How museums should act/react to US politics

I’m re-posting Max Anderson’s thoughtful and heartfelt article on how museums should respond to current circumstances in the United States, not least because it contains such a vigorous denunciation of any view that museums might be considered places of contemplation and reflection, but instead should be recognised for what they have become – market-driven and increasingly privatised entities – and that they should ‘collect and present art that is not a mirror of art market fashion’. I look forward to the response.


4 thoughts on “How museums should act/react to US politics

  1. Ivan Gaskell says:

    Art museums are places that people use in a wide variety of ways, regardless of the ambitions of their trustees and staffs. While I agree with Max that “[m]any museums long ago escorted contemplation out the door and invited in expansion for its own sake, commercially-minded blockbusters, frothy, social media-worthy installations, glamorous fundraisers, and non-educational merchandising,” their galleries can nonetheless retain a therapeutic function worth acknowledging. This is so even if–especially even if–trustees and staffs discount that therapeutic function, or trivialize it by deeming art museums mere “space for contemplation, ‘thoughts and prayers’, or [sites of] sentiments of ‘now more than ever,’” as he scathingly–rightly, in my view–puts it. Max wants art museums to work to expand the constituencies that use them. I wholeheartedly agree, and the Souls Grown Deep Foundation has an important role to play. But one of those legitimate uses is therapeutic.

    • Dear Ivan, Yes, good comment. As you probably remember, the issue of contemplation is one of the themes of my book (or it maybe post-dates the version you read last summer), which was partly what interested me in Max’s hostility to it as an idea. Charles

  2. Maurice Davies says:

    Like Max Anderson, many people are suggesting that art museums should become less frenzied places, with fewer loan exhibitions and more use of the collection. Some, such as Mark Jones in this month’s Art Newspaper, dream of more emphasis on presenting research and simple direct engagement with objects. From one point of view that’s appealing, but all the activity and spectacle of recent decades has in most countries attracted more people to visit museums. Many of these additional visitors otherwise wouldn’t be engaging with museums at all because they’d instead choose to be at home, shopping, meeting friends in bars or restaurants, things that will all be ‘normal’ again in a year or two. So, the dilemma is that if museums become less spectacular then fewer people may be enticed to visit and museums risk returning to their position in the mid 20th century when they simply mattered less and were regarded by many as dusty and boring. The challenge is to have quieter, collections-based programming that appeals to large and varied local audiences. I wonder whether that is in fact possible? With fewer learning and community-engagement staff it will certainly be extremely difficult.

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