What is a museum?

The ideas that I found particularly intriguing in this reading was the way in which “museums by their very nature limit their audiences’ abilities to make sense of collections and place them in broader social contexts”, as well as the shift from the more tangible focus of a museum (through objects, artifacts, collections, etc) , to an institution that focuses more on the intangible exchange of ideas and concepts. When thinking about how the ‘traditional’ museum is curated, there often seems to be some ‘overarching system’ that lies behind most museums. Many museums with a focus on the fine arts or history seem to organize their spaces periodically, with the visitor passing through time and history as they wander through the grounds. If not periodical, spaces are often organized thematically, with artworks and objects clustered together according to if they fit some predetermined theme like “Love” or “Childhood”. I am interested in the extent to which this categorical approach that many museums seem to utilize is limiting and restricting to the audience or viewer. If, for example, a Monet painting is displayed amongst a myriad of other impressionist paintings, the viewer may indeed get a good grasp of impressionism, but their ability to view the painting from a new and unexpected lens may be diminished. What if this same painting was exhibited amongst a mixture of randomly selected works that have no relation to one another? How would this impact the audience’s understanding, interpretation, and appreciation of the work? The reading often mentions this idea of education and learning, and I feel as though many museums (in the traditional sense) still seem to have a strong sense of system and ‘taxonomy’ driving it. This brings into question the level to which an object, painting, idea, or concept is stuck in time, or can travel forward to new contexts and interpretations.

The ‘sanitizing, insulating, plasticizing, and preserving’ of ideas and objects seems to be a significant part of the nature of the traditional museum. While many museums have shifted to have a more fluid, dynamic, and audience-centered approach, I wonder how museums can work to strike a balance between preservation and growth. I also wonder how the idea of ‘plasticizing’ and ‘sanitizing’ can be reduced. Often, it seems that when something lies encased behind glass or velvet barricades, then it must be something of note and it must be something worthy of paying attention to. There seems to be a distance, hierarchy, and disconnect between the viewer and what is being viewed. How can this sense of hierarchy be reduced and allow audiences to feel more immersed in these spaces?