Over the last two decades, museum priorities have been characterized by a shift from the preservation of collections to the satisfaction of audiences. There are many reasons for this transition, but one important factor contributing to this shift has been the recent publication of a collection of essays entitled “The New Museology.” The primary focus of this collection was the acknowledgment of the exclusive character of many museums and that there is an underlying need for a more inclusive museum practice. According to the movement of the New Museology, museums have a social, educational, and cultural responsibility towards their public, and for this reason, special attention should be given to the satisfaction of the educational, and cultural needs of all audiences, not just those who make big donations or might be labeled as the “museum going type.” Central to this thesis is the idea that museums ought to be accessible to everyone.
In this context of increased interest in museum audiences and ten years after the emergence of the “New Museology,” Hooper-Greenhill announced the advent of the “post-museum” era in a new book. This new museum model is defined as the opposite of the traditional “modernist museum” that has dominated Western museum practice over the last three centuries. More precisely, the “modernist museum” was primarily focused on the accumulation of objects that were displayed to present “harmonious, unified and complete” narratives. As a consequence, the “modernist museum” came to stand for the dominant, Western, and upper class ideology expressed through strict, didactic interpretive frameworks. However, the “modernist museum” seems to be outdated in the context of contemporary postmodern thinking that questions grand narratives, continuity, and objective truth.
The concept of the “post-museum” is thus proposed as a way for enabling multivocality in terms of displaying artifacts and active meaning-making in terms of audience response. In her vision of the “post-museum,” Hooper-Greenhill describes it as a process of several events taking place before, during, and after the exhibition and underlines the existence of multiple perspectives that replace static and monolithic knowledge. In this sense, the “post-museum” envisions museums as vibrant spaces of creation and discovery of new knowledge, fostering cultural diversity and constructive learning. Thus, the emergence of the “post-museum” has signified a new way for perceiving museums, asking them to move “beyond the mausoleum” and to reinvent their role and functions in contemporary, heterogeneous societies. From authoritarian and antiquated establishments, they are asked to engulf diversity and dialogue.
Nevertheless, despite its optimistic and inspiring vision, the “post-museum” is characterized by several gaps. To start with, it is not sufficiently analyzed. In other words, its basic characteristics are mentioned only briefly in two pages, but ideas like the “feminization of the museum” or the “cacophony of voices” require further explanation in terms of actual museum practice. In addition, the author only succinctly refers to the engagement of the “post-museum” with intangible heritage, without further developing the subject. Finally, concerns have been expressed that the “post-museum” is primarily focused on events and outreach programs and shows little interest in museum collections.
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