Museum piece?

When I say that something is a museum piece, it often carries the connotation that it is something that no longer has relevance to a living culture, and that it can only be found behind glass panels in a museum. This got me to thinking… what if museums thought of themselves as preserving things that are akin to endangered species, that would disappear without a specific effort to preserve them, and they made it part of their mission to “release them back into the wild,” to make them part of a living culture again, to try to preserve the environments that created them? Why keep art and cultural artifacts dead behind glass walls? Why not infuse our culture with old memes every now and then, after they’ve been forgotten? Clearly, this would not be appropriate for some museums, such as the Holocaust museum, but surely this would produce good results for many art, historical, and cultural museums. Is this already being done by anyone? If so, to what degree?

UPDATE: In a slightly related train of thought, while googling “museum piece”, I came upon this poem… it’s probably not that profound, but I found it interesting:

==Richard Wilbur – Museum Piece==

The good gray guardians of art
Patrol the halls on spongy shoes,
Impartially protective, though
Perhaps suspicious of Toulouse.

Here dozes one against the wall,
Disposed upon a funeral chair.
A Degas dancer pirouettes
Upon the parting of his hair.

See how she spins! The grace is there,
But strain as well is plain to see.
Degas loved the two together:
Beauty joined to energy.

Edgar Degas purchased once
A fine El Greco, which he kept
Against the wall beside his bed
To hang his pants on while he slept.

7 thoughts on “Museum piece?

  1. In film, at least, this is being done, both in the fom of DVD issues of largely “forgotten” classics and, to a limited extent, in clubs and revivals.

    And that fact that some very old plays (i.e. Shakespeare) are still performed also brings up a question: is there something about drama and flim, perhaps in their motion, that makes them seem to stay more “alive” than, say, painings?

    • It’s hard to say what makes a painting “alive”, since it’s hard to rework or reuse a painting in a way that makes it obviously a use of that painting — different from restaging a play or remaking a movie, anyway.

      I mean, I would say that a lot of at least the most recognizable artwork *is* part of our living culture, at least if you count kitsch. Mona Lisa T-shirts and such — cartoons parodying the Last Supper or the Creation of Man — and so forth.

  2. I’d say being part of a living culture versus a dead culture makes the difference between good museums and bad museums.

    And there are a lot more bad museums than good ones out there, yes, but assuming that museums don’t think of themselves as part of the living culture is a fallacy. Most do; most do a bad job at it.

  3. Nelson, you are interesting. You are also somehow involved with Lauren Stokes, which takes you higher on the scale o’ interestingocity, but I’m not sure I can speak for the scale of morality.

    So this comment makes me sound like a tool, but I wasn’t sure what your policy on friending random strangers was. I’ve read a lot about your work relating to, and am a closet Wikipedia addict (and you seem to be indirectly responsible for said addiction.)

    Ok. I am digging myself deeper.. and deeper..

    • Well, I don’t usually add literal random strangers, but a few details, such as your name, would make a world of difference 😉 IM me sometime, I’m almost always online… I like to have a sense of who’s reading my LJ.

    • is so cool he can do anything to Lauren Stokes that he wants! He can do anything to anyone that he wants! Did *you* sue Diebold? Have *you* been at the vanguard of protecting the digital revolution from the depredations of the special interest? Did *you* found a multi-campus activist organization? Are *you* the future?

      No! So shut up, back off, and let rob the cradle if he wants. He’s earned it. And he’s probably making her happier than you or any other human being ever could! You should thank him for introducing you to Wikipedia and let it go!

      Don’t let him bother you, . You’re the only person whose opinion matters!

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