Blur. Photo by Udo Geisler on Flickr.

by • 22 Sep, 2012 • Thoughts about museumsComments (6)4748

Blurring boundaries

Today, after many years, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam reopens. It’s the end of an era in which the museum was everything but a ‘museum’: pop-up exhibitions, lectures, AR apps, parties. At the same time the all new Unseen Photo Fair in Amsterdam is reviewed by a national newspaper to be an art fair with a museological appearance. A shop designed to be a museum, or maybe a museum designed to be a shop.

Last week at the Incubate DIY conference I talked about the museum of the future to a small group of people actually interested in this topic. Afterwards I spoke with some people working in libraries. They recognised the picture I painted of an outgoing institution, focused on experience and stories and not afraid to reinvent itself. To them, this was the library of the future.

Boundaries are blurring. I guess they have been blurring for a long time. The label becomes less important. Art fair, museum, library, shop, restaurant, gallery, to most people it’s just a place to go for a good story, entertainment and time to be with friends.

While we worked on the Van Gogh exhibition that opened last week, we repeatedly rediscovered we weren’t a museum and didn’t have to do as museums do. Part of its success and its biggest challenges is that we managed to forget about the boundaries, occasionally. I’m pretty sure it’s why Unseen is such a success, and hopefully why the Stedelijk will continue to be so.

This is not about the museum of the future. This is about the future. Forget about the label, cross all blurring boundaries. I wish I had registered another domain name…

Photo by Udo Geisler on Flickr.

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  • Jasper, I absolutely agree. This is something I have been grappling with for a while myself. I keep reading about shopping centres that are concentrating on the experience, and even on stories (because people are more and more frequently buying online); or I hear about newsrooms that open cafes so that news exists as local and event-based in a different way to its online presence. The delineation between things are perhaps becoming less clear and that probably makes it harder for museums (and all organisations) to know what, exactly, is their purview, and what is not. But it also means the field is wide open to try new things, which is where your work on the cusp is interesting. Borders, classifications, tell us what is in and what is out. When the classifications start to fail; what then? Maybe we’ll end up defining something as a museum or not along a genomic system instead?!

  • Thanks for your great comment Suse! It’s interesting to see how this will develop, and what we can do to speed things up towards institutions really opening up to try new things to connect with more people in a different way. Nice interview as well!

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  • Erin Branham

    Labels have always been imprecise (I’ve worked at a museum in Pine Bluff, Arkansas and at the Getty in Los Angeles – trust me, the word “museum” has always covered a lot of ground…), but the increase of blurring is a real thing these days. Forgetting about boundaries is difficult – not only does it require many people within an institution to agree on a new model, but it requires everyone being willing to work differently.  I’m finding that’s the hard part – imagining a new paradigm is fun, making it work, and thus changing your own day-to-day tasks – that’s where things get tricky.

  • Thanks Erin, and I couldn’t agree more. With my agency we help institutions change towards new paradigms. It’s incredibly challenging and fun work, much harder than blogging or doing presentations.

    I do however feel not everybody had to be willing to work differently (at least, at first). Every change has a leading coalition of people who experiment with new ways of working, new paradigms, etc. I’m guessing much of the readers of this blog are such people. They will lead the way for others in their institutions to adopt to changes.

  • Your observations are accurate, especially now that the museum experience of interacting with subjects (whether history, science, art) can occur anywhere due to technology, apps and easy access to information. The ‘museum’ will need to “re-brand” itself as a cultural and public institution, a place for community, discovery and discourse.