Performatively Driven: A Genre for Signifying in Popular Music Exhibitions

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This article explores a relatively novel field of practice, or genre, emerging in the context of museums and exhibitions of popular music and what I will refer to as performatively driven, here discussed and illustrated with examples drawn from particular international exhibitions that I have visited. This genre is comprised of a myriad of strategies used by curators to give substance to their exhibiting narratives that tends to cluster into four essential types – (i) exhibiting sound and music; (ii) dramatic strategies (for current purposes, the example of contrast is considered); (iii) enveloping strategies, and (iv) sound epistemologies – and all of which draw on combinations of multifarious exhibits (material and immaterial). In terms of their signifying potential, my analysis points to these strategies, each of them focused on imparting meaning in an experiential rather than a purely rational sense, as achieving the following ends: conveying notions of popular music as object and artifact; eliciting emotional responses and prompting engagement; valuing museumgoers’ individualities, while also locating them as part of a community (e.g., of music fans, of followers of a particular musical artist, of a particular generation); providing re‐enactment (both by reconstructing scenarios from the past or from live concerts and by activating memories offered of popular music); and conveying knowledge. As these signifying strategies dissolve into the aforementioned meanings in an experiential rather than in a more rational sense, I would suggest they are correspondingly rooted in the concept of performance and therefore propose adding this concept to the typology of concepts presented by Baker et al. (2018).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-366
Number of pages24
JournalCurator: The Museum Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019

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