Is the Museum Exhibition Model Broken?

Ole Worm’s cabinet of curiosities, from ”Museum Wormianum”, 1655. Original source Smithsonian Museum

Over the last fortnight I’ve been in the midst of a lot of discussion about exhibition development for museums. Primarily the question has been approached from … what are our exhibitions going to be about and how do we get them on the floor?

Both valid and necessary questions when it comes to upgrading the museum’s exhibition space and it’s certainly seen as core function of most museums – if not the primary function. Indeed for many the exhibition provides the main mechanism by which museum professionals believe they broker their mandate with the community at large.

But in the middle of a conversation about how an exhibition’s design and content was to be fed into the ‘Ford-like’ production line to create the labels, design it, and then fabricate and advertise it I had this thought …

PERHAPS THE EXHIBITION MODEL FOR MUSEUM’S ACTUALLY MINIMISED AUDIENCE INTERACTION WITH MUSEUM COLLECTIONS & THE PROBLEM WASN’T THE THEME OR THE DESIGN OF THE EXHIBITION – IS IT POSSIBLE THE ENTIRE MODEL IS OUTDATED? 

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Some thoughts on significance writing for museums

Sculpted Elephant, carved from graphite, purchased from F Krantz, 1884, Powerhouse Museum, 6189 

Attaching significance to museum objects can be a little like “pinning the tail on the donkey”. Just when you think you’ve got your significance right, off comes the blindfold, and you find your significance statement has failed to account for other curatorial perspectives, or its too long, too short, perhaps its failed to account for other similar objects in the collection or perhaps the language of your story is simply wrong for the times.

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