The Future of the Museum (1)

I have been reading a fascinating and impressive collection of interviews with the current generation of museum directors compiled by András Szántó over the summer – yes, this summer – and already published by Hatje Cantz, an amazing achievement of instant publishing. It helps illuminate the recent row over what a museum is, and should be. ICOM proposed that museums should be described as ‘democratizing, inclusive, and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue’ – in other words, privileging their social and political functions far above their responsibilities for acquisition, collection and display. I am interested by the extent to which this is now a newly established orthodoxy: ‘those objects are full of opinions, and the museum needs to be a space where those opinions are given voice’ (Suhanya Raffel); ‘I have three models: artist studios, schools, and hospitals…the museum is a meeting place, a place for education, and a platform for the enjoyment of art and culture’ (Victoria Noorthoorn); ‘I think of it as a civic sanctuary for idealism, for free thought, and for providing a space and place for conversation and for bringing people together’ (Franklin Sirmans); ‘If you’re a museum, you shouldn’t feel like a cupboard. It shouldn’t feel like you’re putting the works in a cupboard that you close and only open sometimes, and after a while not at all because all you want to do is protect them’ (Marie-Cécile Zinsou); ‘We should aim to be pillars of society: public places where you can come to learn, meet other people, share ideas, debate and even disagree’ (Anne Pasternak). I get the picture. They are no longer repositories of works of art, but civic spaces for discussion, debate and community building. But what about those poor old objects, sitting forlornly in the corner, waiting for their voices to be heard ?

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4 thoughts on “The Future of the Museum (1)

  1. hiramwoodward says:

    Thank you for speaking up for the poor old objects. If a museum is to be conceived as a social contract, surely the works of art it contains deserve a seat at the table. I reside in Baltimore, Maryland, where the Baltimore Museum of Art recently decided to sell three major 20th-century American paintings, a sale only halted at the last minute after a plea from a heavy-weight group of retired museum directors. Following this debacle, the Board Chair wrote to the museum members, “We do not abide by notions that museums exist to serve objects; we believe the objects in our collection must reflect, engage, and inspire the many different individuals that we serve.” Time was, when serving objects was a privilege—not just preserving them, but presenting them to visitors of all stations in life.
    Hiram Woodward

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