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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Minding the museums

Howdy!

I don't normally read Walrus magazine, mostly because way too much of it is money-walled. But I came across an article written by Adam Gopnik about (ostensibly) the current state of affairs in the museum biz.

In a nutshell, he uses alliteration to try to show how museums have moved from being mausoleums, to machines, to maybe malls but mostly mindful. Mr. Gopnik, can I introduce you to Paul Werner?

One of the major problems with Mr. Gopnik's thesis, is that he does not even acknowledge the explosion of museums here, there and everywhere. In New Zealand there is approximately one museum for every 8,000 residents. In Canada there are more than 2,500 museums. Mr Gopnik probably would think that the Groupe Bizot is too large, and really should be reduced to only including museums in New York, Paris and London.

The idea all museums are in lock step, thinking and moving to the same beat in the same direction is about as preposterous as a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

Then, when he writes "One of the central comedies of manners in our society is that that art, which none of us quite understands, is taken out of the aesthetic context in which it's made and brought to institutions." I really get annoyed. That he furthers the cliche that contemporary art is incomprehensible is just flat out stupid. Try that sentence this way: One of the central comedies of manners in our society is that that literature, which none of us quite understands, is taken out of the aesthetic context in which it's made and brought to institutions. or if you prefer One of the central comedies of manners in our society is that that film, which none of us quite understands, is taken out of the aesthetic context in which it's made and brought to institutions.

Film is understandable, as is literature. When either, or both get tossed into an institution (say a university) it is the duty of the institution to elevate whatever is being brought in. One easy way to elevate something is through use of three syllable words, or academic language if you prefer. When and where did museums become like universities? I think it is much more helpful to consider museums like concert halls for music. Or libraries for books.

Given that there are two museums here in town that regularly schedule concerts (one, two), I would venture a guess that the current state of the museum world is mindful of the need to sometimes be a concert hall.

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