What’s the story, museums glory?

In this post I’d like to continue to talk about the issue of my previous post, i.e. the problem that museums must face to stay true to themselves and, at the same time, to understand the future trends of a globalized cultural environment and, if possible, to be even the catalyst of these new trends.

What about this sentence: “Whether it’s the product of artisans working in age-old traditions, or great geniuses breaking new ground, I think you get a broader perspective here, that is ever more important in the modern world.”

This comes from the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, Mr. Thomas P. Campell talking about his museum and what is the role of the collection in the modern era. Or better… the contemporary era!

In fact, according to the article I read, Campbell believes the Met should strengthen the relationships with contemporary art, because today this connection is not well perceived by the public.

“This engagement with contemporary art is part of what he describes as a “fundamental shift” in the presentation of the Met’s displays, helping to make them more accessible. “We assume a great deal of knowledge in our audience; I’m conscious that we need to do more for our general visitors. What I’m trying to do is to get the museum rethinking the visitor experience from the moment that people arrive at the museum: the signage they encounter, the bits of paper they pick up, all the way through to the way we deliver information in the galleries. And obviously that’s an enormous task. We’ve got a million square feet of gallery space and tens of thousands of objects on display, so nothing’s going to change overnight”.

So, here we’re talking about how to manage the collection directly on-site, updating the perception a visitor will have when he or she will enter the museum.

And here a very important sentence by Campbell, that could be referred to the issue emerged on my previous post: “The new art history that has shifted from the focus on connoisseurship and the priestly blessings of the top scholars to greater socio-political contextualisation; and the trend, coming out of Britain, for museums not just to speak to an elite upper-middle class. I think the London museums have really led the way in that”.

So, maybe the journalist who wrote the article I previously written about should at least listen this different perception of the “London Vague” by Mr Campbell, a perception with which I mostly agree.

I think that british museums are leading a trend that tries to bring museums to the 21st century and to the 22nd one too!

And that they could represent the real alternative to the American crisis of public and private museums, combining the need of a more complex and elaborated management strategy and the original public nature of European museums.

And last but not least, here’s an important question and an even more important answer.

Is the Met interested in becoming a world brand? “The Met was founded to be an international museum here in New York. I’m not interested in putting down bricks and mortar in Abu Dhabi. That said, we are a very out-facing institution.” That is, no thanks not that way, but maybe another way or with a less drastic formula…

See you soon then!

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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…