What do people think about museums?

One way to address the question, “What do people think about museums?” is to look at cultural references to museums. Museum professionals often make note of references to museums in movies. For those who want to pursue that line of thought, here is Huffington Post’s list of “10 of the most memorable museum scenes in film.” In these movies museums serve settings for scenes (or occasionally the entire movie), often implying sophistication, wealth, or glamour.

But there are moments when museums are used or referenced in less straightforward, and perhaps more telling, ways. Below are four moments in which artists use the idea of “museum” in ways that are freighted with meaning. They present four visions of museums that are very different from each other. How do these ideas about museums connect – or disconnect – with how we are shaping our museums? 

If you know of other songs, books, poems, etc. which imbue museums with symbolic significance and thus speak to the ways in which people understand museums, please share them – I will add them to my Museum of Museums.

1. Amichai

In Yehuda Amichai’s “Poem Without an End,” a museum is grouped like a matruschka doll (those dolls that fit one inside the other) with history, religion, and the heart. It is not a physical space, but something that lives inside one’s heart:

Inside the brand-new museum
there’s an old synagogue.
Inside the synagogue
is me.
Inside me
my heart.
Inside my heart
a museum.
Inside the museum
a synagogue,
inside it
inside me
my heart,
inside my heart
a museum

2. Spektor

In Regina Spektor’s song “All the Rowboats,” the museum is a mausoleum that traps timeless art in a lonely, cold purgatory. (I recommend that you just listen to the song, without watching the much less interesting video.)

3. Pamuk

I have to admit I have not yet gotten my hands on a copy of Orhan Pamuk’s “The Innocence of Objects,” only read reviews of it. It is a museum catalog for a real museum dedicated to the life of a fictional character. The reviewer Presca Ahn described the museum as follows: “The cozy feel of the museum’s interior, the antiqued numbers over the vitrines, and the faded beauty of its objects are all part of the same curatorial strategy: to generate in us a false sense of longing, a nostalgia for something that neither we nor anyone else has ever experienced.” Museums, in this construct, are like novels – vehicles for stories, sites of invented history, which spring from the mind of a sole author/artist/curator.

Pahmuk in his museum

Pahmuk in his museum

4. Rives

In Rives’s Ted Talk “The Museum of Four in the Morning,” a museum is a conceptual space in which to crowd source and save the things that haunt us:

2 thoughts on “What do people think about museums?

  1. Don’t forget Dylan…
    4th stanza of “Visions of Johanna”:
    Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial
    Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
    But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
    You can tell by the way she smiles
    See the primitive wallflower freeze
    When the jelly-faced women all sneeze
    Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze
    I can’t find my knees”
    Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
    But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel

    Read more: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/visions-johanna#ixzz3UY1EewuZ

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