The Museum System:
Themes, Questions, and Issues for Art Museums Today
Museums, galleries, and the ideologies of
art spaces and art experiences
The artworld institutions, professions, and economics
- The art museum is an an artworld sub-system with
its own institutional structures and hierarchies of professionalism.
- The curator and museum director roles have become
linked to academic professionalism.
- Museums and commercial galleries are part of the
same economic system involving the circulation of both financial
and cultural capital.
- Professionalization of both the commercial and
non-profit sectors means that the academic system is part of the
larger artworld economy.
- Two main vectors or force fields today: institutional
art [funded, "non-commercial"] vs. commercial gallery art
[art for a market, sales to collectors, institutions, museums]:
- Grant-funded/ externally-sponsored/ museum/ academic
art creates an image of art as act or performance by an inner circle
- Funded art also provides an authentication or career
positioning by an artist.
- Art sustained by art market/ artists' and dealers'
relationships/ auction house sales creates an image of art as artist-made
product/ art as objects to be owned/ art as value created by a marketplace.
- Museums and galleries often compete and cross categories
in the financial costs of exhibitions and the commercial return
to the art industry in related gallery sales.
- The "burden of the past" and the newer social-economic-political
- Museums deal with cultural legacies, museum history,
national cultures: Louvre; Metropolitan Museum, NY; National Gallery,
- Cultural expectations of "heritage" and
new social and economic demands.
- "White Cube" issues
Trying to see the "Mona Lisa" in the
- Isolation, dehistoricizing of art objects in seemingly
- Viewing and/vs. understanding: legacy of assumed
immediate understanding of "timeless masterpieces" and existence
of universal, transcultural meanings and values in museum works.
- Museum as architected, pre-encoded space, the inside
where art exists or appears, vs. the outside world, where art doesn't
exist or is indiscernible. Comparisons with sacred space of temples,
churches, shrines. Interpretive space of museum installations, special
Ideology of selection and classification, ideology
- Social class values in museum visiting: middle
class and upscale identity includes appearing as the insider, in-the-know
"connoisseur-consumer," one who feels at home in art museums.
- Museums and galleries as "cultural capital"
(Bourdieu), part of social class knowledge, experience, ownership.
- Questions of ownership, censorship, institutional
and curatorial prejudice, privilege in the museum business.
- Construction of cultural narratives and promotion
of the cult of the artist in exhibitions, catalogues, and textual
The Museum Effect
- Museum aura and authority created by selection,
isolation, implicit or explicit hierarchies of inclusion and exclusion,
display, classification, archiving, storage.
- "Museum Effect" means that some art objects
become made for museum display (e.g., Koons, Hirst, Paik).
- Institutional Critique: Hans Haacke
Debates about curating and curatorship
- What is the role of the curator today? Interpreter
of artworld and public interests?
- Academic professionalization of curating in the
past 20 years.
- Curator as "auteur"--creating the show,
not just presenting pre-exisiting works in a neutral context (see
major art fair curating, the Whitney and other biennials, Documenta).
- Traditionally, education mission for non-specialists,
informing and educating audiences, developing new audiences.
- American tradition of "art is good for you"
(Puritan heritage): moral and esthetic instruction.
- "The public is not invited" (Wolfe) in
the artworld decision process.
- Connection with conflicting subcultures of academic
art history and the commercial market of art collecting.
- Are the traditional missions still viable?
Museums and galleries competing for viewers, patrons,
and donors in an "attention economy" of visual culture
- Museums and entertainment: covered in the "Arts
and Entertainment" and "Style" sections of newspapers
- Museum images and objects now coexist with others
in popular visual culture, museum images and objects competing with
TV, video, movie, and computer images (what can be screened) for
attention and value.
Museum buildings as works of art in the own right:
contemporary architecture for museums, architecture as sculpture, sculpture
made for museum spaces (Wright, I. M. Pei, Gehry)
Serra sculpture, Guggenheim, Bilbao
- Competition for grand museum spaces, high design,
star architects: museum spaces as destinations, local landmarks
in their own right.
- Global expansion of museums in the network of the museum system: Dubai, Beijing, etc.