Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Do Museums Still Need Objects?

One of San Francisco's great attractions is its museums. Over the past couple of decades a number of new museums have opened, or established institutions have moved into new buildings. This is happening as museums as an institution are going through a period of re-definition.

Do Museums Need Objects is a deeply thought out reconsideration of museums and their collections. Author Steven Conn argues that originally, for museums, the classification of the object was thought sufficient to convey its meaning, but now the public has “lost faith in the ability of objects alone to tell stories and convey knowledge.” Furthermore museums have come to collect objects of many different types and functions and make use of these objects in a variety of new ways.

Today museums must find a balance between being a public and a corporate institution, and being a place for education and entertainment. Conn notes that the museum originally came into existence as a warehouse for objects but today the museum also treats itself as an object. The museum today has a “civic and social function” that goes beyond the exhibit. Museums go beyond the display of objects to include events like concerts, film screenings and social functions.

Another way that Conn takes up objects is according to their cultural value and genealogy. He looks at the controversial topic of repatriating objects that have been removed from their cultures or countries of origin.

Do Museum Still Need Objects is a serious, scholarly look at role and meaning of museums today. Other recent titles that also consider this topic include Museums in a Troubled World by Robert R. Janes and Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience by John H. Falk.

Do Museums Still Need Objects? by Steven Conn (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010).

Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience by John H. Falk (Left Coast Press, 2009).

Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance or Collapse? by Robert R. Janes (Routledge, 2009).

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