Still Life (1)

I was recommended a new book about museums called Still Life: Ecologies of the Modern Imagination at the Art Museum. It’s a deep dive – a very deep dive – into the workings of the Museum of Modern Art, written by a sociologist, Fernando Domínguez Rubio, at the University of California, San Diego, working under Chandra Mukerji, who has herself, very unusually for a sociologist, written about the gardens of Versailles. What is impressive about the book is that he treats everything about the internal workings of the museum, the nature of works of art, how and why they are acquired, the processes of their care and conservation, the ways they are displayed, with the same, deeply scrupulous care and attention, trying to understand the processes involved with intelligence and sympathy as well as critical detachment, which marks it out from much museological writing where the critique is paramount, rather than the empathetic understanding. I found it strange and very fascinating, because it makes it clear the extent to which museums are strange places, following their own rules of engagement, judgment and obsession.

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