Saturday, 2 February 2013

Gill on Attempted Encyclopedism in Museums

Professor David Gill has a knack of asking cut-to-the-core questions. Not so long ago it was the PAS who could not answer him, now its the turn of the "Encyclopedic Museum", and what a question:

Just think about it for the moment, and have a good look at the illustration he chose for the poster and what it 'says'.
And DO "encyclopedic museums" actually matter as much as those who make (lots of) money running them assert? Are there now not other ways of achieving the same lofty aims unavailable in the eighteenth,nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when they were set up? Do in fact they matter much more than their function as trophies and/or something for tourists to gawk at out of the rain? Poster uses: Giovanni Paolo Panini, Ancient Rome, 1757 Oil on canvas


kyri said...

"does the encyclopedic museum matter" YES!! our museums in the uk are free,open to everyone and bastions of knowledge with hands on events and exhibitions all through the year.our whole country will suffer culturally and intelectually if we lose them.they have a very important role to play even in the 21st cen.would dr.gill prefer that we just close them all and send everything back to source countrys and fill our museums with only british artifacts and live like little englanders on our tiny island without a care or a thought for the rich history of other civilisations or other cultures,would that help push humanity together,would it help us appreaciate how diverse the human race is or drive us apart.

Paul Barford said...

"Bastions of knowledge" when the BM cribs from Wikipedia?

Would you say that nations without "encyclopedic museums" (Greece, Cyprus, Iceland, Mali) are in any way inferior to the rest of us? Do people in countries without E.M.s have "no care or thought for the rich history of other civilisations or other cultures"? Or is it excpressed in another way? Or those nations that have a lot of EMs - do they show a higher degree of care for "the rich history of other civilisations or other cultures"? Like the USA for example, one of the densest concentrations of EMs - and they could not give a hoot about Cambodia.

DO these museums have the same role to fulfil today as in the eighteenth century, or do we have other ways to bring the diversity of culture and artistic experience into people's awareness? Like the Internet, like good TV, like increasingly sophisticated interactive media, or GOING to other countries. Not to mention that we actually have people bearing those cultures living among us - something unheeard of 200 years ago (when there would not be a Kyri Kyriacos sitting in London writing of "our" heritage on "our tiny island" to a bloke sitting the other side of Europe, who puts it on a blog read half way round the world).

The world is not the same world that needed a British Museum, far from it, and arguments like the ones you just repeated are the museum's own rationale for continuuing as though teh world had stayed the same.

So I for one welcome the question, are the traditional forms of the EMs actually needed today?

How many eskimo carvings can you see in the BM within 150 metres of the Parthenon Marbles? Or Lusatian pots, or Permian bronzes? The picture presented is NOT encyclopedic, but highly selective and random, a distortion of a far more nuanced
reality. That's even before we get to the issue of the so-called intangible heritage which museums have never been able to cope with, but is becoming more important in discussions of heritage...

Paul Barford said...

In any case, is the BM hanging on to half the sculptures of the parthenon when they've been asked for them back, and the Benin artefacts after they've asked for them back really "bringing people together"?

Public executions bring people together, that does not make them a wholly good thing.

kyri said...

hi paul.the bm is not perfect but though i agree some of the people there act like idiots,especially when they call fellow academics "trolls" when all they are doing is raising some important issues,there are also some very good ,knowledgeable,people at the bm who are more than willing to share their knowledge with anyone who asks.
the nations without EMs,i wouldnt say they are inferior but i would say they are poorer for not having other civilisations artifacts on exhibit.from a greek perspective,i personally think that this is why there is allways a strong nationalistic thread running through the greek own mother thinks the ancient greeks invented everything from a to z choosing to ignore other great civilisations like the ancient egyptions.maybe when she went to a greek museum as a child if she saw other things from other civilisations other than just greek she may have developed a different view on things.yes there are new social media/internet ect but a digital picture or internet download canot compare to seeing the artifacts "in the flesh" you sound like my wife when i say to her to go to the cinema,she says lets wait to get the dvd to watch it at home,its just not the same.
as for visiting other countrys,how about bringing culture and knowledge to the masses,as i said our museums are free to get in to,there are not many people who can fly to china or iran to see a terecota soldier or a persian relief sculpture.if hitler won the second world war,im sure the museums in germany would have been anything but encyclopedic.

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