The Universal Survey Museum

“The museum’s primary function is ideological,” to serve as a place of worship, and to signal the importance of it’s inhabitants: artwork. I wonder at the constraints of the religious sentiment of the museum, and the resulting effect a museum has on the art itself.

Part of the universality of the museum is the effect that a museum’s architecture has on the viewer: “This totality of art and architectural form organizes the visitor’s experience as a script organizes a performance,” and though many variables, such as class and culture, play a role in how the viewer accepts the artwork, “the architecture is a given, and imposes the same underlying structure on everyone.” When viewing the art in a gallery, there is much the same kind of feeling, but more simplified, in that the work is the central focus, whereas in the museum, the experience of seeing and walking around the artwork is more focal. What would the difference be if viewing the work on the street, not unlike a street performance? Does the lack of a spiritually emblematic space result in lackluster artwork, and therefore a denial of the artwork’s value?

“Museums almost everywhere sanction the idea that works of art should, above all, be viewed one-by-one in an apparently ahistorical environment.

  • However, in some exhibits, certain works (typically by the same artist) are displayed next to one another, apart from the rest of the exhibit, and are therefore meant to be viewed together.
  • Why is artwork from a collection, therefore meant to be viewed together, always displayed separately? Why is the concept of a frame so important, rather than allowing the work to show in it’s original form, as it was seen by the artist, on an easel with paint splatters on the floor? (it seems understandable in the national museums, but in the museums for modern art it would seem to be an idyllic place to break the constraints of the traditional public museum.)

Typology of the universal survey museum:

  • Most important: Large municipal and national museums, focused primarily on the masters, or devoted to the most historically significant works, as well as the museums of modern art
  • specialized regional collections
  • robber-baron museums
  • Universal survey museum = public art museum

The public museum “displays spiritual wealth that in theory belongs to everyone – or rather publicly owned through the medium of the state.”

  • Public museums offer citizens the idea that they are a part of something, that they have been granted the opportunity to own countless, priceless works, through the government, and though they cannot do whatever they wish with the artwork, they will not be forbidden to see it if they should wish (unless they cannot afford the entry fee, depending on location).
  • Why is art so significant, presented in this form? Even those who lay claim to a belief, a religion, those individuals also adhere to the understanding that art is important and worthy of a $5-35 (if not more) ticket to go and see.

“Viewed historically, art history appears as a necessity and inevitable component of the public museum.”

  • No matter what shape a museum takes, the visitor must make a circular passage entering through the front doors, and leaving through those same doors. This encourages the visitor to go through all the exhibits, and in the case of the Louvre, beginning with the sight of the Winged Victory, and ending with it. There are several paths one can make to view an exhibition, but typically the journey is understood to be circular.

“The history of art boils down to a celebration of national and individual genius.”
“The museum environment forces the experience of art [removed of all references to it’s original meaning] into its art-historical mould and generally excludes other meanings.”
“The museum certifies individualism as a primary and universal value.”

  • The acknowledgement of an artist by a museum can change history. By affirming the importance of the work of one individual, a museum influences future artists to follow the same example, to be further inspired, but also driven in a certain direction. By observing multiple forms of art, and creating a larger field within which an artist can work and be inspired, museums essentially continuously change the flow of inspiration and control the future of art to an extent. How meaningful is the opinion of the institution to an artist?



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