Museum or shelter

Is there a right way to get along with art and history? This is the question I have after walking through the readings of the week. Or to be more specific – is museum the “right way” to approach art and history?

I love museums and I have been to some of the major museums, from the general ones – “The Met”, the Louvre, to the ones with a focus – MOMA, the WWII museum, to some of the “specialties” – the spy museum, the mob museum. Different museums have different characteristics, different curation logic and different ways to engage the audiences. As far as I enjoyed many of them, I never stop questioning: is this the right if not the best way to arrange all the artifacts and create such a space for us to access all the “points of interests”?

This is a complicated question. Museums are not for everyone in the first place. Most of the museums have geographical attributions, one would need to overcome the barrier in time and space to have access a certain museum, not to mention things inside the museum—they have another layer of barrier – the intellectual barrier. Everything has to work within a context—this is especially true to the art and historical objects. This is why many museums would invest heavily in providing the audiences with more background information. This could be achieved by guides (audio machines or human guides), a restored virtual space (a Chinese temple) and the most common practice – a brief introduction (brochure or small blocks on the wall).

There are many other ways to enhance the sense of presence in a museum – the ultimate goal is to help the audiences understand – how this self-contained artifact in front of you could be connected to a larger context and thus being transformed into something different and unique. So why do we deprive these objects of their original context and put them in a place like a museum? One would argue this is economies of scale – it would be impossible for one to access art and history in such a scale without gathering things in a museum. But this is to say the idea of the museum itself was out of a “value shelter”.

So, when I saw the Google art project, my reaction would be: this is a new layer in the entire hierarchy of accessing art and history. Everything could be a carrier of are and history. Some could be richer than others due to all kinds of reasons. We preserve them and study them so that we could gain a better understanding of the comprehensive context – the context of our world. The museum is a collective effort and representation – effort in increasing the density of the facts and representation of much specific art and history. But it’s never the best way – it’s a way and that’s it. Google art is a way. You could still argue people would stop going to the museums as they now have access to high-quality virtual experience online and this could be true. But chances are that people who are not interested in the art or history gained their first lesson online and want to explore afterward. After all, some exposure is better than zero exposure.