"... one cannot fully understand cultural practices unless ‘culture’, in the restricted, nominative sense of ordinary usage, is brought back into ‘culture’ in the anthropological sense, and the elaborated taste for the most refined objects is reconnected with the elementary taste for the flavours of food"
There is good evidence to suggest that the museum in some form or other has been an institution inseparable from the controlling interests in our society for as long as history has been written. It had existed as a functionable institution, though with perhaps different aims; at least since the days of King Ptolemy I’s reign over Alexandria. The contemporary musuem, however, is shaped by other various influences, which profoundly affect the way in which we experience it. Namely the birth of the contemporary museum by way of its affiliations with the church and with private collections (e.g. - curiosity cabinets). Its cultural role in society has generally remained an open question by the greater sector of Culture.1
The ‘objects’ that make up the collection, the way in which they are represented, not to mention the way the building and programme suggest the visitor use the space, determine to a large extent what is ‘learned’. The curatorship of the collection itself plays a critical role in defining public tastes (=aesthetic values = morality = politic) through the use of passive historical reference to the church and other bodies of authority. Thus the dual scripts of architecture and of collection are behavioural modifiers and hence tools of power. Here the architecture plays a role in the representation of not just of the collection, but of the social and public, or political space. It represents a political structure - which is the controlling body.
The typical museum, in order to maintain a healthy attendance, must support, through these mechanisms commonly held, edifying beliefs, about local culture.2 This is demonstrated by the pressure exercised on public museums to continuously mount and remount popular shows, such as that of Egyptian sarchophagi, for example, or the work of Edouard Manet at the Musée d'Orsay. Being subject to cultural inertia then, the institution finds itself in an uphill battle against ignorance and conservative forces, unable to effectively track rapid cultural change. The institution is then forced to compete with other forms of mass entertainment, for an attendance which would have, in earlier years, been dedicated to museumgoing as an activity quite independent of the search for other forms of amuseument. It is therefore having to compete with the likes of the cinema, the amusement park, or of television, as a means of providing values which address culture in the form of its lowest common denominator.3, 4
A shift in the use of the museum by the public from a unique provider of cultural information to a provider of signifiers which are involved exclusively in telling the story of high culture means that the specialized role of the museum as provider of unique cultural activity is lost to the miasma of images serving similar roles prevalent in advertising and other sources. The net result is that the museum occupies a position as a retarding agent in the comprehension of the mechanisms of culture by consumers, in collusion with other media. Together, these media act on the public imagination through the manufacture and manipulation of ‘high culture’, in collusion with snob appeal to produce the following scenario:
The inordinate importance that we attribute to the original and authenticated, even in those borderline cases where only the expert can decide on questions of authenticity, has its unconscious roots in this particular kind of fetish-worship. Hence its compelling power - who would not cherish a lock from an Egyptian mummy’s head?... -we must conclude that for the great majority of mortals, including connoisseurs, the difference between an authenticated masterpiece, a doubtful attribution, and ‘a work from the school of’, is in most cases not discernible. But the fact remains that an ‘attribution’, perfect in its genre, but not authenticated, is held in lower esteem than a work of lesser perfection, guaranteed to have come from the aging master’s hand. It is not the eye that guides the museum visitor, but the magic of names.... this relativism of aesthetic judgement has its positivist sides: by entering into the spirit and climate of the period, we automatically make allowances for its crudities of techniques, for its conventions and blind spots; we bend over the past with a tender antiquarian stoop. but this gesture degenerates into antiquarian snobbery at the point where the period-frame becomes more important than the picture, and perverts our scale of values. The symptoms are all too familiar: indiscriminate reverence for anything classified as Italian Primitive or Austrian Baroque (including its mass-produced puffy, chubby, winged little horrors); collective shifts of period-consciousness (from anti-Victorian to pro-Victorian in recent years); the inanities of fashion (Fra Angelico is ‘in’, Botticeli is ‘out’).5
Koestler would like to suggest that the act of museum going for most people is more akin to watching an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, or going to an auction of Elvis Presley’s personal belongings, that what we call high culture is in fact more akin to a fascination with the myth of personæ (hence a fascination with the personal lives of Gaugin, or of Picasso’s womanizing potential.
What is missing here from the understanding of the percipient is the recognition of the cultural role of art and artifact in the collectivity. The myths of Modernism in art have blinded its lovers to this the idea of zeitgeist and collective psychology with the myth of the artist as divine creator. Hence all meanings refer directly to the hand which produced the works. I would like to suggest that this is a carryover effect due to the close proximity of the church and the museum in the cultural-economic space. This is perhaps best evidenced by daily congestion at the Louvre surrounding DaVinci’s Mona Lisa or by the rise of the art superstar in the early 1980’s. These cultural narratives (if we may be permitted to so call them) are not themselves bad in any absoulute sense, simply that they tend to confuse the traditional role of high culture, naive as it may be. And in a general anthroplogical sense they are quite useful and interesting. It would be naive to campaign against such behaviour since it quite obviously exists out of necessity (for the reasons about to be elaborated upon). If, however, one can simply make people aware of their own behaviour in an honest fashion, it would be enough for the purposes of the imaginary client of the building resulting from the thesis project.
It has been shown that the nature of these narratives is manifest in the split between what members of our society will recognize as ‘low’ and ‘high’ culture:
For the dominant class, the relationship between supply and demand takes the form of a pre-established harmony. The competition for luxury goods, emblems of ‘class’, is one dimension of the struggle to impose the dominant principle of domination, of which this class is the site; and the strategies it calls for, whose common feature is that they are oriented towards maximizing the distinctive profit of exclusive possessions, must necessarily use different weapons to achieve this common function. On the supply side, the field of production need only follow its own logic, that of distinction, which always leads it to be organized in accordance with a structure analogous to that of the symbolic systems which it produces by its functioning and in which each element performs a distinctive function.6
At any rate, this split functions by delimiting the range of cultural narratives or mythologies (such as the narrative of high culture itself) available to the consumer of culture. The danger of fabricating such a ‘validated’ culture is that its primary mode of use occur through a necessarily unquestioning servility, since the consumer is prevented from having any hand in writing its scripts, except thorough funding the entire operation in which the consumer is an-unwitting player.
The cycle is complete when the individual then is forced to consider such authority absoulute, thus deifying the realm of high culture and cementing the relationship. Hence the title “Museum of Secular Anthropology”. I would like to suggest that such a state of affairs is an artifact of the confusion created between the metaphysical and the mercantile brought on by an ontological shift resulting in the change in thought structures between the Middle Ages and Renaissance epochs, described in more detail in the section The Curiosity Cabinet and the Semiography of the Object. At this point, the individual becomes disempowered, accepting the apparent fruits of culture only through the most heavily edited, politically charged, channels. This is, in effect what is being learned at the highest level, from the narrative inherent in the collection, and in the representation of the collection (read display). The similarities of exercise in power through these cultural narratives and through Catholicism, I would argue, is more than superficial. It could even be argued that the cultural megaplex to which the museum belongs is heir to the tradition in the exercise in power which at one time belonged uniquely to the Church. Hence the campaign of high culture becomes a form of prosetylization.
What is being learned from the programme of the museum is a function of the individual institution, however there is a general move to enforce the ‘pop’ status of the museum object, through the establishment of the museum store which allows representations of the ‘meaningful’ objects to be purchased and therefore owned and co-opted as a representative of this narrative of Taste. an act which is akin to that of tourist photography in its functioning. This cult status is further impressed upon the impressionable mind and is maintained through distinctly different architectural signs being given to exhibition spaces from the more utilitarian spaces in the building.7 What is being learned from the architecture, through the construction of a building type is the absoulute authority of institution, and hence, of the aforementioned narrative of Taste. 8
A Procediural Note: This study shall attempt to execute its objectives by first examining the role of the museum in social and cultural media and then provide a brief look at the history of the institution in general terms. The study will not distinguish between contemporary museum types (i.e. - the art museum vs. science museum vs. more specialized types) since the thesis presumes they all have similar functions within the context of the discussion and concerns itself in a general sense with the representation of objects with cultural significance, and within a given cultural setting. It is hoped that the reader of this study will be able, at the end, to locate an intaglio by Rembrandt within the same cultural space as an exhibit of adding machines at the Musée des Techniques in Paris as an exhibition of the behaviour of ants at Science World in Vancouver. For our purposes these are the selfsame phenomena, and their origins are to a degree irrelevant. What is relevant is the fact that these are all things which we deem worthy of display and demonstration, that they are valued by our culture for one reason or another. The ideas of these things constitute a cultural narrative.
The purpose of this study is not so much to confirm the real or true origins of the museum as a building type or as a social phenomenon, but to locate the meaning of the museum within contemporary culture so as to better define what a museum is. Much as the real meanings of words change over the years, so, too do the meanings of cultural apparati. While we attempt to hold ourselves to original meanings and the intents of the progenitors of our specific culture, to do so would be näive at best, much as some who resist changes of spelling or meaning of words. It is here presumed that human beings are not so much the writers of cultural narratives (read trends) as elements of them. It is the aim of this study to provide a reading of what a museum actually does, how it functions, in our culture.
An examination of the curiosity cabinet in cultural history will provide a more profound understanding at the role of the museological object and the museum in Western culture through the critical period of the Enlightenment and up to today. Furthermore we shall examine the psychological basis of museology through the act of collecting, which will provide a profound view of the use of museums and their genesis. As we focus in on contemporary problems in museology, the various resources which architecture has to offer in solving the problems as stated will be discussed. This will serve the proposition of an alternative and appropriate architectural (and hencepolitical) model for the percipient’s interaction with the ‘exhibit’ and with the museum itself according to the dictates here formulated. Such a programme has an intent of providing a viewpoint which is both alternative and subversive to that normally offered in mass culture, providing persons with the tools to view the mechanisms of their own culture critically, thus establishing the museum as a site for the conscious testing and modifying of epistemologies.
Collections of smaller art objects or of natural curiosities were housed in a cabinet (Italian gabinetto; German Kabinett - all derived from the Latin cavea, ie - hollow place or cave). Originally a piece of furniture where small valuables were stored for safekeeping, the cabinet was later extended in use and meaning to designate a small room where such things were kept. The first cabinets were formed in Italy, around 1550 a.d., then spreading to the north in the 17th century; they became widespread throughout Europe with trade and economic prosperity in the 18th century. Anthony Shelton in the essay Cabinets of Transgression(see below) cites Dutch collector Hubert Goltzius as having itemized 968 collections in Italy, Switzerland, Austria, France and Germany, 70 of which were in the region of Venice alone. Occasionally, distinguished travelers were allowed to visit these private cabinets; gradually, in the 17th and 18th centuries the cabinets which survived a lack of interest by the collectors were opened to the public. The contents of many of these were diffused, the owners of the objects fully cognizant of their material worth. Hence, the collected objects were used to parlay favours, pay back debts as well as used as gifts within the aristocracy. The trend of establishing cabinets appeared to have faded out fairly rapidly, leaving no more than a handful of cabinets by the early 1800’s.
The shift from Mediaeval to Renaissance thought saw the first use of the curiosity cabinet. A descendent of the church sacristy, though privatized, the cabinet was used as a tool against which one could measure ambient, or local, ontologies. Cabinets were to house all manner of objects who shared the condition that their contemplation should bring a sense of awe and wonderment to the spectator. Each of such objects was considered a nexus with the Divine and the Infinite; a mirror of Natura. The problem however, which is one which in part helped distinguish Enlightenment thought from its Middle Ages counterpart, is that the objects were considered secular in origin. It is difficult to say whether this was a rationalization due to the act of physical separation from the sacristy or whether the cosmology of the day required it.
Throughout both epochs, the curiosity cabinet provided a mechanism for the secularization and distribution of theological reasoning through the beliefs that the World (that is, the natural world and spiritual world, secular and fantastic included) could be represented in the set of objects which spring from its inspiration by way of symbolism and allegory (in other words, metaphor). So, a given set of objects could in fact represent a Middle Ages cosmology, having themselves been formed from the same template.
According to the influential seventeenth century museographer Emanuele Tesauro, all natural objects contained their own particular allusion to specific ideas. Meaning was innate to nature, thereby permitting Tesauro to argue that ‘if nature speaks through such metaphors, then the encyclopaedic collection, which is the sum of all possible metaphors, logically becomes the great metaphor of the world’.9
This is not to say that European cultures had developed a world view that precluded the miraculous. It was however a proto-scientific perspective; the World was still very much a theological one. Indeed the purpose of the curiosity cabinet was one which initiallly encouraged contemplation of Creation and a consciously designed World. However, through the influence of Enlightenment philosophical investigation, the curiosity cabinet became a site through which new perspectives would be tested.
Newton’s Rules of Philosophizing or Decartes’ Discourse on Method (credits apply also to Malabranche and Spinoza) chose abandon the legacy of Leibniz’ logical philosophical method, whose approach was to filter all sentient worldly information through a rigorous a priori logical system. This approach created a split between worldly experience and pure thought. Hence a radical change had to be brought about from the act of arriving at worldly phenomena from the starting point of the establishement of concepts and axioms. This method would now be reversed in execution, respecting the existence of real phenomena. At the heart of this new philosophy was perhaps the unconscious rejection of an absoulute being - for earlier systems had assumed the existence of an order of supernatural, miraculous phenomena as a foundation (or modus-ponens) for the understanding of worldly experience10 . This liberation of philosophical investigation brought about a situation where the object contained in the curiosity cabinet now displayed properties hitherto absent in any object; for the first time representation and meaning could and would be separated. It could thus be conjectured that the Enlightenment hosted the birth of the idea representation. In the new scheme, a manufactured object could point to a higher truth. This point marks the emergence of a new aesthetic philosophy and a new epistemological method. Malabranche goes further with the postulate:
There is no true knowledge of things except insofar as we relate our sense perceptions to ideas of pure reason. It is only through this relation that our ideas gain objective meaning, only thus that they cease to be mere modifications of the self and come to represent objective reality and order. Sense qualities, sensations of colour and tone, of smell and taste, contain no trace whatever of any knowledge of being, or of the world, for through the immediacy with which we experience them they represent merely states of mind which change from moment to moment. (Cassirer, op. cit.)
Thus the stage is set for a separation of subject and object, championed especially by Immanuel Kant, who in a letter to colleague Markus Herz championed an even more extreme separation of theology and epistemology ...
... a Deus ex Machina in the determination of the origin and validity of our knowledge is the most preposterous device that one can choose; and, besides the vicious circle in the sequence of inferences from it, it has the further disadvantage that it fosters every pious or brooding whim. (Cassirer, op. cit.)
The shift was most profoundly registered in a change in the subject of the Natura from the divine to that of human nature. This had profound impact on the fact that nature was established earlier as a model for the artist to emulate in every way possible, so now there was hope for the resolution of a metaphysic which recognized aesthetic theory as a fundamentally human phenomenon, thus discarding prior theories of aesthetic objectivism.
The collection was typically divided into various categories such as natural curiosities and artificial curiosities, as a minimum classification system (Shelton, p.182). Occasionally, natural curiosities were further broken down into a sort of animal/vegetable/mineral distinction, and the artificial were distinguished according to material of manufacture. Reportedly certain organizational trends did occasionally occur, despite “a preoccupation with valuable materials- based on rarity, chromatic qualities and fidelity to natural forms”. It was only later that more sophisticated, didactic classification methods started being used (see below, under the making of new classes for the purposes of accomodating objects from the New World).
The only common emergent property between the elements of collection were that they were generally considered “rare or unique phenomena”11, thus rejecting the notion that the sublime or miraculous qualities of the object must mark or somehow prove the existence of some sublime or miraculous event. This Renaissance view anticipated new ideas about science (eg-natural law), suggesting that all events and objects in the secular world are determined by laws invisible to the eye, and forces beholden to such laws. Thus all worldly constructs must therefore be epiphenomena of such structures. Here, of course, scientific laws or formulations were replacing what had heretofore been the role of the Creator. Hence the concept of God was being reified by representations of the Divine. Understandably, many members of the religious establishment felt uneasy about the resulting ontologies, which, while continuous with and respectful of religious tradition, was distracting the attention of the populace from accepted notions of being.12
Isolated incidences of the curiosity cabinet being used for didactic purposes upped the ante, thus functioning as a precursor to scholarly museums like Oxford’s Ashmolean. Such cabinets were used as tools to expedite comparative analyses between different cultures, such as those found to exist in the New World, in the Orient or some combination thereof, such as the role of mythology and symbology between the Mexican, Japanese and Chinese cultures.13 Such comparisons were generally couched in the terms of collective differences to the culture native to the exhibition site, namely through the artifacts belonging to Old World Christendom.
Central to many of the most important of collections were items procured from America, from the New World. The objects returned from explorations made possible by Columbus in the search for riches in the Orient were considered part of a set of objects or ideas belonging to the order of the marvellous.14 The curiosity cabinet became a way to incorporate knowledge of this New World into a Mediaeval World View15, a means to understand constructs about natural history and peoples previously nonexistent. By such methods, new discoveries would not transgress the boundaries formed around accepted theories of being. A category was formed expressly for such objects; the Pagan. This provided an ideological buffer which prevented the possibility of ontological transgression, and thus even confirmed the values of Christendom; for Paganism was seen as dependent on the existence of a Christian evil, of a Satan. Paganism was seen as a parallel and complementary development to Christianity.
The cabinet was able to find its way to the contemporary museum by way of the installation of the collection of Francesco I, Grand Duke of Tuscany at the newly built Uffizi Palace, forming a public-domain collection. The ramifications of this act moved the semantic focus of the collection away from that of the World, towards that of the family dynasty by merit of the fact that the collection was publicly visible, though privately owned. The collection was meaningful as a personal representation of the World, though it represented the power of the family’s dominion over that world16. This situation was no isolated incident - those whose wealth and power permitted the acquisition of such collections were also in the position to institutionalize their collections, and so it was. In the mid-sixteenth century in Milan it was reported that all but two of sixteen prominent picture museums were state-run or otherwise affiliated with members of Milanese government.17
The objects within the collection became valuable not only for the cost of their procurement but a new increased value was ascribed to them according to their absoulute value as members within a given collection, or by its desireability as a sought after object within most collections. They acquired monetary significance, as objects within collections were coveted and traded among members of the aristocracy, and thus it came to be that a metaphorical object was assigned a capital value, and objects were traded, bought and sold as such whether these curiosities be manufactured or natural. Surely this obscured their postion of object as a cosmological tool, or perhaps that the subject of the new cosmology was to incorporate the idea of material wealth (as money came into equation with the Divine, by default). The New World objects were collected with discrimination, in favour of those objects which were continuous with Mediaeval European notions of Taste. As such gold armatures and decorated artifacts produced by indigenous peoples were the more highly regarded, and the more sought after as booty. However many of these objects, having outlived their interest as novelty, eventually found their way into the jewellery shops and foundries to be refabricated and truly assimilated into real domestic objects and currency. The relationship between cultural and capital value was established early on...
...even Suger in the twelfth century was conscious of the worth of Church collections, but Cortéz and his men were interminably engaged in translating indigenous symbolic values of artefacts into their European mercantile worth. The ability of such collections to dazzle, amaze and provide a conspicuous badge of wealth, status, taste and learning was never lost.18
Here the study of the history of the curiosity cabinet allows us a convenient device to understand the shift in meaning assigned to the cultural object from the metaphysical through to the mercantile, a shift apparently due to the decentralization of ownership of metaphysical objects from the church and into private hands. The secularization of the object forced its ultimate meaning into the realm of its use-value as capital equivalent. That which was declared pagan in the New World was made instantly continuous with cultures of Old World paganism, and hence less miraculous, less threatening. The cabinet can be seen to have been used as an epistemological and political tool, then, allowing that which was potentially threatening to existing values to be named (and categorized) and thus domesticated by local culture. It is my impression that the contemporary museum serves a similar epistemological and socio-political role in society to that of the curiosity cabinet in its days.
Version 1.1 of The Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary (1993) defines a museum as “a building or place where works of art, scientific speci-mens, or other objects of permanent value are kept and displayed”. The word‘s etymology brings us to a definition from the early 17th century, wherein the museum is defined as a “place sacred to the Muses, building devoted to learning or the arts (referring esp. to the scholarly institute founded in Alexandria about 280 B.C.).”. History gives us a long list of palaces and great houses which maintained and occasionally exhibited rare treasures, uncannily resembling that which we now call a museum, both in intent and in deed.
The first recorded instance of the word refers to the abovementioned ‘institute’ in Alexandria, a state-supported community of scholars built by Ptolemy I Soter. It included apartments, a dining hall, lecture hall, cloister, botanical garden, zoological park, astronomical observatory, and library. Objects such as surgical and astronomical instruments, animal hides, elephant tusks, and statues were also housed there and used for teaching purposes. The museum and most of its library were destroyed about AD 270 during civil disturbances. The temples of ancient Greece were filled with statues, vases, paintings, and ornaments in bronze, gold, and silver dedicated to the gods; some of these works were displayed for the public to see and enjoy.
So, too, works of art would be seen in the temples of ancient Rome, as well as in the forums, gardens, baths, and theaters. In the villas of generals and statesmen, works of art and booty captured in wars were displayed for private enjoyment. The emperor Hadrian even went so far as to reconstruct in his villa some of the famous sites and buildings he had seen in Greece and Egypt. During the Middle Ages, the churches and monasteries of Europe became repositories for jewels, statues, manuscripts, and saints’ relics. Beginning in the 7th century, spoils of the Crusades were added to these repositories. Occasionally displayed, the jewels and gold also served as a reserve to be liquidated in time of war. For example, the treasury of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Reims was enlarged or depleted according to France’s fortunes in battle.
Before the 15th century, these repositories were used for ends relating to the collection of objects for reasons either strictly personal, religious, or some combination thereof (see the section The Curiosity Cabinet and the Semiography of the Object). The idea of museum described in this way appears to be quite a western idea - in China, for example, the notion of an open public museum never materialized, despite the great, old traditions of Chinese art and craft.19 Here the apprehension of what would be considered in western terms as an otherwise museological object is considered pedestrian, that is, the issue of representation by objects here is almost entirely absent. In other words, the use-value of the object is considered to have little cultural value within the said culture20. Such objects served a practical, if spiritual, purpose and were deemed private objects, for private contemplation. The idea of repositing such objects for public consumption would seem ludicrous to the Chinese and hence preclude any sort of meaningful or otherwise intimate relationship with the object of contemplation. However, this is the nature of museological object insofar as such objects generally come into this world as that of the secular world(see the section below titled Semiography of the Object). In this scheme things could not represent other things, they simply would be one and the same (read inseparable).
The Hellenistic and Roman period-cultures gave rise to the conditions necessary for the birth of the museum proper, though little evidence remains as to whether this had actually occurred. In these times, private collections of objects antiquarian in nature were developed by those who had the resources to, namely the rich and the powerful. But these were isolated incidents, whose continuity extended only until the collapse of the respective epochs. The Enlightenment gave birth to a series of museum-like cultural apparati, which were opened occasionally, in the way in which one’s private home would be opened to visitors, for the express purpose of viewing the contents within. The first of these occurrences, marking the birth of a cultural structure closely representing the contemporary museum was the ‘opening’ of the Capitoline collection by Pope Sixtus IV in 1471. Other Italian collections were soon to be opened to the public. 1500, 1546 and 1581 witnessed the birth of the Cesarini, Farnese and Uffizi Museums, respectively. It was approximately at this time that it became customary to display sculpture and easel paintings in the long halls, or galleries, of palaces and the residences of the wealthy. Thus began the use of the term gallery for a place where works of art are hung or arranged for viewing.
In 1679, Oxford University opened the Ashmolean Museum for the purpose of collecting rare Scientific and Artistic objects, based on the existing natural history and botanical collection of John Tradescant, gardener to the Queen. The Ashmolean was to be employed expressly for the teaching of students. In what is perhaps the first museum to be directly, or unabashedly, supported by public revenues, the British Parliament established the British Museum for the purpose of housing the private collection of the Monarch. However, it is generally accepted that the Louvre, which opened officially in 1793 in the wake of the French Revolution, marked the true prototype of the Democratic-Republican template which has left its stamp on so many museums from that point onwards.
Up to 1750, the Louvre had effectively existed as a treasure vault for the nation of France. Part of it (the smaller Luxembourg Gallery) was opened to the public to counter the charge that the King, Louis XV had allowed the condition of the national treasures to deteriorate in his private store at the estate in Luxembourg. In response to the wishes of the Revolution, the King’s private property would be made available for public display. The palace of the Louvre seemed like a natural place to do this, despite the fact that it had been nearly demolished during the Revolution. Dialogue was opened as to the issue of renovation, in order to modify the existing architecture such that it openly conveyed the interests of a democracy, as many of the revolutionaries didn’t think it appropriate that the building remain untouched, or rather that the building ought to cede more than its controlling interest; it reflected too many of the values that the Revolution opposed.
It was the opinion of architects that it be renovated in a fashion which wasn’t so much emblematic of excessive private wealth, but that allowed for the unfettered, businesslike viewing of a selection of what remained from the estate 21, much in the manner of a codex.22
At any rate, the decontextualization of display objects from their previous architectural and otherwise meaningful contexts served to disconnect them from their use-value as objects. This being done, the objects would be freed up to engage in a larger dialogue, that of the collection as a whole, as well as making them representationally, and thus semantically, plastic. This action struck a mold which would later cast many museums throughout most Western and westernized civilizations. This was anticipatory of mid-nineteenth century Positivist philosophies and the objectivism of the Scientific Method, which would in turn, reify such display methods in those cultures.
The same body tried, though unsuccessfully, to have the Large Gallery broken up into discrete viewing chambers. The Louvre broke with long tradition by opening the galleries to young artists wishing to study the paintings of masters at close range and without supervision. It was shortly after this point when the Museum had moved the French architectural theorist Durand to propose a dipolar model for a museum, consisting of both ‘open’and ‘closed’ spaces and specifically proposed a configuration assimilating several long, strings of smaller gallery spaces with courtyards and a ‘rotunda’. Perhaps the built project which most precisely fleshed out the paradigm was Schinkel’s Altes Museum. This was one of the earliest recorded prescriptions for the design of museum architecture, driven partially by precedent, partially by the fashion of the day, and partially by programmatic efficacy.
Among other museums founded in the Age of The Enlightenment under a similar political influence were the National Museum in Naples (1738); the Museo Sacro (1756) and the Museo Pio Clementino (1770-74), parts of the Vatican Museum complex; and the National Science Museum in Madrid (1771). Royal collections were opened to public view in Vienna (1700), Dresden, Germany (1746), and at the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg (1765). These museums were driven by designs that could be considered local in apprehension of philosophy, and anomalous for the purposes of typology, as given communities tended to develop their own take on museological architecture according to local precedent, though most fell within the category of palatial.
We can successfully trace the proliferation of contemporary museum types in existence today through such early exhibition spaces as the Crystal Palace, the all steel structure fabricated for the Paris World Exposition of 1870-something and similar museum types. The effect such buildings had on the format of the museum is little written about but nonetheless profound. The proliferation of museum type is largely due to the push to bring museums out of the private realm and into the public, earlier witnessed by the goings on during the French Revolution.
Many contemporary museums share with their seventeenth century counterparts, whether in the form of the palatial estate or the curiosity cabinet, qualities which make them ideal vehicles to propagate the ideals of the the rich and powerful. It is through their architecture that they are able to reinforce this position and provide an overt symbolism of their power. This is aided by the fact that architecture as a medium is definitively and necessarily conservative in its connotation of ideology. Overt references to Greek Democracy and Roman Empire are made through the use (or re-use?) of classical architectural details, or at the very least, signifiers of such. These ideological references are resident in nearly every large ‘museum’ (which is to say every institution devoted to the presentation of ‘objects’ or ideational constructs) and are manifest in nearly every aspect of the contemporary museum through a sort of historical trickle-down effect. That is, the museum was originally formulated to serve such ends.
“The source of art works of the original Louvre was, of course, equally significant as far as political implications are concerned: about three-quarters of the paintings shown came from the Royal collection, while the remainder came from the suppressed churches, with a certain scattering of works from the collection of the suppressed Academy of Painting and the pictures abandoned by the émigrés. Thus the first great museum was created through the transfer of cultural property from the hands of the ruling aristocracy into those of the people, or at least their representatives.” 23
Michel Foucault, in his book The Archaeology of Knowledge, insists that universal moral principles (that considered, say, by Western cultures, to be universal) are always effects of power (one therefore makes war because it is just and correct and aesthetic objects can be beautiful in and of themselves), and hence moral principles are dictated and upheld by the same bodies. Issues of Taste and of Aesthetic then, which are so closely bound to the construct of morality so as to be inseparable, are subject to the same will. The museum then becomes the locus for the battle for state ideology; for within it is disseminated state approved ideology. Witness, for example, the court battles in the United States initiated by Jesse Helms against the NEA over the artwork of André Serrano. It is no small matter that the Louvre was to become the ur-museum of the west. That what we now know as the Louvre, and especially in its earlier incarnation (which entertained a more didactic function than it does today), had precipitated from the ashes of Monarchist ideolog;
While the creators of the Louvre at the end of the eighteenth century were hardly bothered by many of the questions that plague museum directors today, the founding of that institution was fraught with squabbling and controversy, which caused considerable delay in carrying out the enterprise. Significantly enough, the day chosen for the opening, August 10, 1793, was the anniversary of the fall of the monarchy: on this day the former palace of the kings, now transformed into the ‘Museum National: Monument Consacré à L’Amour et à L’Etude des Arts,’ was opened to the public. ... All the kings regarded the accumulated productions of the human mind they possessed simply as the flattering proof of their riches and power. Caprice and disorder, infatuation and disgust, avarice and prodigality, compromised every day the safety of the inappreciable deposit which unlimited wealth placed in their hands.24
The Western Museum, as predicated upon this prototype, never fully disengaged itself from the role of capitalist shrine. In fact, the practice continues to this day, where the museum is considered a repository for state riches, and whose fundamental responsibility is in the acquisition of obnoxiously expensive objects. This will indeed continue to be the case where an ideology which values cultural objects as part of the narrative of High Culture continues to assign monetary value to the selfsame objects. The equation between cultural objects and money encourages an interchangeability between intellectual and financial capital Hence if an individual possesses culturally useful objects such as art or historical objects, especially if their likenesses have been reproduced in a catalog, one is therefore a Connoisseur, and necessarily, an intellectual. The dependence on the equation between high culture and financial capital is perhaps more marked in the case of the art museum, though generally holds for the bulk of all but the most specialized museums. Most western museums are controlled to a great degree, by a board of directors, usually chosen for their wealth... an unfortunate situation, since the museum depends in part for its livelihood upon these persons’ contributions, which are in turn used by the board member as a tax writeoff ...
Museums are run by the rich white establishment for the rich white establishment. Protestors feel that the other ethnic groups, including that paraethnic group the female sex, are not allowed to project their own identity through the museum exhibits and activities. All they can expect from their museums is a neatly packaged dose of traditional white, masculine culture. The financing of museums has traditionally leaned heavily on the trustees who tend to be drawn from the richest families of the community - for the purpose of leaning on. If the charge of elitism is to be answered this stranglehold must be broken. But could the museums survive? 25
The programme of the museum is, for the most part, determined by the taste of a small group of individuals who are necessarily conservative, capitalist and right-leaning in political belief The museum then finds itself in the position of an instrument used by this group for their own interests. Though this is an extreme case, and on average the situation is not quite so black and white, it must at any rate follow that in this case the role of the museum to protect the interests of these individuals/groups. A small, though still significant amount of income comes from the visitors, and directors are forced to stage exhibitions which are dictated by (their perception of) public demand, while in theory, not at all a bad thing, it forces the museum to engage in the exhibition of the merely spectacular, to attract the visitor with metaphors which are known to have broad public appeal. Michael Brawne26 cites an observation made by Lewis Mumford:
Patrons and public alike, the nouveau riche of the metropolis are culture shoppers. They tend to transform the chief institutions of learning into vast department stores of arts and sciences where everything is ticketed and labelled, where the turnover of goods is more important than the ultimate satisfaction of the purchases 27
– which forces the museum to compete with other arms of culture (the cinema, the video store, Disneyland, the wax museum ... ) for its value as mindless entertainment. And this is no isolated incident as nearly every major public museum in North America and in Europe forces a museum store at the beginning or end of their primary circulation paths. In Japan the zeitgeist is even more accelerated. One may find there the unabashed emergence of a new museum type which is the museum-cum amusement park under the rubric of the ‘theme-museum’, a high-tech museum upping the ante from that of La Villette’s La Cité. The new expansions at the Louvre and changes made to the Richelieu Wing have allowed for the rapid secession of the programme of the Louvre from museum into a shopping mega-mall. Mumford, writing ahead of his time in 1938 astutely observes the mutual association of presence of capital wealth with the museological tendency...
...from the palace and country house displays of loot that mark either ostentatious purchase or military conquest of foreign lands... in time, genuine esthetic and scientific interests develop in these institutions, but the trustees of the museum are more interested in abstract acquisition and honorific display than in matters of truth, taste, and value. 28
Indeed, the contemporary museum seems more a shrine to conspicuous material consumption than to human culture (or could one argue that the kernel of human culture is consumption??). Such practice ensures that public exposure to a noncapitalist perspective on human culture will be minimized. The main concern is to increase ticket sales, or at worst, to stabilize them. One very obvious way to do this is to avoid offending those who paid the admission price. Where can one draw the line between not offending and selling out when the only sure-fire way to maintain attendance is not to challenge the visitor? This is a real problem when new sources of information and entertainment come so easily to the layperson.29
Take a look at the walkman, computer video games, video-on-demand, etc. The obvious way to understand such things is under the concept of degenerate culture, though this would be too easy and perhaps a little bit ignorant. One cannot afford to simply brush off such technological advances as being irrelevant. They profoundly affect the way that people apprehend culture and the world around them - and that is significant.
Consider Manhattan’s Museum of Natural History, which is by most standards, a very successful didactic museum. It is generally considered an example of a great tool of democracy. It achieves this by offering a wellspring of engaging exhibits for spectators, and provides a day on which one may enter without paying (thus the museum is not simply a ghetto for those who can afford the entrance fee above and beyond their basic expenses). However, there is another way this institution may be read. It achieves the above perhaps patronizingly, insofar as (the MoNH) also openly flaunts gargantuan spaces, displaying its collection like so much jewellery. It is, if anything reminiscent of the parlor of the English Gentlemans House, what with open display of stuffed trophy-animal heads and all. While the museum is older than many in North America, its materiality has stopped speaking of security and practicality, but now has assumed connotations of great wealth, empire and consumption.
This idea of empire is also enhanced by the display of artifacts from alien cultures. And here the role of the museum is very problematic. For example, in the Boeing Aerospace Museum, just outside of Seattle, one finds an exhibit comparing the crudity and downright poverty of Soviet technology (and hence crudity and poverty of the Soviet Nation itself) through the comparison of an acquired russian space capsule with its American counterpart. Within such a display, where the only salient variables are quality of engineering and the amount of money spent on the respective projects, it must be the intention of the museum to illustrate American superiority over the once intact USSR. And in another general example, perhaps by framing the foreign object within the context of what is assumed to be a neutral display, but which is really quite a mannered, say Modernist presentation, we assert control over the object and project a meaning upon it which is quite different from the original intentions of the display (which is the crux of the problem stated in the book Inside the White Cube). Outside of such stylistic considerations (that of context and semantic, just mentioned), what about contextuality of display apparati? The museum display case is a classic example. By placing objects in these cases, what are we really saying? Certainly, we connote that the object is owned, and that the owner of the (object) and that of the case are one and the same. The traditional museum display case makes use of the same metaphors as the contemporary department store. Thus coveted objects which we dream of understanding through consumption and the exchange of funds are sealed behind glass to increase their value as fetish objects. We are thus displaced and alienated from the object represented while caught in the dilemma of wanting to physically consume the said object.
I would like to take this opportunity to attempt to link the foregone issues to how architecture may play a role in the solution of the study. In order to do this it will be necessary to look at the factors which affect the way buildings affect people in direct and indirect ways. While such a study may seem näive, it is critical to at least consider when the bulk of evaluations of buildings are already mediated by cultural trends: witness critiques in most major architectural journals or monographs which tend to make use of strongly Modernist or otherwise very mannered perspectives. For example, how does one talk about regionalist sensitivity or contextual ‘appropriateness’ without referring strongly to Modernist politics? That the entirety of architectural criticism have stronly political undertones would be an understatement. What matters here is objectivity of purpose. To adopt a tome of architectural critical thought, to my mind, would be to fail the purposes of the project... to be digested by a cultural narrative of a narrow sort. I would like to näively attempt to build a perspective on just how architecture controls perception by first looking at how buildings affect behaviour, and then how they achieve their purposes.
The issue of just how architectural environments affect individual behaviour is, at best, an awkward question to answer, and, perhaps can only be done through association with the behaviour related to, or elicited by, like structures. Such behaviours are largely ritualistic and have a great deal to do with tradition (such as behaviours related to the church or the government office or the police station). I would suggest that the link between architecture and behaviour is complicated by one further link; which is the behaviour that is expected of one, or etiquette.30 While we can pretend that architecture can be perceived directly and sincerely by the populace despite strong evidence to the contrary, we certainly cannot ignore the issue of enculturation. What are buildings in culture, other than the houses of their owners? When people prepare to go to the museum, or to the church, or to a court house, what is it they are doing? How do their preparations affect what they will experience when there? I feel it is important to at least consider such issues in the context of this paper, simply for the reader to understand that architecture is not exempt from the subject of the paper. Why else would nine out of ten prefer Gothic Cathedrals™? I feel such issues complicate the study in a way which informs and binds it together. It is not altogether harmful.
Perhaps foremost among these is the issue of scale. Through the employment of mammoth scale, grand spaces the museum has never failed to impress. Consider Manhattan’s Museum of Natural History with an aquatic museum which features a stuffed blue whale hanging from its ceiling. The general museum type (covered below) tends to be a worse offender than contextual types, as spaces must be able to accomodate the largest conceivable exhibit. Such spaces, common to many museums with flexible programmes, which are in all dimensions several times larger in magnitude than the height of the average human body prevent any real sense of intimacy with the object of contemplation. When it comes to a space which used by the public, a building is seen to need to fulfill the role of signifier-of-monument and hence employ the language of institutional architecture through its scale. The museum, being an arm of the state, was a natural vehicle to fulfill the function of monument to the state. While one cannot deny the seductive properties of large scale in architecture, would it not be more desireable to attempt to simultaneously relate the architecture to a bodily scale?
Do large scale interior spaces provide amenity to the inhabitants of its architecture, by approximating an outdoor space within the parameters of what is practical to build? Does it serve to free individuals from the psychic encroachment of domestic architecture? But what of the psychic encroachment of the large scale space? Surely the sense of insignificance sensed by the body in such spaces must overwhelm - they must require a certain passiveness, a certain servility on the part of the inhabitant. Is this not the point of palatial architecture? I would argue yes to this point... however I would also argue that large scale architecture was better executed in the palaces of the Enlightenment by merit of ornamentation. While seemingly a trivial point, I would argue that the critical role of ornamentation in classical architecture serves to orient the human body within a space where other spatial cues may not exist. Such spaces in contemporary buildings can be seen to disorient the percipient, especially when paired with a surface quality which is featureless (such as that of white-painted gypsum board) or a highly polished floor. Perhaps Loos missed the point of ornamentation (despite the fact that his argument related to the political connotations of ornament).
This lack of detail may be better demonstrated in Modernist architecture, where the architect attempts to idealize the construction elements (walls, floors, etc.) by dematerializing them (through the use of fine-grained materials such as gypsum board and paint, or a heavily polished ‘pure’ stone floor, lacking in both heterogeny and texture, as if these were theoretical phenomena, in the manner that lines on an architectural drawing are theoretical phenomena.
A study located at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, executed by students from the Bartlett School of Architecture & Planning31 are currently in the process of interpreting a relationship between information hierarchy in exhibit space and the flow of traffic in and around critical exhibition areas. This is being accomplished in the use of three tools. The first of these tools concerns the density of display units determined by relative distance resulting in a measurement referred to as depth. The second is based on the number of alternate routes from one exhibition space to another and is referred to as the number of rings in plan while the third is based on the ability of the viewer to understand the structural plan of the exhibition space. This variable is named entropy (classically understood in the context of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and generally, as the process of loss of meaningful order). The results of this study suggest that exhibition spaces with strong axiality, shallow depth and a small ring factor present a fixed, insistent model of knowledge, strongly controlling the sequence of acquitsition of information. Spaces which show a large amount of entropy, have greater depth and a high ring factor demonstrate a greater friendliness to alternate interpretations of acquired knowledge. That is, spaces of the latter type allow for greater cross-connecting of information gleaned from exhibits.
So we see here the influence of programmatic layout upon the acquisition of information. Of the two types discussed, there is no clear winner in absoulute terms. One must judiciously apply the results of the study to a given exhibit, taking into account the point of the exhibit in order to arrive at the desired presentation of information.
Central to the meaning of this study is a recognition of the fact that the meaning of cultural constructs (and certainly the museum object falls into this category) is not fixed, but rather, floating... whereas most aesthetic experiences tend to be considered (albeit within a very narrow cultural context) as absoulute (and as viewed from within these contexts, they are... but that’s another story). From the perspective of Lacanian psychoanalysis, the object is a subject of the Real... that is, it is, in absoulute terms meaningless and only given meaning through the act of being projected upon by the order of the Imaginary which is inherently symbolic in domain. The Imaginary order makes use of, or refers to, the Real (read the object) to validate its own internal scripts. The object occupying the domain of the Real is only an agent, or token. It is only through the mythologic narrative of culture that the Subject is imprinted upon the Object. This meaning is fluid and generally follows the path of least resistance in the illustration of local mythologies. Meaning is continually assigned and reassigned to any given cultural object according to changes in local context;
The continual creation and re-creation of meaning by which existing signs and symbols go towards the making of new ones appears to be afundamental aspect of the way which humans understand the world and come to terms with their place in it. It is an important part of the imaginative process by which we make sense of our common past and our present activity, and within this museums and their exhibitions play a significant role. It follows that every exhibition is a communication event in its own right, a medium that embraces many different media but in which the whole is richer than the sum of its parts. It is a specific work of culture, a synthesis whose content may be analysed at a number of levels and from a range of standpoints.
In close accord with the assessment of meaning given to cultural object through the Iron Age under the section The Curiosity Cabinet and the Aesthetic Object, many accounts given suggest that the ‘seed object’ is always regarded as Other, and that the collection itself is established as a narrative native to the collector‘s psyche (and this collector may here be considered an individual or a collective) as a process of semantic acquisition through processes of gentrification or de-Othering32.
Hence the factor of ownership is an important one (this also has obvious commercial ramifications), as is the loss of the singular Other in the seriality of the narrative, which serves as an assimilator, or collector itself, of individual meanings. This approach to understanding the mechanics of a museology of the object is appropriate by merit of the fact that nearly all public collections tend to derive from private collections.33
This ‘seed object’ has these qualities by dint of having been extracted from its original meaningful context and hence is ‘Othered’34. The act of collecting then, is a possessional act whose mode is a narrative one, seeking to prescribe meaning to a definitively untenable object through recontextualization with other objects, with which the object may share certain common properties (ie - those able to establish and sustain a narrative). That is, the collection is a linguistic event which takes on linguistic properties as much as any language, whose individual elements are, much as it is with any language, meaningless (though they may individually contain meaning projected upon them by an individual body in a way which is external to the narrative).
Mieke Bal states that the collection is not truly begun as a collection until some narrative aspect of the soon-to-be collection is realized;
Only retrospectively, through a narrative manipulation of the sequence of events, can the accidental acquisition of the first object become the beginning of a collection... collecting comes to mean collecting precisely when a series of haphazard purchases or gifts suddenly becomes a meaningful sequence. That is the moment when a selfconscious narrator begins to tell ‘its’ story, bringing about a semiotics for a narrative of identity, history and situation.35
Under these circumstances, that is, after a collection has acquired a narrative, the object of perception has effectively lost its Other.36 This is then the process referred to at the beginning of this section. It becomes ‘domesticated’. In the search for museological objects which represent a generic object ‘type’, the object then becomes more suitable for imprinting, or domestication -through its presentation in the museum environment. The first transformation of the object is dependent upon the immediate context, its display. One could consider the way in which an object is framed, architecturally, or in proximity to other objects.
In semiotic terms, exhibitions are clearly a ‘language’ system of their own, albeit a complex one, which combines objects of all kinds, label texts, graphics, hardware-like cases and agents like lighting, all put together in a specific form.37
Other programmatic factors figure very strongly in the reading of the object. For example, the distance from the object one is allowed to stand or factors which determine the percipient’s intimacy with the object will alter perceptions of the object’s relative commercial and cultural value. Clearly, an object whose display apparatus is highly elaborate and/or very expensive looking will have a very different meaning than the same object in a different context.
The second transformation is cultural: insofar as the object is being seen by the group of people native to the local culture (that is, the culture for whom the museum was built, or which paid for it) gives a certain reading of the object (consider the display of a Haida figurine at UBC‘s Museum of Anthropology) consistent with that culture (despite the fact that individuals within this group will experience variegated feelings when confronted by the said object).
The third transformation is political: What does it do to one’s perception of the object that it is being displayed in such and such a museum, or a representative of such and such a culture (now consider the same figurine, this time observed by a representative member of the Haida Nation in the MOA, or perhaps the same figurine viewed by anyone at the Victoria & Albert... or the Louvre... or the Museum of Natural History in New York).
In presentation the object becomes subject to the context made and shared by other objects, and it is also subject to architectural context. An object placed in the middle of the room, for example, may undergo a different reaction to that placed in some designed alcove, or next to the wall. At what level can we discuss architecture without also talking about diplay cases? Meaning is fabricated at all levels of context.
The contemporary museum design borrows heavily in philosophy from the general history of museology described in the next to previous section, and from the curiosity cabinet, though to a lesser degree. In fact, many of the larger institutions mentioned are still in operation (the Uffizi, for example). While it is difficult for a building not to be beholden to its unalterable physical characteristics, efforts of bodies such as UNESCO have tried to draw consciousness to many of the problems in museology, including the problems discussed here. The relevant political and social issues of the contemporary museum have been covered in the section The Museum as Control Structure. I will therefore direct the overview to general typology and characteristic in an attempt to prepare for an analysis of precedent.
Today we find two types of museum , driven by either content and programme or by cultural preference:38 the musuem as generic cultural space (driven by the abstract need for a museum) and the museum as a contextualized phenomenon, a model which is driven by the collusion of programme and environment; often the result of an in situ39 museum design, being a renovation of the site of historical significance to suit didactic purposes. An example of such a type is the personality museum, of which the Brontë Parsonage Museum is a type40, or the collector’s museum, which is a direct relative of the curiosity cabinet. The precedents to be discussed fall under the second type of museum.
The first type of museum generally springs from the general need for a museological or otherwise cultural space and must answer the call of flexibility. This museum type tends to promote itself where collections are amorphous or unpredictable. The art museum is a stunning example of this type of museum and is talked about in context with problems inherent in the general museum model at length in the book Inside the White Cube. Regional interests still persist, however. According to Michael Brawne, in The New Museum, Scandinavian and Italian museums have been found to be exceptions to the rule and tend still toward the regional in the design of generic museum space, taking advantage of a spectacular setting or the historical charge of the immediate context. The Scandinavian type has tended toward a sort of holism, blurring boundaries between the inside and outside of the building, though it appears, he states, that this may be a stronger characteristic of nordic architecture on the whole.
One interesting take on the latter type is the Shrine of the Book (Kiesler & Bartos, Jerusalem), which employed cues taken from the voyage which led to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls; the underground ‘caverns’, or galleries in which the scripts and other finds are displayed are reminiscent of the caves in which the original articles were found. Visitors are encouraged to play the part of explorer and follow the long, dark cavelike passage (a design intention) before being rewarded by their ‘find’. What’s more, the museum itself is physically modelled on the vessel in which the scrolls were found. Its massing on the surface describes the dome-like shape of the vessel lid which contained the scrolls, a motif which is projected into the sub-terrainian gallery as a circular plan which one accesses by means of a tunnel (again, describing the cave passage in which the artifacts were found).
Here the design of a museum was granted an express purpose; namely, the desire to create a sense of mystique about the contents of the museum. Here, the site is used to great effect in the semi-contextual display (that is, in the display of cultural objects in the context of their discovery, though the context is simulated, reified... enabling the visitor to reenact the discovery of the scrolls). Otherwise, if the site should be inappropriately chosen or otherwise employed, there is perhaps danger in the physical context overpowering the museum experience itself. Here, the setting of the museum would be confused with the content of the museum’s didactic objective. In other words, in this case, perhaps the subject of exhibition would not be altogether clear to the visitor.
Juan Navarro Baldeweg’s 1986 Museum of Hydrology and Cultural Centre in Murcia, Spain, which had adapted a 1741 hydraulic mill for use as an instrument to display the workings of a latter-day technology and to elucidate qualities of light in and on water and celebrate the hydraulic qualities of water itself41. Here, the focus of the collection is organized by an easily identifiable principle or theme, being the waterworks and their accompanying technological componentry in the form of milling machinery, sluices and “other forms of hydraulic control”. The museum, located on the river’s edge, is organized according to the footprint of the existing structure, a mill, being long and generally narrow in plan. This narrowness is further emphasized in the building’s programme which is divided transversally into three codependent programmes. Thus the museum relates approximately to the scale of the human body in at least one dimension (the body’s experience of the section varies between that of a generous single storey and two storeys according to the placement of double-height spaces which are reserved for collection focuspoints).
The original structural stone construction was left intact and exposed over the course of the renovation, providing a level of tactility rare in contemporary museums, which, when coupled with the use of light and contact with the water in the river through the intact sluices provide an unforgettable sensual experience.
The thesis of this paper proposes a museum type which critically reads its own (local) context. It proposes the existence of a sort of self-conscious museum, an institute dedicated to cultural self-check, to the display of one’s own culture through the deconstruction42 of the objects at hand. One way in which this could be accomplished is in the presentation of, say, a lawnmower with a Fabergé egg (or for that matter, any two objects of similar cultural origin which are distant in use-origin43), levelling the distinction between culture in its populist mode and that of cultural anthropology. Mutual contextualization forces two perspectives. In the first case, it enables the objects of perception to be understood in the terms of their lowest common denominator, hence ignoring the way in which these objects are value-judged, and making an attempt to understand them in terms of their general cultural function. In the second case, it forces one of the objects to be shifted to the value-level of the second - that is, that the second object’s myth-value is altered to maintain the mythological44 status of the first.
I propose that architecture here plays a role in controlling this representation. Such an approach is useful to those wishing to see the object beyond the framework of the value-judgement. And this is the core of the concern of this study; how to build a museum which enables a view of cultural objects divorced from their common use-value whether that be figured on physical or semantic bases. Here the intention is of opening a dialogue regarding the use and comprehension of objects manufactured by and for a given culture (the issue of the interpretation and reprogramming of objects originating in other cultures, according to local mythologies, as ¨interesting as the issue may be, is here deliberately left unaddressed).
Yet another solution to this dilemma, a subversive one, would be the use of an existing narrative structure of high culture in a way which exposes its cultural relativity to its most dependent users (which would be read as inconsistency by the consumer), thus plugging erroneous or unlikely values into the machine. This could be accomplished through the task of using the existing language of high-culture representation to represent objects from the ‘low’ culture, from consumer society... objects which are not unique, and hence exhibit no unique or distinctive properties in the way which the Tasteful Object does. Employing satire in this way would force the percipient to look elsewhere for meaning, such as to the representation of the display, its organization, or ideally, initiate a questioning process - that is, force an exploration of the cultural space inhabited by the object.
This then, is the kernel of the architectural thesis: how to represent and manipulate cultural space with architecture? While the language of architecture is made of words whose major syntactical elements are, themselves, readable as semantic units by dint of association - this is probably not the most efficient or interesting place to look for a remedy. It must be that certain programmatic elements would be efficient units of interaction with the public. While syntax can set up a mood, it is program and it's agents which really enable interaction between architecture and people. The front entrance with it's doorbell are the most such obvious elements of this type which occur to me at the moment. Certainly, where we are discussing a pedagogical environment - it is the interaction with the 'displays' - with the exhibition elements which is where the real payoff lies. It is the spatial syntax of architecture proper which needs to serve these elements and denote use and behaviour withing the building. If it is independent thought and an autonomous and liberating haptic and intellectual experience we are here trying to construct, sensitivity to the experience of the programme is everything. The building is the net result of serving this experience to maximum effect.
1 Certainly this has been the case with respect to the ruling class for some time now, though, with notable exceptions (that being the rejection of the museum by proletarian move ments. for example, the French Revolution). In the case of the rejection of the museum in such political uprisings, it would seem likely that its unpopularity is due to a large degree of association with the enemy-state. The museum is thus seen as inseparable from the state - it is a necessary instrument, or tool, of the state, serving to enculturate (indoctrinate) others and to maintain enculturation. I intentionally capitalize the word culture to signify Culture, in the specific sense, that is, the enculturated (those whose tastes have been formed by those with power).
2 Norman, Geraldine, America’s Art Behind Closed Doors, The Times, Saturday Review, London, December 16, 1972, p.7.
3 Davis, Douglas, The Museum Transformed: Design and Culture in the Post-Pompidou Age, Abbeville Press, NYC, 1990.
4 ... which is not to say that any of these media cannot be used in an intelligent and provocative fashion, simply that they are synonymous with popular culture, and are the primary instruments through which it (popular culture) is synthesized (and propagated).
5 Arthur Koestler, from The Act of Creation, pp. 406-407
6 From Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1984. 7th edi~ tion (1994), p.232
7 see O’Doherty, Brian, Inside the White Cube,
8 We understand here that within this scheme the museum can only act as an agent of this narrative, in effect a catalogue of the various accessories which one must associate with high culture.
9 Anthony Alan Shelton, Cabinets of Transgression: Renaissance Collections and the Incorporation of the New World, in Cultures of Collecting, compiled and edited by John Elsner and Roger Cardinal, Reaktion Books, Ltd, Great Britain, 1994.
10 Cassirer, Ernst, The Philosophy of The Enlightenment, Princeton University Press, 1951. Revised 1979. p. 9
11 Shelton in op. cit.
12 “Both St. Augustine, writing in Late Antiquity, and St. Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages were afraid that curiosity might transgress the approved boundaries set for knowledge and the methods for its attainment, and had sought to cir cumscribe enquiry in order to block the road that led to mor tal danger.” (Shelton in op. cit.)
13 Shelton in op. cit.
14 Shelton in op. cit.
15 See Kenneth Boulding’s The Image
16 In other words, the collection maintained its prior status and meaning, while gaining a new, political significance by merit of its institutionalization.
17 Shelton in op. cit.
18 Shelton in op. cit.
19 from Michael Brawne’s The New Museum, Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. New York, 1965.
20 O‘Doherty, Brian, Museums in Crisis
21 It seems likely that this was desired more for the purposes of solving what would otherwise be a difficult architectural reso lution between two conflicting architectural languages than anything else, though this is open to speculation, as so little material is available on the subject.
22 It was at this point in cultural history that a fascination had developed with lists and hierarchical systems... witness Linnæus’ development of a system for scientific nomenclature system about 1740. The influence was widespread and pro found - this nomenclature system, called the Linnæus system, is still in use, though with slight modifications made to its method.
23 O‘Doherty, Brian, Museums in Crisis, p. 9.
24 Ibid, p.10
25 Norman, Geraldine, America’s Art Behind Closed Doors, The Times, Saturday Review,, London, December 16, 1972, p.7.
26 The New Museum, Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. New York, 1965.
27 Mumford, Lewis, The Culture of Cities, London, 1938.
30 While there possibly more direct links between architecture and people, I feel this is one of the stronger. And it could well be that the more direct links tend to function through such mechanisms (for example, the use of material may well sup~ port the supposition that the building is of a certain type,
which instills an automatic behavioural script in the visitor to the building).
31 Pearce, Susan, Structuring the Past: exhibiting archaeology, Museum International Vol. 47, No.1, UNESCO, Paris, 1995.
32 Mieke Bal in the article noted below and in Jean Baudrillard’s essay The System of Collecting, also from The Cultures of Collecting.
33 Michael Brawne, The New Museum, Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. New York, 1965.
25 Mieke Bal, Telling Objects: A Narrative Perspective on Collecting, found in The Cultures of Collecting, compiled and edited by John Elsner and Roger Cardinal, Reaktion Books, Ltd, Great Britain, 1994.
35 In this instance, the Other is complimentary and opposed to Benjamin’s construct, Aura. In the manufacture of the museo~ logical object the Other is replaced by the Aura. The Aura is defined as semantic content, or meaning, where the Other refers specifically to a missing meaning, usually projected upon a construct, whose origins lie outside the direct percep~ tual context. For Benjamin, the handworked artpiece con tained an Aura which the photograph lacked, which is a very Modernist interpretation - here meta-narrative is content.
36 Pearce, Susan, Structuring the Past: exhibiting archaeology, Museum International Vol. 47, No.1, UNESCO, Paris, 1995. Here the writer refers to the collection or exhibition as a whole phenomenon; collected objects and their associated dis play technology together as a unified script.
37 Michael Brawne, The New Museum, Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. New York, 1965.
38 F. Atkinson, Personal Services, published in Museums Journal, March 1994
39 See F. Atkinson’s Personal Services, published in Museums Journal, March 1994, which is a study of this type, of which there are 60-70 in Britain alone.
40 from Murcia Metaphors, Architectural Review, June, 1984.
41 (closely linked with the definition of satire; defined as the removal of a meaningful object from its immediate context, and replanted into a new context, for the purposes of illustrating some property not normally apparent in the meaningful object from within the original context. Alternately, the telling object can be used as a tool to elucidate some other phenomenon in either context). This suggests the mode in which the display of objects and consequently their representation through architecture would be handled.
42 This act would necessarily open a dialogue regarding the lowest common denominator, which is the fact that both objects were produced with different political ends. Hans Moravec, a respected mathematician, in his book Mind Children, discusses the didactic role of seemingly bizarre or arbitrary juxtapositions in the context of Information Theory, an abstract discipline which posits that the more divergent two samples or signifiers are from eachother, provided their origination from the same context, that more is revealed about that context, or body of information than with two, more convergent samples. Such as it is, this may be applied to all bodies of research. It simply posits the efficacy of a system which builds upon a pre-established precedent. As evidence of this, Martin Heidgegger held that poetry and poetic systems could form a far more efficient basis for the the dissemination and discussion of intellectual ideas. What we are really talking about here is an encoding process (known in the engineering world ascompanding). Although, here, rules for decoding are formalized in the context of local culture, whether that may mean local vernacular culture, or a specific literary or intellectual culture.
43 By mythological I refer to a cultural myth or text through which an object is value-judged. In this example the mythological status of something like a Fabergé egg inCulture (in the specific, normative sense) would be conserved, hence elevating the status of the lawnmower to a similar level of Cultural status.