Gordon’s introductions for speakers in the museum’s Saturday Afternoon Lecture Series, his speeches to professional organizations and his class lectures.

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Games from the Penn Museum vaults

Who’s up for a game of Paramapada Sopaanam? Or maybe just a quick round of Quirkat?

Aside from being really fun to say, these games are more familiar than you might realize. In Penn’s most carefree-sounding “Year of…” to date, the University is now midway through the 2011-12 Year of Games. (Not familiar with the “Year of…” concept? You can learn about its origins here.)

Sponsored by the Provost’s office, the year includes interdisciplinary conferences, symposia, exhibits and performances, all produced on Penn’s campus by various schools, departments, resource centers and partners. As part of the current theme year, the Penn Museum has organized a small display of games of skill and chance drawn from its collection. The installation features ancient game pieces, sporting equipment and cards.

Here, Museum Register Chrisso Boulis highlights a few items from the games collection:

While visitors to the Museum can pick up recreated board games to try their skill at ancient pastimes, six printable versions are also available on the Penn Museum website. Be sure to check them out, and maybe even bring a few along for holiday visits. (After all, nothing says winter break like playing The Royal Game of the Goose.)

Click through this image to reach the Museum’s games download page:

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C’08 alumnus curates museum exhibition centered on the written word

Matthew Abess C’08 has a really cool job. He told me so the other day while standing beachside in Miami, only a few blocks from his office in the Wolfsonian-FIU museum.

He also said that the Wolfsonian’s collection is “extraordinarily eclectic.” It contains about 120,000 objects from 1885-1945, all of which belonged to a local businessman, collector and philanthropist named Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. “My own personal take on the collection is that it’s a very curious one,” he added. “There’s anything from an arts-and-crafts bed post to a World’s Fair admission ticket.”

Abess has been working in the museum as a curatorial research assistant since last October, and last month curated his first solo show there: Rewriting the World: Primers and Poetry in the Age of Confusion, on view through June 5. He says the exhibition developed in response to a local poetry festival called “O, Miami,” which “wanted every person in Miami County to encounter a poem sometime in April.”

To join in that celebration of the written word, the museum’s chief curator asked Abess to put together a show that would highlight some of the poetry artifacts and books in the Wolfsonian collection. Early on, he “started to notice some overarching themes,” and before long, he’d assembled an exhibition that “witnesses the attempts of an era to transform the world by the transformation of language itself.”

Rewriting includes a video installation and 17 objects, which range from evangelical alphabet primers and Czech photo-texts to typographic fairytales and National Socialist toothpaste pamphlets. “No effort at revision or writing is neutral, and these works were all part of particular social and political agendas,” Abess says. “The exhibition attempt to trace out the ways these agendas are inscribed in written language.”

“It’s so exciting to go digging through the museum archives,” he says of assembling the show. “This was my first time getting to do that, to really get my hands dirty, and I’m very pleased with the way it came together.”

At Penn, Abess majored in English with a concentration in creative writing. After graduating in 2008, he became a junior fellow at the Kelly Writers house for the ’08-’09 school year, researching the language of holocaust testimony and oral narratives. He also led a course titled “Topography of Testimony,” which culminated in a lunchtime event that was recorded here:

Matthew Abess, \”Topographies of Testimony\”

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Update: Mummies and artifacts will be on view in Museum’s Silk Road exhibit

There’s been a big change since my last post, which noted that Chinese government officials had pulled all their artifacts from the Penn Museum’s exhibit, Secrets of the Silk Road.

Today, the Museum announced some happy news: It turns out those artifacts will be on view after all.

The Museum’s modified, mummy-less version of the exhibition that opened Feb. 5 will close to the public this Sunday, allowing workers to installs the Chinese artifacts. The objects will be on view from Feb. 18 – March 15, 2011 and all but the two mummies will remain at the Penn Museum until March 28.

“We are delighted to be able to present the complete range of this spectacular material,” said Dr. Richard Hodges, the Williams Director of the Penn Museum. “Secrets of the Silk Road is an historic, must-see exhibition—and we encourage people to make sure to come to the Penn Museum during its limited run.”

Ticketing and other information is available on the Museum’s dedicated Silk Road website:

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Chinese government pulls all artifacts from Penn Museum’s ‘Silk Road’ exhibit

Secrets of the Silk Road, a highly anticipated Penn Museum exhibit featured in the Jan./Feb. Gazette, will open this Saturday without its most important guest: a 3,800-year-old Chinese mummy. And she won’t be the only one missing from the exhibit; Chinese government officials have unexpectedly pulled more than 150 artifacts they had loaned for the show, which already appeared at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, Calif., and the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Silk Road was planned to be the Museum’s first exhibit with timed-ticket entry, and the institution had pre-sold several thousand tickets. Now, those tickets will be refunded, and according to an Associated Press article, the Museum will present “a pared-down display using photos of the mummies and artifacts, along with multimedia exhibits, a recreated excavation site and interactive stations…free with regular museum admission.”

The reason behind the decision hasn’t been made public – not even to the exhibition’s consulting curator, Chinese language and literature professor Victor Mair. As he told the Daily Pennsylvanian: “…the Chinese government suddenly told us — without giving any explanation why — that we are not permitted to open the crates.”

The shocking news has been reported by major news outlets across the country. Here is a small sampling of that coverage:

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