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Penn Museum’s What in the World Live Event
February 23, 2010, Volume 56, No. 23

In the early 1950s, then-Penn Museum Director Froelich Rainey created a popular television show—What in the World—featuring a rotating panel of Museum scholars and celebrities who examined individual artifacts from the Museum’s vast collections, puzzling out where they came from and how they would have been used. The national television show, a pioneer project in the field of museum education at the dawn of the telecommunications age, lasted for several seasons.

On Sunday, February 28, at 2 p.m., Penn Museum visitors are invited to experience some of the spirit of that famous TV game show, when New York–based artist Pablo Helguera, in collaboration with the Museum, hosts a live event, What in the World. The program features moderator Dr. Richard Hodges, Penn Museum director, and a panel of distinguished experts: Mr. Helguera, artist Mark Dion, and Philadelphia Museum of Art curator Joseph Rishel, who work together to identify the “mystery objects” presented to them, while the audience, provided with written cards with the “answers,” enjoy the show. Following the program, Mr. Helguera is available to sign his new book, What in the World, published by Jorge Pinto Books, and guests may visit his What in the World multi-media installation on the third floor. The What in the World installation runs through April 11, 2010.

The special event, free with Museum admission donation ($10 adult; $7 seniors; $6 full time students and youth, 6 to 17), is part of the Philagrafika 2010 international contemporary art festival.

As one of five “Out of Print” cultural partners participating in the Philagrafika 2010 international festival, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology hosted artist Pablo Helguera, inviting him to explore the Museum and its collections. He developed a project that tapped into the rich archival resources of the institution: What in the World, a provocative new installation that features a recreated set from the famous television program, Museum artifacts, and a series of videos designed to provide “an unauthorized biography” of the 123-year-old Penn Museum.  With his installation, Mr. Helguera offers a new perspective on the Museum’s collection, “not through the traditional reading of an artifact as representative of the ideas and customs of an ancient culture, but instead as representative of the ideas and customs of those who collected it in the first place, bringing to the fore the singularities of historical curatorial visions.”

 “Penn Museum is one of the premiere institutions of its kind in the world,” Mr. Helguera noted. “With this project, I hope to provide the public with a glimpse into the institutional unconscious of the Museum and the complex social and cultural fabric of its history.”

Born in Mexico City, Mr. Helguera is a New York-based artist working with installation, sculpture, photography, drawing, and performance. Mr. Helguera’s work focuses on a variety of topics ranging from history, pedagogy, sociolinguistics, ethnography, memory and the absurd, in formats that are widely varied including lectures, museum display strategies, musical performances and written fiction. He has exhibited extensively in many museums and biennials internationally. In 2008 he was awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2005, he received a Creative Capital Grant that supported his recent project “The School of Panamerican Unrest” (www.panamericanismo.org), a nomadic think-tank that physically crossed the continent by car from Anchorage, Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, covered almost 20,000 miles, and made 40 stops. It is considered one of the most extensive public art projects on record.

Mr. Helguera is currently Director of Adult and Academic programs at the Education Department of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. As a museum educator, he has worked for two decades in a variety of contemporary art museums including the Guggenheim and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. He is the author of eight books including The Pablo Helguera Manual of Contemporary Art Style (2005, Spanish edition; 2007, English edition), a social etiquette manual for the art world; the novel The Boy Inside the Letter (2008) and an anthology of his performance texts, and other performance lectures, Theatrum Anatomicum (2009), all published by Jorge Pinto Books.

Almanac - February 23, 2010, Volume 56, No. 23