The function of museums today
Anyone who wishes to reflect on the meaning of museums today
and what purposes they serve.
In the age of the World Wide Web the concept
of the museum is changing. It is expanding, which leads us
to question whether its function should continue or whether
it should change.
Some people think this sort of institution
is outdated and its very existence needs to be questioned.
Others believe that despite changes in technology, museums
can continue as they are and they do not need to change. Both
positions seem a bit extreme; perhaps museums should not disappear,
but new ways of working can be explored.
The Internet is a device
that has a greater capacity to disseminate culture than museums,
with the disadvantage that perception is restricted to a screen.
In museums one can enrich the experience of seeing art by relating
to an object of a certain size and texture, and to experience
the journey in space. Other senses can enter into the relationship
arising from engaging with a piece through direct examination.
The disadvantage of museums is that they are institutions
and no matter whether they are public or private, they function
according to the policies of whoever finances it. Museums
require a fairly high budget to be able to function, due
to the fact they are managed by institutions and these generally
have political and economic purposes.
For many years, museums
served as spaces to exhibit the trophies European countries
brought from conquered cultures. They also functioned to
display pieces of art commissioned by whoever financed the
museum and they served to reflect society as they understood
With revolutions, museums embraced a more social character.
They declared that cultural patrimony belonged to everyone,
not only the aristocracy. Thus, the former collections of
the aristocracy became public and people began to go to museums
that told them that what they were seeing on display reflected
and defined them in some way. Thus, in the beginning, museum
visitors thought of that space as defining their very identity.
museums of contemporary art seek to disseminate the work of
living artists. Their intention is educational and they endeavor
to publicize art and culture. Museums are places of learning,
reflection, and entertainment. The number of visitors has increased
and the major museums of the world receive between two to five
million visitors per year.
All of this was fine and well until
the rise of the Internet, which enabled millions of viewers
to visit websites that could triple or quadruple the number
of visitors a museum could never possibly accommodate. Museums
have spatial and financial constraints, while the selection
of work to be shown is a complex process, so much of the art
produced is never even put on display.
The Internet has totally
revolutionized this situation. Everything may be exhibited
and everyone can decide what to see and what not to see. Even
though the Internet does have limitations, such as the screen
format, or the fact that some characteristics of the work cannot
be experienced, one can understand the idea, above all when
the concept holds greater weight than the production itself.
can offer an enriching experience, but the time has come to
examine how they can interact with technology to enrich the
potential experience of visitors. While they are limited in
space, the Internet isn’t. Their exhibitions
can be enriched by printed as well as online catalogues.
Internet has become a tool permitting the free distribution
of information. If the museum’s objectives are to provide
a service to society, perhaps it should expand its activities
to the Internet to make the museum experience even more valuable.
the case of the Heresies project, it is interesting to be
able to interact with Pedro Meyer’s work in the
museum, to view the printed photos in large formats with
a visual quality different from that on the screen, to be
able to walk through a space and see several images at the
same time, and to make connections between them. After the
exhibition has traveled to some 60 museums, one might think
that was not enough, and then visit pedromeyer.com or zonezero.com
to find out more about Meyer and his work, at the same time
as getting to know the work of other photographers. And so
exhibitions can set off a chain reaction spurring the viewer
to pursue additional information.
What is important is that
we are at a time that invites everyone to experiment and
to seek new ways of being. Museums should not be done away
with, but they can expand their services to spread culture
to a wider audience.
About an hour.
A historian, researcher or
A video projector and computer, depending on the speaker’s