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  • Writer's pictureMUSEUM STUDIES

Disrupting Museum Authority: Art, Voice and the Museum

Dr Anna Lawrenson and Dr Chiara O'Reilly from Museum & Heritage Studies contextualise the importance of exhibition reviews in museological practice for this edition of GLAM in their new role as Associate Editors of Exhibition Reviews for Curator: The Museum Journal. Their review of two significant exhibitions Unsettled at the Australian Museum and Eucalyptusdom at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (2021), titled Disrupting Museum Authority: Art, Voice and the Museum, can be read on open access here. Lawrenson and O'Reilly are authors of The Rise of the Must See Exhibition Blockbusters in Australian Museums (Routledge, 2020).

Installation view of exhibition entrance, Unsettled, Australian Museum. ©Australian Museum, reproduced with permission photographer Anna Kucera. [Colour figure can be viewed at wileyonlinelibrary.com]

Museums are wrestling with their past and exhibitions provide important spaces to create new dialogues and include previously excluded voices.

Our recently published review in the internationally renowned journal Curator: The Museum Journal examines two exhibitions from 2021 – Unsettled at the Australian Museum and Eucalyptusdom at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. These exhibits, we argue, are significant markers of fundamental changes in Australian museum practice. The review examines how these museums sought to disrupt the colonial bias in their historical collections and tell new stories of settlement and place. We considered the way that voice, particularly the voice of Indigenous communities and creative practitioners helped to challenge how history could be told and the authority of the museums.


This review was published as part of our new role as Associate Editors for Exhibition Reviews with Curator: The Museum Journal. We’re excited about this role – we’ve spent countless hours consuming exhibitions, writing about them and talking about them with each other and our students over the years, and this is a fitting expression of that.


Exhibitions do more than just showcase the beautiful. Key challenges – racism, domestic violence, environmental catastrophe – are powerfully featured in recent exhibitions, but scholarly reviews of these exhibitions are scarce. Exhibition reviews can contribute to an archive of critical evaluation that advances global practice, irrespective of whether the reader can, or has, visited the actual installation.

As exhibition catalogues – particularly in hard copy – become scarce, exhibition reviews provide an enduring record of the field. All help to illustrate the history and evolution of museological practice and reveal the sophisticated multisensory apparatus that lie beneath their seductive surfaces. For us, a good exhibition review points the profession toward new potentials for museums to be relevant in society.



Installation view of Alchemy section of Eucalyptusdom, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Foreground work Yasmin Smith, STARS (Castle Hill plantation 2021) (2021). Photo: Chiara O'Reilly, 2022. [Colour figure can be viewed at wileyonlinelibrary.com]

  • Dr. Anna Lawrenson (anna.lawrenson@sydney.edu.au) is located in the Museum and Heritage Studies program at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research considers how the history, funding and administration of museums and galleries shapes their approach to public engagement.

  • Dr. Chiara O'Reilly (chiara.oreilly@sydney.edu.au) is the current Director of the Museum and Heritage program at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research examines cultural institutions: Critically looking at their history, collections and key role as holders of cultural memory and identity.

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