Temporary exhibitions VS collections? A fratricidal fight!

I’m writing this post because I read a very interesting article on The Independent last week about the decline of british museums!

“Over the last decade our galleries have become almost entirely devoted to mounting exhibitions, their general collections forgotten, their reserve holdings left untouched and the energy of their directors and keepers devoted to arranging and cataloguing temporary shows. Success today for a museum is not even told in the number of visitors crossing their portals, but the size of the crowds and the length of the queues at their would-be blockbusters. “Biggest ever,” “most comprehensive”, “revelatory” have become the sales pitch…”.

And the main cause is, of course, money.

The cuts in fundings forced many museums to use temporary exhibitions as the main means of raising funds.

“Read the strategy document and there will be investment in spruced up and additional exhibition facilities along with the coffee bar and bookstall expansion as the key items in raising money from commercial activities. The biggest future capital projects of both the British Museum and the V&A involve new galleries for temporary exhibitions”.

So we can consider this as another aspect of the crisis (it must be said that this trend started few years ago, it is not a new issue, but the actual situation undoubtedly worsened it).

And the second cause, according to the journalist, could be considered the tendency and the pressure to populism: the last governments especially imposed on public galleries the obligation to bring in a wider range of visitors as the price of freedom from entry fees.

And this need to raise the number of visitors had as a direct consequence the growth of the presence of travelling exhibitions in the London cultural offer.

So the article tries to focus the attention of the “institutional” decline of public museums, now almost completely devoted to bring people inside their rooms, no matter if they come to visit the collections or, as they tend to do in these years, to see the temporary exhibitions (more and more of them coming from other institutions).

Even if this statement is partly sharable, I don’t agree with this drastic opinion, because I believe that temporary exhibitions are necessary to museums just for the reasons the journalist reported and that the travelling ones could represent a source of opportunities, a way to see things that couldn’t be accessible without going in person to the different museums abroad.

As for everything: in medias stat virtus.

There should be a balance between the need to raise money and the main purpose of a museum (i.e. the promotion of its collection to the public) and that this is another of those crucial challenges that museums should face in the future if they want to survive!

P.S.: the comments on the article are quite interesting, take a look at them…