The New Museum: Function, Form and Politics
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Recent literature addressing the museum indicated that the institution was in crisis despite growth in visitors and investment in new buildings. It was suggested that the museum had to change, expand its mission and public programs and foster inclusive practices and perspectives to become a socially relevant institution. The museum was recognized to be a permanently evolving and diverse institution with scores of different themes, objects and narratives being presented for public viewing. The aim of this thesis is to identify the factors influencing recent museum development and to investigate why the debate of the last thirty years served to revolutionise some institutions and transform others into novel and complex cultural projects. The thesis draws on a literature review, case studies and perspectival knowledge to investigate the research question: Are new museums post-museums? An investigation of the literature dealing with the institution’s expanding mission was undertaken to identify the issues and factors influencing institutional development. A key focus of the study was testing Eilean Hooper-Greenhill’s classification scheme that categorises the museum as modern, modernist or post-museum depending on the institution’s relationship with its visitor. This relationship is complex and depends to a large extent on the way objects and collections are used and the way information is structured and mediated by exhibition practice. This study develops Hooper-Greenhill’s classification scheme by proposing a new category. It finds that four types of culturally and politically valid museums exist today. The first type is modern museums that maintain the traditions of display, investigative research and public instruction through accepted collection acquisition and exhibition practices. The second type is modernist museums that have repositioned themselves in the public’s mind by employing architecture as an attention seeking strategy but essentially not changing their development-by-accumulation collection model. The third type is post-museums that have taken on board postmodern criticism and become more pluralistic and complex in their construction of history. Use and repatriation rather than acquisition is this institution’s collection model. The forth type is new museums, not classified as such because of construction dates, but because they are commemorative and non-inclusive. The new museum is created for and maintained by a small elite, essentially to reposition its own history as central. This museum no longer stands at the end point of development-by-accumulation but at the beginning of a paradigm shift. The energy for its progress now comes from the selective retelling of events rather than the selective acquisition of objects. The theoretical and substantive significance of this study is that it differentiates between the purpose and function of the modern, modernist, post and the new museum and it aligns each museum with different curatorial practices and agendas. This reflects a reorientation of the role of the museum in the early twenty first century from classifier to advocate, a common principle of contemporary museums being intervention. This shift is the outcome of a struggle between competing forces: collection, administrative, political, professional and audience.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Arts, Media and Culture
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