British Museum

People hold strong opinions about museums. Some assert that their ­primary function should be scholarship, others insist that it’s more important to communicate with a wide audience. In pursuing either of these goals, should museums focus on exploring objects or investigating their contexts—are they about looking at things or telling stories? Adding to the debate, there’s lingering anxiety about relativism; some commentators (and probably many visitors) think museums should strive to be objective, others relish a variety of views.

It has become a cliché to say that museums are today’s churches—special places for contemplation, separate from day-to-day concerns; conversely, there’s an argument that museums should aim to be commonplace, part of normal life. It is intriguing that museums were once talked of as places that reinforced cultural hegemonies, but now they are more often seen as democratising access to art, and even as politically correct when they attempt to include groups formerly omitted from history. While some believe museums have changed far too much, others think they haven’t been transformed enough.

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Maurice Davies
The Art Newspaper

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