What is an Art Museum ?

I have been asked about the difference between a museum and an art gallery, based on the possibility that museums have traditionally been accessible and democratic, modelled on the beliefs of Henry Cole and Prince Albert, whereas art galleries were more for the cognoscenti. As it happens, it was the first question I was asked at my first interview at the NPG. I can’t remember what I answered then, but would say now that museums belong to a nineteenth-century encyclopedic tradition of public instruction, based on a systematic layout, whereas galleries are for art, where there is much less emphasis on labelling, more on looking. Art museum is, I think, American usage and at the V&A I was discouraged from using the term, but this hasn’t stopped me from using it in the title of my book.


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