Readings – Museums on the Move – Daniel Birnbaum, Hans Ulrich Obrist

A look at the history of museums and how there have been different models of presenting work and engaging with the public.

Josef Ortner – organised a new work by a major artist every year since 1998 which was unveiled on the stage of the Vienna State Opera each night before the show would begin. He was apparently an excellent fundraiser and had a very innovative approach to presenting artworks. He founded the Museum in Progress in Vienna, where the interest was in the production rather than the consumption of space. He was heavily influenced by Alexander Dorner, who was a well known museum director and had championed Moholy-Nagy and El Lissitzky. His invitation of Lissitzky to Hanover, Germany, and the subsequent dynamic display he produced had been very important. Ortner quoted him on his website “The museum only makes sense as a pioneer.”

Museums had traditionally tended to “individualise” the viewer, where the intention was to create a sort of private, meditative space where the viewer could engage with the works on display, which was the traditional model in Europe. In the U.S. as typified by the 1938 Bauhaus show in MOMA, there was more emphasis on the viewer as consumer of the artworks- “intersubjective viewing gave way to a fashionable consumerist stance.” A culture was developing where seeing the work was less important than being seen to see it. Or something.

Other types of experiences are talked about, with much more audience involvement, and the idea of the “elastic museum” put forward. This is the idea of having flexible displays within an adaptable building. The museum also became a bridge between art and various scientific disciplines.


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