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Melissa Fearn

Curating People: Biography and the Museum

       There are countless examples of museums and museum exhibitions that have taken on the task of constructing personalities in the spaces they curate.  Historical figures, cultural icons, celebrities, great minds, the infamous, and the adored: anyone who has lived in the public eye may not only find their story being told in an episode of A&E Biography or on the bookshelves at the local Barnes & Noble, but also formatted for a museum exhibition.  While the biographical genre is highly popular within society, it is not without problems.  This thesis research explores the similarities and differences between the process of exhibitory biography and other biographical methods.  It identifies the problems that exist within the genre and how those problems manifest themselves within an institutional setting such as the museum. 

The public holds trust in the museum and that which it presents.  However, what happens when it is impossible to ensure the authenticity of the subject represented and what factors are responsible for this obscurity?  What are the ramifications that the museum and its audience must face when developing and engaging in biographical exhibitions?  Through the examination of several cases, this paper addresses questions such as these and will provide curators with an understanding of the dynamics of curating people; an understanding they might use to re-evaluate their past endeavors or apply to their current and future practices.


        Melissa Fearn received her BA in Classics and Anthropology in 2001, with an emphasis in Roman civilizations, from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Before coming to SAIC, she spent two years as the Collections and Exhibitions Intern for the Lake County Discovery Museum.


Thesis Advisor: Nicholas Lowe, Visiting Artist, Arts Administration

Thesis Reader: Katherine Hamilton-Smith, Superintendent, Cultural Resources, Lake County Forest Preserves District, Illinois




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