24th ICOM GENERAL CONFERENCE IN MILAN
3,500 museum professionals, 130 countries, one theme:
“Museums and Cultural Landscapes”
Opening Ceremony: DARIO FRANCESCHINI, BEPPE SALA, CRISTINA CAPPELLINI
Special guests: ORHAN PAMUK, CHRISTO, MICHELE DE LUCCHI, NKANDU LUO, DAVID THROSBY
The 24th General Conference of ICOM (International Council of Museums) officially opened on Monday, 4 July. This major global museum event gathers more than 3,500 museum professionals from more than 130 countries in Milan to discuss the topic “Museums and Cultural Landscapes”.
During the opening ceremony, HANS-MARTIN HINZ, ICOM President, spoke enthusiastically about the founding of ICOM in 1946 by a handful of passionate museum professionals, growing into today’s international organisation of 36,000+ members. He recalled the fundamental aspirations of its founders: the promotion of standards of excellence in museums as well as international cooperation.
The Minister for Cultural Assets, Activities and Tourism, DARIO FRANCESCHINI, Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, stressed: “Italy is a giant open-air museum and it is ICOM’s task to enhance it. The new Italian museum system, implemented in 2014, was given new autonomy concerning several aspects. Museums are guardians of education and knowledge. It is not by chance that international terrorism strikes cultural places, as symbols of dialogue and cultural exchange between peoples.”
The Mayor of Milan, BEPPE SALA, emphasised that “culture is the strength of a territory because it is alive and it grows with people. Milan is an open city that already demonstrated its cooperative spirit on the occasion of EXPO 2015. Memory and innovation are the foundations of development.” CRISTINA CAPPELLINI, Assessor for Culture, Identity and Autonomy for the Lombardy Region, spoke about the region’s support for ICOM projects since 2011.
ALBERTO GARLANDINI, Chair of the ICOM Milan 2016 Organising Committee, stated: “Discussing museums means discussing the contemporary era and its challenges. The great challenge of modern museums is to have the existing cultural landscapes integrated with phenomena such as immigration and globalisation. ICOM Milan 2016 is the last step of a journey that began three years ago.”
Finally, DANIELE JALLA, Chair of ICOM Italy, spoke about the huge involvement of the Italian National Committee and its regional coordinators in the organisation of the General Conference, and invited participants to consider “opening” as the keyword of this 2016 edition.
The ceremony continued with the speeches of the day’s two special guests.
In his video message to participants, Nobel Prize-winning author ORHAN PAMUK voiced his hopes for museums to discover a more intimate dimension, less institutionally-bound and more able to enhance people’s individuality: “The aim of current and future museums must not be to represent the state but to recreate the world of single human beings, the same human beings who anguished under tyrannical oppression for hundreds of years.”
The artist duo CHRISTO AND JEANNE-CLAUDE, who recently exhibited their latest monumental work, “The Floating Piers”, on Lake Iseo in Italy, showed their Land Art works, particularly focusing on their conceptual aspects. A lively discussion between Christo and the audience ensued, with questions on the nature of their art, their creative process, the freedom of their approach and more. He memorably stated, “Unlike much of contemporary art, ours is allergic to propaganda. The innocence of our art lies in the fact that it is sponsored by no one.”
On Tuesday, 5 July, the architect MICHELE DE LUCCHI offered further expertise, speaking about his role as scenographer for a number of exhibitions: “Each scenography requires continuous dialogue with the museum itself. Michelangelo’s La Pietà was displayed alone in a room whose entrance led visitors to directly encounter the back of the statue, inviting them to walk around to the front. The Exhibitions Palace in Rome, being an historical palace, was not equipped with modern air conditioning and lighting systems; so we had to come up with a modular, non-invasive system to respect the site’s architecture.”
NKANDU LUO, Minister for Gender and Child Development of Zambia, the morning’s second speaker, declared: “History’s first museum was in Africa, in Alexandria. Africa, nevertheless, has not kept pace with the role of museums and protection of its own heritage. Museum development is essential for both social and economic growth. Museums represent the soul and the cultural richness of a country. My wish is that soon we will be hosting an ICOM Conference in Africa, perhaps in Zambia.”
On Wednesday, 6 July, the Australian economist DAVID THROSBY, theorist of the notion of cultural capital, gave the keynote address: “Museums are economic institutions too, which must engage with pricing, assessment of collections value and their commercialisation. It is a true cultural industry, whose value can be estimated on the basis of the impact on local economies. If we want to assess the public value of art and culture we have to sum up two terms: the embodied economic value and the immaterial cultural value.”
The closing panel focused on the breaking news topic of immigration and the social role of museums. The panel was moderated by the BBC arts, culture and entertainment journalist Brenda Emmanus. She highlighted the involvement of museums in subjects currently at the heart of societal concerns, as they continue to play their traditional role as guardians of collections. GIUSI NICOLINI, Mayor of Lampedusa and Linosa, said: “Lampedusa is well known for tragic stories of shipwrecks. We are hoping for the enhancement of aspects such as the value of integration and welcoming. This is why the Archeological Museum of Lampedusa wants to demonstrate how the island always has been a bridge and a connection between continents.”
David Fleming focused on social justice in museums, including the Liverpool International Slavery Museum, the Ulster Museum in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Galerija 11/07/95 in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to him, museums are a new social communication channel and must connect with society.
Robin Hirst stated: "The people of Australia are all immigrants or descended from immigrants, except for three percent, who are Aboriginal. We have transformed our museums, looking now at the history and legacy of migration and exploring contemporary issues such as racism. We are moving from observers to participants, from narrators to characters, from immigration to cultural diversity, taking on the role of an agent of social change.”
Marlen Mouliou, challenged the role of museums as a place where we curate human relationships, trace current social changes, discuss diversity and share experiences and knowledge, daring to invite audiences to disagree and value different approaches.
The theme “Museums and Cultural Landscapes”, cornerstone of this General Conference, was addressed and debated by all of the 30 ICOM International Committees present in Milan, in each of their respective disciplines. All of the participants were invited to attend presentations by international experts, and contribute to enrich discussions that are the fruit of several years of intensive preparation. The International Committee ICDAD, focused on applied arts and design, discussed the disappearance of advertisements from the urban landscape of Sao Paulo, allowing the city’s residents to take back this landscape. CECA, the committee for education and cultural action, opened its session with a presentation of Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation, as a symbolic landscape of obsessional themes of the painter and the Renaissance. DEMHIST addressed the role of historic houses in the determination of sociocultural landscapes of a place, from the Biscaye Villa in Bilbao to the Casa Martelli in Florence, over three days. ICOFOM, devoted to museology, focused on the theme of “the predatory museum”, in particular highlighting the transformation of ethnological museums. Some 150 people attended the discussions and ever-popular “Exhibitions Marketplace” hosted by ICEE, the International Committee for Exhibition Exchange, which focused this year on the theme “Communicating, Connecting and Innovating with Style”, inspired by the host city’s reputation as capital of fashion and design.
ICOM's Disaster Risk Management Committee gathered museum-related professionals from different parts of the world that help monitor cultural heritage at risk in emergencies and stand ready to provide advice and assistance to international colleagues and their institutions upon request. ICOM also gathered its colleagues from The Blue Shield, an organisation of which ICOM is a founding member, bearing the name of the symbol used to identify cultural heritage protected by the UNESCO Hague Convention (1954), an international treaty to protect cultural goods in armed conflicts. The session on disaster risk reduction for museums highlighted the concept of common heritage threatened by natural and human-made disasters and gave examples of how museums can support their colleagues in need around the world.
The panel discussions on the conference programme drew a high number of participants. The first one shed light on the UNESCO Recommendation for Museums and Collections, drafted in close collaboration with UNESCO, with the speakers Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, Paola Marini, Director of the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, and François Mairesse, Prof. Université Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris. Paola Marini declared, “the text of the recommendation is important in our everyday life. It keeps the soul of museums alive!” The second panel focused on illicit trafficking in cultural objects, with the participation of Eric Dorfman, Director of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Markus Hilgert, Director of the Museum of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures at the Pergamonmuseum and Ieng Srong Chief of Section for Movable Heritage and Museums in UNESCO. They emphasized the importance of international cooperation and increased vigilance concerning object provenance, as the trafficking of antiquities represents a resource for terrorists.
Two mentoring sessions for young museum professionals were a big success. The four speakers, Luis Repetto Malaga, Luigi Di Corato, Yousef Khacho and Eiji Mizushima, spoke to young museum professionals about their respective professional paths. Their presentations led to lively discussion among speakers and participants, who were able to benefit from precious advice for their professional careers.
The professional museum fair, which brought out 111 exhibitors, enthused conference participants seeking original tools and new international service providers. The exhibitors themselves weighed in with highly positive feedback. “In just three days, we met over 200 representatives of museum institutions, from over 50 countries – an uncontestable success for our business. The international scope of this fair surpasses anything we’d seen before” (Inese Cemagina, Groglass Company).
ICOM’s new visual identity was unveiled on 6 July 2016. This presentation concluded work undertaken in concert with the ICOM network and qualified professionals over the past two years. The logo, designed by the studio C-album, selected following an international competition, uses a stylized letter M, associated with basic fonts. This new identity is based on principles of universality and simplicity of use, vital for a diversified network animated by the actions of its volunteer members. The exhibition Where ICOM from has retraced the evolution of ICOM over its 70 years of existence, and raised questions about its future directions. The main activities of the organization and the upcoming challenges have been addressed in stories and personal points of view from ICOM members. The event was organized by the ICOM Endowment Fund, jointly with students from University Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne.
The prestigious social events offered by the General Conference were also a big success among participants, who came out in force for the Opening Party at Castello Sforzesco with (3000) and filled the Duomo for the grand concert. A number of other events, including visits to The Last Supper and the night at the Museo nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci, also drew many participants.
The conference closes on Saturday, 9 July, with the election of the new ICOM President and Executive Council and the new ICOM General Assembly resolutions. The new Chair of the ICOM Advisory Committee, Regine Schulz, who has sat on the Executive Council for a number of years, was elected on Tuesday evening. Egyptologist, she is Director of the Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum in Hildesheim, Germany.