The Museum as Experience (2)

I am continuing to enjoy the Gamboni’s book about private museums, which is a fascinating dialogue between two cousins as to the virtues of the museums that they visit separately, but discuss jointly and at great length. As time goes by, one gets a better sense of their respective characters: Dario provides the scholarly heft, the detailed background in advance of Libero’s visits; Libero then provides the visual and critical analysis. Libero greatly admires Carlo Scarpa’s additions to Canova’s Pinacoteca in Possagno. Dario provides the references to Quatremère de Quincy. Libero has bad dreams following a visit to the Soane Museum and recommends to Dario that the Indian restaurants of London ‘restore digestive calm’, an unlikely suggestion. They like the Schack Collection in Munich – I do not know it; Dario says that ‘the historic and aesthetic value of the Schack collection is an argument in favor of the ‘immobilism’ so frequently denigrated in the world of museology’. Schack includes copies in his collection which prompts a discussion of the status of copies in nineteenth-century museums. They both love the Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris. Libero is very critical of Renzo Piano’s additions to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston: ‘I find it curious that for a decisive intervention in the history of so individual a building, such a generic language has been used. It might be retorted that this deliberate character is intended to avoid any sense of rivalry with the original, but what Scarpa has done at Possagno demonstrates beyond doubt that an extension can be respectful without banality and that fitting in requires intelligence and originality’. On the other hand, he provides a very even-handed and balanced critique of the new building for the Barnes Collection.

One wonders how the book came about. When Libero is going to visit the Musée Nissim de Camondo, Dario offers to accompany him. He gets a very sharp rebuke: ‘It’s very kind of you to suggest a meeting in Paris but I confess that I prefer to visit museums and exhibitions on my own; if someone is with me I always get distracted and fail to see half of what I would if I were on my own’. If one wants to learn about the history of private museums, I can’t imagine a more interesting way of doing so.

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