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Director's Lecture Series 2013–2014

All About Museums: A Brief History from Renaissance Cabinets of Curiosity to Contemporary Hubs of Creativity, 1400–Present

Tuesdays, September 10, 2013; October 1, 2013; November 5, 2013; February 11, 2014; March 11, 2014; and April 8, 2014, 7–8:30 pm 

Dr. Janne Sirén

7–8 pm, Lecture by Dr. Janne Sirén
8–8:30 pm, Conversation with Dr. Sirén and Participants 

Series Price:
$500 general admission
$375 for Members
$200 for students (with valid student ID)
More about Tickets and Scholarships


The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is pleased to introduce an exciting new Director’s Lecture Series entitled All About Museums: A Brief History from Renaissance Cabinets of Curiosity to Contemporary Hubs of Creativity, 1400–Present.

This series of six lectures will provide a unique opportunity to learn about the history of museums and their development from the Renaissance to the present. The series, designed and presented by Albright-Knox Art Gallery Director Dr. Janne Sirén, will simultaneously survey key moments of innovation and transformation in European and American history of the past six hundred years.

Beginning with the earliest civilizations, individuals have possessed an instinctual need to create, collect, conserve, and interpret objects. This innate desire led to the creation of museums that, over time, evolved from eclectic showcases of private collections into public spaces and sites of communal identity construction. Today, employing a variety of contemporary technologies, museums are again looking back to their ancient origins as hubs of inspiration, creativity, contemplation, and participatory spirituality. The six lectures of the series will provide participants with a chronological overview of the evolution of museums over time and space. While the focus of the series is on art museums, the lectures will embrace topics that pertain to broader institutional questions, such as the relationship between democracy and public space and the impact of technology, war, and politics on collecting and visual culture.

Each lecture will be followed by a question-and-answer session between Dr. Sirén and the audience. The lectures will be supplemented with reading materials, may feature guest speakers, and will include an optional final essay with feedback from Dr. Sirén. A certificate of completion will be given to each participant at a graduation reception following the conclusion of the final lecture.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013, 7–8:30 pm
Origins of the Museum: From Ancient Temples to Renaissance Rooms of Wonder
The roots of the word “museum” can be traced back to Ancient Greece and the word “mouseion,” which, translated, means “seat of the Muses.” The first lecture in this series will explore the origins of the present-day museum, from its ancient role as a place of philosophical discussion and contemplation through its progression to a means of displaying the private collections of pioneering Renaissance citizens in wonder rooms or cabinets of curiosities. Topics explored will include the evolving definitions of art over the ages and the institutional relationship between visual culture and religion. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013, 7–8:30 pm
Museums and the Enlightenment: Princely Desires and the Quest for Knowledge
A quest for knowledge, the aspiration to create new types of educational systems, a desire for taxonomy and classificatory systems, and many other scientifically oriented thought patterns, are all facets of the European and American Age of Enlightenment, which also witnessed a proliferation of books. The second lecture in this series will explore how, during the Enlightenment, museums evolved into increasingly public spaces with specific systems for presenting and archiving material artifacts. Topics explored will include the birth of art criticism, art history, and the Salon system of the ancien régime in France. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013, 7–8:30 pm
Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité! Museums in the Age of Revolution, 1789–1871
The American Revolutionary War of 1775–1783 and the French Revolution that erupted in the summer of 1789 were informed by Enlightenment ideals and a burgeoning psychosocial sentiment, on both sides of the Atlantic, that government should exist for the good of all people. During the Age of Revolution, the traditional systems of cultural ownership were radically transformed and the modern museum institution was born. This lecture will explore the impact that the revolutions, spreading across Europe during this time, had on the development of museums. Highlighted topics include the creation of the Louvre in Paris as the world’s first truly public museum, and the impact that war, conquest, and an evolving sense of history had on nineteenth-century cultural institutions. New practices of collecting art are also explored. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014, 7–8:30 pm
Inventing Tradition: National Galleries and Private Collections in the Age of Nation Building
By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the idea of a museum accessible to the public had spread across Europe and into America. During the age of nation building, from the mid–nineteenth century to the end of World War I, museums became instruments through which governments and wealthy patrons narrated cultural identities for communities and entire nations. The modern art market, the discipline of art history, and the concept of the modern artist-hero were also born during this period. While the operation of museums professionalized between 1870 and 1920, cultural institutions also became axiomatic political instruments of and for fledgling democracies and the social elite. Topics explored in this lecture include the modern synergy among art, cultural institutions, and nationalism and the creative tension between the “academy” and the “avant-garde.” 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 7–8:30 pm
Becoming Modern: The Artist as Priest, Peasant, and New Age Hero 
The definition of what is a museum has changed over time and is infinitely mercurial. The twentieth century witnessed the proliferation of a vast array of different types of museums, ranging from encyclopedic institutions such as the Louvre and the Metropolitan to others dedicated to specific periods or artists such as The Museum of Modern Art in New York or the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The twentieth century was also the heyday of modernism—a cultural trend that defies definition—and the modern artist, who presciently assumed different identities in diverse contexts. This lecture explores, for example, how the dialogue between artists and museums has shaped institutional identities and aspirations and how World War II transformed the field of art museums. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 7–8:30 pm
Museums and Markets in the Age of “”
The advent of the Internet and the rise of the global art market, along with dozens of art fairs and biennials, have radically changed the ecosystems in which art museums operate. The final lecture in this series explores the possibilities and challenges that the digital age poses and presents to art museums that often have long historical legacies and are steeped in their indigenous communal and institutional histories. Questions explored include how virtual realities impact the aura of artworks and art spaces, how the local becomes global, and what is the purpose of the art museum in the early twenty-first century. This lecture will also examine contemporary trends in the art world and their impact on curatorial practices and museums.

Tickets and Scholarships

Series Price:
$500 general admission
$375 for Members
$200 for students (with valid student ID)

To purchase series tickets, please call 716.270.8247 or pay online. Participants will receive a 10% discount on the purchase of five or more series tickets.

Buy Series Tickets

Scholarships are available for this series. For more information on scholarships, please call 716.270.8282. Download Scholarship Application (PDF)

Enjoy dinner in the artful setting of the Albright-Knox. AK Café will be open from 5:30 to 7 pm before each lecture. Reservations are required; please call 716.270.8223.

Proceeds from the Director’s Lecture Series directly benefit the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

About the Director

On January 14, 2013, Dr. Janne Sirén became the eleventh director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Immediately prior to his appointment, Dr. Sirén served as the director of Finland’s Helsinki Art Museum, one of the largest cultural institutions in the Nordic region.

Dr. Sirén has lectured and written extensively on modern and contemporary art and his areas of specialization include the synergy between art and nationalism and the diverse roles of museums in contemporary society. He has lectured on the history of museums at the University of Tampere, Finland, and, from 2000 to 2004, he served as assistant professor in the Department of Art History at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, where he taught courses in aesthetics, American and European art history, critical theory, and museology.

Dr. Sirén holds an undergraduate degree in art history from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and a Master’s degree and PhD, also in the field of art history, from New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.

Scholarship Sponsors

Presenting Scholarship Sponsor

Patron Sponsor
WSF Industries, Inc.

Thank you to the generous Albright-Knox Members who have provided student scholarships.