Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Museums as parameters of societies


Hatto Fischer




Introduction (p. 3)

Museums as parameters of society (p. 4)

Challenging traditional museum agendas (p.15)

A new role for museums (p. 17)

The structure of museums – change in paradigms (p. 19)

Need for analysis (p. 20)

Theory and practice of museums – the set parameters around the concept of experience (p. 22)

In-between temporary exhibitions and permanent collections (p. 25)

The conversion principle at another scale – the example of the Tate Modern (p. 26)

Critical evaluation: performance, discursive practice, importance (p. 29)

The critical moment: museums as illusions of continuity in an eternal present (p. 31)

Use of the new media (p. 33)

Global discourse (p. 35)

Loss of importance (p. 36)

Services (p. 37)

Inner workings of societies – the cultural paradox (p. 38)

From testing public taste and opinion to risky provocations (p. 41)



How museums respond to new challenges, including the entry into the age of digital culture, depends on how they reflect upon their own practices as set parameters by society to preserve value of cultural artefacts over time they are mainly cultural organisations with a conservative bend. They resist change as they seem unable to manage change. While overtly everything seems to indicate that museums are modernising and the entire museum sector unfolding unheard of dynamics by becoming a new market, resistances against change become noticeable as part of the ‘hidden dimensions’ of museums. Whether or not museums shall allow their traditional agendas to be challenged, remains to be seen. They have to be evaluated in terms of their performances, the discourse they practice and if they can stem against the loss of importance when it comes to communicate their inner cultures in a global world. On hand of three examples these challenges and prospects of change in parameters are examined: museums entering a different terrain of theory-practice by linking their mission to preserve things from the past to what needs to be challenged in the present as exemplified by the Auschwitz Museum and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; to what extent they can become critical of their own exhibition practices as following a conversion logic which the Tate Modern demonstrates when exhibiting posters of revolutionary times; and how museums can manage to provoke public tastes and opinions without falling back to their traditional methods, namely to typify and to categorize things while leaving out important details. Museums can only serve as cultural bridges between the past and the future by freeing themselves from an illusionary sense of continuity and by not reproducing an eternal present. Only if museums become themselves subjects of change, will a going beyond their own walls be possible in order to find their new role in society badly in need of museums as institutions capable of furthering the creative process and of giving recognition to newly formed cultural heritages to make life in communities possible.  

Museums as parameters of societies

A comprehensive reflection of museums is no easy task especially in light of the dynamics that have gripped the museum sector as made evident, for example, by the H-museum network. [1] Many changes come in response to what the European Commission calls ‘e-challenges’. Since Lisbon 2000 museums are involved ever more in entering the digital culture. By doing so they reinforce a general aim of the European Union, namely to enhance the ‘know-how’ base of society. In a drive towards digitalised contents of cultural heritage, museums, archives and libraries are targeted in particular. [2]

That makes museums into key parameters directly linked with the new global economy. For instance, the job description for a new director sought by the National Art Museum in Catalonia entails the ability to take up the global discourse in order to bring the museum in tune with latest developments:

The Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC), one of Catalonia's leading museums characterised by its decidedly international outlook, seeks an experienced Director to lead his team. The MNAC encompasses all the arts (sculpture, painting, decorative arts, drawing, prints and posters, in addition to its photographic and numismatic collections). The Museum's objective is to develop a global discourse on Catalan art from the Romanesque to the mid-twentieth century. Culminated the work on the restoration and renovation of the National Palace on 16 December 2004, MNAC entered into a new phase designed to strengthen and revitalise its prominent position on an international scale. [3]

Since this global development is based on new technology, it revolutionises the Communication, Media and Entertainment industry. Thanks to the extension of the Internet and related hard- and soft ware innovations, web based experiences are made possible, for instance, by on-line exhibitions offered by major museums around the globe. But for this newly trained personal is needed. Accordingly museums must adapt if they are to disseminate information via these new communication platforms.

What is so significant about new technology: it is no longer just a tool but entails by now an entire ‘theory of society’ (Cornelius Castoriadis) and provokes thereby a new logic of organisation, the consequences of which have not been really understood by the beginning of the 21st century. For instance, the binary logic influences modern thinking to such an extent that the confinement to an iterative ‘yes-no’ process prevents in effect the thinking about contradictions. It has also a deep impact upon perception of things and how memory works. [4]

At another level, within the work organisation of these ‘memory institutions’, special technical services require trained people and new infrastructures. It all amounts to use of resources in a different, equally binding way to ensure payments for services rendered. The EU funded project OPEN HERITAGE was, for example, such a deployed methodology when it came to introduce this new organisational logic. Of interest is how the project analyses the situation of museums given these new opportunities:

Internet and New Technologies Potential"

Memory institutions are at risk of wasting big opportunities because of their own binds. The undeniable advantages offered by information technologies should stimulate the museum administrators to get informed on these new opportunities, acquiring a server and learning how to use it: unfortunately the necessary training would absorb internal resources already involved in other activities, and the indispensable investments would be unproductive for a single museum.

Territorial Service Centers are planned to be a significant force in helping to overcome problems of:

It follows that, the opportunity to exploit the advantages of new technologies, without doing investments directly, is offered by the Territorial Service Centers, developed with public and private incentives capable of supplying memory institutions with technical services (server, Web site, e-commerce and booking online facilities...), including the staff training, needed to directly reach the cultural heritage and tourism market thanks to an international network.

The advantage of working on the Web is that while a decisive element of forming concrete museum networks is a defined geographical context, Internet technology removes geographical binds: a community based on similar objectives and aims could be created.

The Internet can make a major contribution to the public image and face of the museum, and can make its collections and resources known and used by a world-wide audience in a way which was never previously possible. It is important that all museum staff should be aware of this, they should be encouraged to make their contributions and to take advantage of the Internet's benefits.” [5]

The recommendations remind of a similar re-organisation which took place in hospitals and emergency stations when they became highly technical units at the risk of leaving both staff and patients far behind. Since the technical factor is always visible, tangible, such infrastructural requirements are easier to justify, financially speaking, then the hard work on content and in the case of data bases to create an open culture needed when sharing of information is vital to the functioning of such organisations. There prevails always a discrepancy between technical potentialities and practical use thereof, the low rate of Internet access in Greece just one example.

But given the potentialities to use new media technologies in museums, they became a subject of interest i.e. new places of consumption in the use of anything from touch screens to virtual environments full of animation and interactive techniques. No wonder then that many museums have become favoured clients of companies which deal with multi-media and other museum related products.

This tendency has prompted political authorities to seek advice before making such huge investments and commitments. For instance, the City of Volos uses the INTERREG III B – CADSES HERMES project [6] to solicit advice on the use of the new media in museums. As it entails huge investments and still many unknown cost factors, a note of caution has entered a first appraisal and sobered up initial enthusiasms for the use of animation techniques and interactive stations creating virtual realities. Deemed negatively as a Walt Disney like effect, it suggests that the new sensation can quickly wear off, increasing thereby in the long run the risk that museums become artificial, equally boring spaces. The caution means also a warning about unjustifiable high costs while visitors seem to prefer to touch something real i.e. something they cannot experience via the Internet. [7]

On the other hand, the fact that entire consulting companies for museums and even museum fairs have come into existence, underlines a new market in the making. In that spirit Art Cologne organised a round table discussion about the provoking question: “Why art fairs?” [8] while at the International Trade Fair held in Munich, June 2005, industrial exhibitions displayed everything from light technology to new animation techniques. [9]

Since the entry by other economic players into the museum sector makes the financial structuring of things ever more problematic such fairs cover new grounds. For instance, Block 3 at that fair had following topics:

Block 3 >> PPP – Future Financing

Leasing as Partner model - Neue Berlinische Galerie

Citizenship – partner campaign, partner becoming, partner remaining

JÖRG MARTIN, executive director of the foundation agency NEUSS
The foundation as instrument for acquisitions

The new language entering discussions creates the impression that museums are no longer scientifically and culturally orientated but much more market driven as they become increasingly objects of interest for financial stake holders. The latter seek new investment opportunities in museums or more concretely they want to experiment with new transactions forms made possible by museums.

Of interest is, for instance, what donation and funding possibility the successful Benaki museum in Athens, Greece makes available through a very differentiated offer on how such transactions can be made e.g. from monthly contributions to leaving estates and other inheritances to the Benaki foundation after death. The key stipulation is that only ‘unconditional donations’ are accepted, i.e. those which do not seek to influence the decision making of the foundation by imposing a director, exhibition or way of interpretation of cultural artefacts and art objects. [10]

Clearly museums facilitate a wide range of trading activities all under the cover of ‘culture’ and ‘cultural heritage’. And as this new market grows in magnitude, it will certainly become more specialized. The 11th Museum Expression fair in Paris indicates how diversified and complex this market has become already:

“Museum Expressions", Palais des Congrès, Paris 26-28 January 2006

On the occasion of the 11th Museum Expressions, we shall also be celebrating the first MIEBEM, the International Marketplace for the Equipment of Libraries and Museums. It will offer all possible solutions to the problems facing the decision-makers of libraries, documentation centers, media and video centers, and of course of museums and their retail shops -for the equipment, the management and the maintenance of these sites. Museum Expressions is the only European trade show which presents the whole range of products, services and cultural gifts, making it an international success.

Where and when? Same dates and venue as MIEBEM - the annual show for all professionals in the field of objects derived from museum and heritage sources. Three days from 26 to 28 January 2006 at the Palais des Congrès-Paris, 2 Place de la Porte Maillot, Paris 17 (9.30am to 7pm on the 26th and 27th - 9.30am to 6pm on the 28th)

Who is it aimed at? Museum Expressions is essentially aimed at specialists running museum retail shops as well as other conservation sites in addition to site managers, thus interesting an ever growing clientele involved in cultural leisure. Museum Expressions presents a varied range of products - gifts, objects of all kinds, techniques and know-how closely linked to the cultural world, including scientific, literary, archaeological, architectural, artistic, and even industrial objects.

Over the years, our visitor list has developed to include site managers, and therefore for a wider audience such as parks and gardens, scientific and animal centers, houses owned by famous people, writers etc., eco-museums, industrial sites, routes selected for their historical, gastronomic or ecological interest. Culture and leisure are closely linked in the consumer's mind, who seek products or services carrying a strong identity, made to measure for their specific interest.

The classical distribution networks are also interested in this new market.

Every type of distribution is concerned and accounts for a strong share of visitors at Museum Expressions: retailers, stores, sales points, mail or internet sales which respond to the consumer's need for mementos which have a true meaning which is the specificity of all cultural gifts and museum objects. Amongst the visitors, we also include many creative professionals, stylists and selectors seeking new ideas which make up 10% of visitors to Museum Expressions.

In 2005, Museum Expressions welcomed 4 305 professionals including 975 from abroad, essentially North America and the European Union.” [11]

The PR announcement for a yearly event is interesting from several angles. Not only new target groups are described, but also the new market is associated with all sorts of venues, places, sites, etc. while everything is linked to a ‘growing cliental seeking cultural leisure’.

Given this trend museums will hardly be able to resist. Like the entire cultural sector they risk falling automatically under the categorical use of ‘cultural organisations’ to promote not ‘receptivity of culture’ but ‘cultural consumption’. The funds made available push them consequently in one direction of development and leaves them without needed resources to continue preserving and upgrading their collections. That becomes noticeable when forced to specialize in accordance with the broader cultural policy aim to tap into ‘cultural tourism’. Museums must develop attractive profiles in accordance with what the tourist industry demands. By now major tour operators include in their programs thematic tours which can be linked with visits to key museums if they have special exhibitions suitable to such thematic tours e.g. ancient battle fields, religious architecture, food and wine tasting novelties etc. [12]

Unquestionably this trend has an underlying philosophy by which needs for culture are perceived as exploitable parameters on the basis of which very definite business practices can commence and be institutionalized. Of interest is that the announcement for the Paris fair refers to a belief that “culture and leisure are closely linked in the consumer's mind, who seek products or services carrying a strong identity, made to measure for their specific interest.” The cultural need is identified with the need for something that has a ‘strong identity’.

In the jargon of the new conservative trend bearing upon culture models of industrial relations and marketing principles, [13]branding’ of culture has become a buzz word. The aim is to ensure that sellable cultural commodities are available because the culture they come from has become something like a brand name. Accordingly quality is measured in terms of the cultural products’ abilities to give (or at least promising to do so) to buyers a ‘strong’ identity. [14]

In a wish to imitate the success of Hollywood, the announcement for the Paris event makes reference as well to the existence of a lucrative distribution network. The latter is perceived as guarantee that the new market can and will expand into still unknown territories and thereby shall capitalize on further commercial possibilities. In the light of such expressions the museum sector seems to have indeed a promising future.

It goes without saying that to become financially attractive, museums have to lie in this trend and be linked to this new and extended art market. Above all they have to improve by necessity upon their marketing strategies. No wonder then that more and more museums workers are leaving museums to become free professionals i.e. consultants while universities are developing appropriate services and courses. For instance, the University of Victoria offers immersion courses for ‘marketing and development in cultural organizations’ that “explore key principles and practices in both marketing and development and uses case studies to strengthen (the participants’) abilities to make choices of a successful marketing strategy.” The course shall cover following items:


The important qualification of this course is that they are especially designed for ‘cultural organizations’. [15]

To service this new market and to act within these new constraints while wishing to capitalize on the new opportunities, museums have to transform themselves into more flexible instruments when it comes to financing things i.e. to make new activities and acquisitions possible. That includes the leasing, if not also the selling of art works or even entire art collections. An entire debate about this can be followed in conferences and workshops, publications and policy recommendations made with regards to the museum sector. [16] Likewise museums extend their organizational capacities to include other forms e.g. a commercial gallery where the requirement for non profit activities no longer holds and from where money made can be reinvested in maintaining collections and exhibitions. In that way they relieve themselves from the pressure to be successful only in numbers of visitors and revenue raised accordingly.

Subsequently the museum sector is undergoing currently many changes. New organisational forms are springing into existence. They range from public-private partnerships to foundations and corporate museums. The latter pose new challenges insofar as the ‘ethics of museums’ are put in doubt by replacing the aim to uphold public cultural goods with culture used to focus exclusively on a brand name in private ownership. The recent opening of the Mercedes Benz museum in Stuttgart [17] underlines this trend towards museums being a more refined place for commercial transactions. By showing the evolution of this special brand car over time, the museum is used as a way to animate sale. The time sense communicated by the museum gives an extra value to the modern product by linking it at the same time with such universal themes as man’s dream for fast cars and mobility as another way to handle questions of transportation. Such a trend of capitalization of ‘cultural heritage’ is indicated furthermore by a rapid increase of museums. In Greece 17 new or refurbished museums in anticipation of the Olympic Games meet in Athens 2004 to discuss innovative ways to handle ‘cultural heritage’. [18]

In the UK lottery money is used extensively to finance the renovations of already existing museums or to facilitate the opening up of new museums. It involves specialised companies bringing together design and museum expertise so as to have novel exhibitions in outstanding spaces. Some of these design works can be viewed when visiting, for example, the website of Peter Higgins’ landdesignstudio in the UK, e.g. the National Football Museum in Preston. [19]

Once museums do venture in this direction of using the multi-media, they face new questions, as in the case with the Wieland Museum [20] whose technical infrastructure was designed by the Media faculty of the Bauhaus University in Weimar [21], namely how to bridge the digital and cultural gap most evident when those entering such a museum prefer to hold in their hands a catalogue rather than using an i-podster? Moreover a technical infrastructure installed to provide information via headsets linked to acoustic spaces working similar to GIS location devices still misses the guides and personal which could start a human interaction with the visitor. There are other questions related to that as visitors themselves can turn into hackers and create their own guided tours and thereby upset any communication policy the museums may want to have in place when visitors come to view their exhibitions.

There is one way to describe museums, namely that they are institutions in transition. They have to combine classical work when it comes to preserving invaluable collections with modern management methods. That means new financial accountabilities as much as opening up museums to the handling of comprehensive data banks. They have to learn to use as well web based information systems, facilitate online exhibitions and become engaged in networking with other museums and still further institutions of the arts, knowledge and practices in order to extend not merely their own horizon, but to be present in a world demanding a new kind of accessibility to cultural and scientific resources. In that sense museums have to alter their practice of how they communicate contents of their collections and exhibitions.

In short, museums find themselves, as expressed by Dr. Andrzej Rataj, Assistant Director of the Ethnographic Museum in Krakow, in an identity crisis. [22] As such they are marked by a discrepancy between what people still hold as their notion of museums and what in fact takes place inside of them. A bridge between these two poles cannot be easily found.

But that is not all. Today a lack of cultural policy is not merely the outcome of a certain government in power only temporarily. The lack of continuity in policy is also due to a modernization of institutions taking place within the cultural sector as dictated more by the market than by conscious cultural policy. The latter would require a setting of priorities amidst multiple responses to many ongoing changes and for which no cultural policy applicable to museums has been formulated as of yet.

Given all these changes, it puts museums into unknown equally challenging positions. Above all the role of public funding and therefore policy measurements come automatically under review. For instance, in the UK several new policy measures are in place according to which funding is linked to performance indicators at national and local level and tied in with the aim to promote the intermediary, namely regional development. [23]

Some optimistic voices express confidence museums shall be able to get through this transition provided they adopt official policy measures on several issues e.g. ‘inclusion’, ‘gender equality’ and ‘civic governance’, in order to retain accreditation (official recognition) and secure still thereby public funds made available for such purposes:

“In return for public funding we are being called upon to demonstrate that our services represent good value, are responsive and relevant to the needs of users and are developed in partnership with them. Museums and galleries are also looking at the perceptions of non-users, targeting new audiences and realising the benefits of inclusive practice for all concerned. Within this context, museums are better placed to move forward, to think beyond the provision of access to their potential impact on individuals, communities and wider society.” [24]

But while modernisation of museums along with the creation of brand new ones gets under way, some counter tendencies are becoming increasingly noticeable:

“In recent years there has been increasing interest in the issues around access, audience development, social exclusion and inclusion within the UK museum and wider cultural sector. A shift towards a more outward looking, audience-focused sector is evidenced in a variety of ways; the widespread adoption of the language around inclusion in museum rhetoric and policy, increasing attention to such issues through professional conferences and seminars and a plethora of articles within the pages of the Museums Journal. This interest within the sector has been further encouraged by the launch of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s policy and guidance on social inclusion.

In the face of external pressures for change, a growing number within the sector have argued that traditional museum agendas are increasingly untenable and that social inclusion provides a way forward for the development of the sector in the 21st century and yet, evidence of more widespread change within the sector remains elusive. Many suspect that, though it is not always publicly voiced, internal resistance to change is high and indeed, in some quarters, the backlash has already begun. [25]

Museums resist changes because they are by definition conservative institutions. As set parameters by society to counter change equals loss of value, they see their prime task in preserving the value of cultural heritage over time. According to their mission, method and organisation they are inclined to believe that preservations of cultural artefacts is identical with serving society with a sense of continuity above change. Rarely do they seek to challenge ongoing changes as they want to avoid public controversies. In the wish to uphold at least the image of being institutions of public interest, the ‘politics’ of museums against change manifest themselves more indirectly, that is in ‘hidden’ dimensions. [26]

The politics of change do not go well with institutions which used to denote culturally valued knowledge by providing accessibility thereof only to the privileged few. In wishing to service the elite, they aspired to become institutions of a higher and more sophisticated understanding of human history and social development. It fostered an allusive, even arrogant attitude when compared to what the man on the street was assumed to know. In part such attitude linked with a certain value system stems from applying a certain kind of methodology.

The conservative bend is best described on how museums preserve and keep cultural heritage, namely in accordance with what has become an established value of the past for the present and therefore still unknown future. As such museums risks to remain one sided by upholding such established ‘value’ insofar as they focus only on outstanding cultural periods and unique creations in the past.

Usually museums end up missing the main point about culture itself: the learning out of failures. By idealizing great deeds and famous art works, museums seem unable to come to terms with the fact that human beings are never complete and in need of all kinds of spaces to express themselves. On the contrary what museums show in their collections and exhibitions are perfect ideals of a society imposing certain aesthetical standards and underline furthermore human beings are mere pawns in the hands of any given power.

Once museums manifest a cynical interpretation of history, it rules out any questioning of power, including abuse of power. The retrospectives of historical developments give if at all then only scant notice to unsuccessful bids to oust a dictator. It goes never deep enough to analyse mechanisms of power. The Tower of London shows merely the instruments of torture and evokes indirectly more of a shudder than evoking a conscious need to question power’s use of such methods. Some museums may show the consequences of abuse of power, but only to demonstrate what happens to people if they try do things contrary to what power wants them to do.

Unfortunately museums align themselves too readily with power and in so doing tend to indulge themselves in the image of having success over time. Like those holding power they gives themselves the allusion of being capable of transposing the continuity from the past upon the present and future still to come. This sense of continuity is produced to silence all discontinuities and losses of memories what else humanity thought of doing but could not. Yet museums do not perceive cultural heritage as ‘memories of the future’ but rather reduce things to inherent values as if ontological evidences which speak for themselves. All too readily museums uphold the value of science and what progress in development science has brought about until today.

No doubt museums fulfil as parameters of society an important function. By lending to power the illusion of continuity they help stabilize relationships between what has to change while everything else remains unchanged, including the not to be questioned grip on power and the resources that go with it.

However, human and lived reality is very different. Above all the biographies of creative individuals are filled with stories about burned bridges, discontinuities and dead ends that it is hard to imagine a societal continuity leading directly to where museums have placed themselves. Insofar as museums assume to be able to label the present as mere derivative of the past, they fail to come to terms with the fact that outlooks and insights of people change over time and that an uncertain future motivates their flights from the present.

Museums need to make room for these changes in order to come to terms with the future. They must reflect upon themselves as parameters of a society requiring a culture capable of letting human beings unfold to grasp their self-understanding in terms of history, politics and socio-economic conditions for their well being. What then is needed in the light of such resistances by museums to change? Two main needs can be used as guidance for subsequent discussions:


Challenging traditional museum agendas

Practical knowledge can be gained out of the insight that all changes need to be managed, itself a key priority for the European Union. [27] Thus agendas of museums can be challenged on the grounds that they are special institutions within the cultural sector. Most importantly that becomes evident when changes affect not only tangible, but more so intangible cultural heritage, including the meaning of change as being very different from development. Museums must reflect thereby when shaping their agendas upon one definite value shift, namely the one brought about by an increasing awareness of culture having become an economic factor, a factor of economic and regional development. This value articulates itself as a need to combine methods of conservation with planning, management, marketing etc. in order to facilitate cultural investments and investments in cultural heritage. It becomes thereby important what new issues museums must recognize in face of a changing cultural landscape.

Linked to that is the realization a cultural industry is emerging to become one of the most creative sectors of society. Alone the need to measure ‘creativity’ as used to be productivity of the industrial sector an economic indicator, underlines the fact that new means have to be sought to manage this sector. With museums a part of that sector, they will be measured and evaluated according to what methodologies are used by new studies on this sector. [28]

Once the dynamics of the museum sector are realized cities adopt a conscious cultural policy followed up by an institutionalized process of cultural planning based on mapping cultural resources. In that sense the museum sector has not only its own characteristics and specific agenda to manage change.

When it comes to relate museums to the cultural sector as a whole, one of the most successful concepts in the European Union has become the institution of Cultural Capital City. Initiated by Melina Mercouri with Athens being the first city in 1985, the concept has by now attained budgets ranging from 180 to 260 Millionen Euros. Its network consisting of former, present and future Cultural Capital Cities has accumulated by now such resources and know-how that special expertise can be made available once a new city becomes Cultural Capital. There is always the problem how cities and their cultural institutions face a sudden greater demand for cultural governance and coordination of cultural activities.  The risk of being simply over demanded exists all the time since the concept takes cities and its cultural institutions / infrastructures far beyond what they have managed until then.  Hence the concept is both a learning and qualification process and has become in the meantime a model which is imitated by now around the world. In part it leads to use of new spaces inside and outside cultural organisations, including museums, while infrastructural investments make possible the creation of new museums and even further going entities like a network of museums to encounter a growing effect of simultaneous events e.g. the museum island in Berlin. [29]

Other issues alter the agenda, such as the controversy between believers in consolidation as opposed to those who want the museums to expand to become a part of a global network. Many strategies are linked with that. For instance, in the case of the Guggenheim an assertive director in favour of expanding overseas prevailed over a wealthy board member who wanted a much more conservative approach to things. That is unusual since many assumed money would prevail over museum practices but then the rationale of any company is to expand globally rather than remain present at only one locality. For it goes hand in hand with an internal distribution network allowing exactly the blockbuster types of exhibitions to travel around the world while using own rather than other premises. That capitalizes in turn on the fact that the value of any collection grows if shown and seen by countless people around the world and who cannot travel to New York. Consequently depending how these issues are faced and resolved, it will have an enormous impact on how museums organise themselves in future.

But aside from traditional, there are newer ethical challenges to be faced. Attentive observers connect all the changes fore mostly with how the art market has put museums if not under direct pressure, then lured them into the midst of numerous speculative deals and thereby put them at the brink of new ethical challenges. More and more there are press reports about wide spread practices that entangle museums increasingly in such controversial topics as the return of stolen cultural goods. By the same token, not only money has to be given to countries like Iraq to track down its missing antiquities, for Matthew Bogdanos thinks a much higher priority must be given to something going further than that. He thinks “progress in stopping the illegal trade …depends on increasing public awareness of the importance of cultural property and the magnitude of the current crisis.” [30] In his opinion only when museums establish a strict code of conduct to ensure clarification of documents accompanying trade of artefacts, then its legality can be guaranteed in a more transparent and open way than now the case. Too many illegal trades happen because authentic documentation is not required. If no such measures are taken with the help of the public, then things will continue to happen as right now the case with the J. Paul Getty museum whose longtime curator for ancient arts had to resign to face trial in Rome on charges of conspiracy to receive stolen artefacts or in New York where the Metropolitan Museum of Art is involved in a plea bargain with Italian authorities for having acquired illegality antiquities.

A new role for museums

Lately, but especially after 9/11 and all the renewed terrorist attacks, there are pressed home points that the agenda of museums must change in order to accommodate a new role for museums when it comes to exercising the soft power of culture by giving recognition of the creativities and cultural heritages of other individuals and communities.

Indeed as of late the failures of museums have become more apparent.  They are increasingly criticized if they continue to retain mere imperial collections and thereby prevent recognition being given to the fact that the composition of society has changed since 1945. As there are by now many more and different cultures enriching daily the living heritage of cities, regions and entire continents, it would be deeply disturbing if that would go unnoticed by museums. These failures manifest themselves all the more once social tensions implode more than trigger of necessary reforms and especially changes on the labour market.

Unfortunately the politicians and the media begin to react only when too late, that is once the youth starts to riot in suburbs of French cities or else the United Kingdom is thrown into a crisis after discovering that it was youth from Birmingham that allowed itself to be turned into suicide bombers as the case on July 7th 2005 and on July 22nd 2005, the second one an aborted one.

Of interest is that these developments invoke a new trust in the ‘soft’ power of culture to accomplish things that society has generally given up in doing in a consistent way, thereby leaving especially the younger generations confused, disorientated and without real perspective for their futures in such a society. Alan Riding describes in the International Herald Tribune what a major report presented to the mayor of London shortly after the bombing entails. The report came after two years of study into the very subject matter with which modern museums should be concerned with:

The Mayor’s Commission on African and Asian Heritage… represents a realistic position: If ethnic minorities are to feel British, they must also see themselves mirrored in British society. In Livingstone’s words, they must “see their achievements, contributions and historical presence reflected in our museums, archives, galleries and school textbooks.”

In London, they are certainly highly visible. At present, 29 percent of the city’s population comes from African, Caribbean, Asian and other minority ethnic groups. They are also the fastest-growing sector of the population: By 2015, city officials have calculated, they will account for 80 percent of the increase in the working-age population. And, logically, these ‘new’ Londoners must be made to feel at home.

This is where questions of history and heritage are interwoven with those of identity.

As it happens, a significant African and Asian population has lived in London since the late 18th century. And for two centuries, blacks and Asians have been present in politics, law, culture and the armed forces. But, as occurred with African-Americans until fairly recently, their contribution was not acknowledged in either school textbooks or museums.

The commission’s report highlights the perils. When a community’s heritage is denied, ignored or overshadowed, it warned, “the outcome can be debilitating, leading to disaffection and disillusionment, a sense of disenfranchisement and contributing to socioeconomic decline.” And it added: “In London, this has been the untold part of the story that urgently needs to be addressed.”

In practice, until the mid-1960s, Britain viewed much of the world through the prism of empire. While institutions like the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum boast remarkable collections of African and Asian art, much of these were the fruits of the colonial era. Today, these two museums go out of their way to link their collections and shows to relevant minorities living in Britain, but the commission believes more must be done.

In a statement quoted in the commission’s report, Jack Lohman, director of the Museum of London Group, took a radical stance. “Many museums were born out of the pain of conquest,” he said. “I feel that there is a need for the museum community to acknowledge that pain. Museums that present the culture of the world need to acknowledge the story by which those collections were acquired. An apology for this pain is necessary.”

The report dwelled on more practical suggestions. It proposed that museums hire more African and Asian staff members and use minority experts to interpret collections. It noted that, instead of being “shoehorned” into festivals like Black History Month, African and Asian programming should be sustained the year round. It also said that museums and archives should examine their collections for long-buried material related to African and Asian heritages. And to oversee these and other changes, it recommended the creation of a Heritage Diversity Task Force.

In this, Livingstone has found an unlikely ally in the Arts Council England, a government-financed body that has long been identified with “high” arts. Earlier this year, it announced that performing arts groups would have to introduce affirmative action programs if they were to continue to receive subsidies. By this, it meant not only hiring more minority artists and staff members and presenting cultural diverse programs, but also reaching out to ethnic minority audiences.

True, for some Britons, all this represents political correctness gone mad. Yes, while it may do nothing to dismantle terrorist cells, “soft power” of this kind can help change attitudes – among white Britons as well as ethnic minorities, whether born in Britain or immigrants. Indeed, it could be argued that political differences become more manageable if a cultural dialogue is under way. In an intensely cosmopolitan city like London, it is one key to coexistence.[31]

Museums are reinforced by societies wanting to know what has value to them, what not. In that sense museums have to fulfil that task of validating for societies what should and does have ‘value’. In addition, they have the extra task to preserve ‘cultural heritage’ over time so that future generations will find access to it at an equal interesting and valid level.

Right now all these museum practices are undergoing tremendous changes with archives, exhibitions and activities having to be accessible online. The digitalization of archives along with virtual exhibitions adds a new dimension. Museums and their networks respond by linking real to virtual exhibitions, but then they face a whole set of new questions. For how to treat collections, what workshops or conferences should be added as supportive framework conditions or which educational programs to offer if they have to be enjoyable and entertaining at one and the same time? These and other topics dominate conferences and training courses relevant to the museum sector. It can be noticed that more and more new concepts for exhibitions include use of the multi media as form of presentation and communication while still the same old question lingers on, but what experiences should museums convey if they are to protect and to promote cultural heritage?

Consequently the work by museums as ‘memory institutions’ is undergoing tremendous changes and this even at the risk of neglecting the traditional role by becoming more entertaining than instructive in displays and activities. It alters the meaning given to the entire complex called museum.

The structure of museums – change in paradigms

The glance of art historians and museum curators matter not so much, nor the experiences made by visitors, but rather the commercial underpinning when it comes to define where the interest of museums lies. As part of societies setting parameters by which work has to adapt to the fact that ‘money rules’, it is this overall valorization procedure that dictates the tone. Just as Thomas Kuhn described the scientific revolution as change in the paradigm of knowledge, museums are undergoing such a change. [32]

In the Greek language ‘paradigm’ means premise, including value premises that explain dispositions to think and to practice, even to play according to certain rules and aims. These parameters reflect in general the cultural dispositions of societies when trying to come to terms with the past while seeking a way into the future. That leads to a setting of agendas and priorities especially when faced by a problematic future. By being disposed only towards certain exhibitions, museums display what inherent values of culture and cultural heritage created and found in the past should be kept for the future. But the work and practices of museums matter only insofar as societies in their dispositions see in it a clear value.

The pressure upon these ‘memory institutions’ to enter the market rather than merely preserve and promote cultural heritage by selling parts or whole collections has increased with the cut-backs in cultural budgets by governments. There is a debate about these latest practices when ‘artworks go on the block’ i.e. Picasso, Modigliani and Chagall are sold off at auction. The scale of selling is such that the debate encompasses more and more the linkage of museums to financial markets and even to the problematic money laundering business hidden from the public eye but nevertheless as suspicion testimony as to things going wrong. Carol Vogel writes:

“Defenders say such sales are part of a natural process of renewal; several museums selling this fall or through the winter point out that their goal is solely to raise money for other acquisitions. But critics say the museums risk making the wrong guesses about what works will seem important decades from now.” [33]

Robert Rosenblum, art historian and curator at the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, is quoted as saying that “History will make a fool of these museums. It always happens. Often the things that are sold are based on inherited prejudices that will be overturned in the future.”

If these ‘inherited prejudices’ – a way of looking at the past by giving value to certain things and then interpreting that as having value for the future – are to be confronted by museums and museum goers alike, it is best to consider first museums as parameters of societies disposed to look only in a certain direction while turning a blind eye to other matters, if only not to have to face a future having become by now problematic not only due to an unresolved past, but also because of not being aware what the present state of affairs in museums says about man’s future in this world dominated by permanent war, natural disasters, inequalities, climate change, sprawling urban megapolis and a world left hanging because of being without a constitution based on equality and the wisdom of knowing how to avoid war

Need for analysis

Certainly analysis is needed to find out more about these new institutions and entities all somewhat different to what museums were in the past. Back then they seemed to be the most deemed and respectable institutions when financed exclusively by the public hand. A cultural critique could say museums move from creating illusions about their artefacts to the art of making allusions about the potency of their collections, the display of wealth then as now a new kind of potency that will affect in the end how the public perceives also what museums can and have to offer.

With this re-interpretation goes the trend towards privatization of public art. It means that the open and ongoing receptivity of the arts and culture through visits to museums and public discourse is being rapidly replaced by all sorts of talks about investment opportunities in relation to the potency a museum can demonstrate. As such museums have to resort to quite different fund driving programs, commercialize their exhibitions (by including gift shops) and have on its board members who can raise a lot of cash for new acquisitions or lately more for a new wing or an entire new building.

As architectural features are of equal importance when marketing the image of the museum, decisions about the building have become crucial. They do not have to be as exceptional as the Guggenheim in Bilbao but still spectacular enough to attract visitors. The contrast between the modern background of Guggenheim and the local political environment with its tendency towards ‘cultural assertiveness’ could not be greater and yet a bridge was found by transforming the building into such ‘message’ that it attracts many more visitors and therefore tourists as new source of income. Others have followed this trend in the belief design of the museum building is as important if not more so than the actual content. For instance, the Chicago Art Institute is investing an extra $ 300 Million to add a new wing to the already existing museum, a sum large enough to make anyone wonder where this capacity to raise such an amount comes from.

Fund raising efforts include as well the possibility for donators to have their name fixed beside the escalator to show to all visitors who helped to finance this particular part of the museum. As the case at Tate Modern every room is devoted to a special sponsor; the name(s) of the sponsor(s) being inscribed in a small tableau fastened at some upper corner to the otherwise blank walls featuring nothing else except the art works hanging there.

Needless to say such practice has transformed museums into new cemeteries about which Evelyn Waughn would say only ‘the loved ones’ enjoy the privilege of having become the ‘un-forgettable ones’ in a world loosing fast its collective memory and thereby increasing the fear of those who have not really lived that they too will be forgotten. [34] Museums as new burial grounds for those who can afford it to leave behind traces, and if only a name in a space housing modern art to remind visitors that there were beside these artists those benefactors. Such gracious art of giving can take place only in the realms of museums. They can display at an elevated plane to visitors who wish to see traces of life of those who have created something in their short lives the names of those who want to be remembered even though they did not create anything, except perhaps the possibility to show these art works in the first place.

As a result of all these new marketing techniques needed to sustain a museum in the global context, new manager types replace the old museum director who relied on his scientific knowledge for legitimizing his authority. Here the former director of the Natural Museum in Milano, Giovanni Pinna thinks that is a mistake. He is of the opinion that greater emphasis should be still given to the intellectual organisation of museums for a director has to have scientific as well as managerial competence if he is to be capable of earning the respect of his colleagues:

Museums are very special companies, whose primary product – the cultural growth of the community through identification with its own cultural heritage – is difficult to quantify. And so, to enable economic assessment, we tend to consider the secondary products: entry fees, the sale of products linked to the image of the museum, the sale of services to the public. This has led us to consider the structural organisation of museums and their staff in the same terms as a manufacturing company, i.e. with the view to optimising the profitability of these secondary products. We have failed to analyse the aspects of museums’ internal organisation and the characteristics of their staff which guarantee the production and spreading of their primary product: the intellectual organisation of museums and the professionalism of museum operators in the scientific and cultural field.” [35]

However, if this tendency holds that secondary products become more important when measuring the performance of museums, then everything falls under modern managerial assessment tasks. As this will have very little to do with content, there is justified fear that museums will become institutions under the tutelage of modern marketing concepts. This trend can be seen everywhere with gift shops, extra meetings, extension of community services etc. becoming more crucial in what museums can offer, outwardly speaking, than what would enable people to experience the deeper meanings of the collections themselves.

With the dynamics of a rapidly changing art market being such, that ill funded cultural policy tools designed to support museum efforts are insufficient to offset this trend, more and more cynicism prevails when it comes to preserve collections and to promote on a scientific knowledge basis their inherent value. That can be seen especially on hand of what museums try to communicate to the outside world. Increasingly so communication strategies of museums are shaped in accordance with public relations standards and advertisement needs.

Instead museums as ‘memory institutions’ should heed their own internal creative process of interpretation, so the opinion of Giovanni Pinna. He thinks a museum’s ability to communicate about its specific culture depends on its intellectual organisation. There should not be adopted a strictly managerial approach; rather the director and the staff must be highly qualified in order to be able to sustain such a creative process. Also he notes that museums are not helped if they orientate themselves too much towards the outside world:

“Developing a museum culture is a complex process which has important repercussions on the organisation of museums and which is in clear contrast with the current tendency towards uniformity of organisation and mechanisms for cultural action and communication in Italian museums as a whole.

To create its own culture and defend and propose its own identity a museum must be a place of internal mediation, but it cannot, and, indeed, must not, be a place of mediation with the outside world.” [36]

But does this thesis hold in an age of globalization using largely the Internet for communication? These latter developments force museums to have aside from archives and collections huge data banks which everyone can access. With it goes a networking culture that includes partners around the world and who can enrich the meaning of the own collection any time. Equally ‘story telling’ by museums is nothing without an active web service making available online exhibitions even though it may marginalize many other and important activities of the museum.

Regardless of any answer, museums must come to terms with networking, use of the multi media and with the increasing pressure to play a more active role in how community life is being shaped, commented upon and given meaning to by interpretations linking past with present events.

As the announcement for a conference to take place in Sweden Sept. 2006 indicates, cooperation between museums at international level seems to be desired and necessary. The aim is to gain a wider perspective on the role museums can play in society and for this they are in need of a broader base. [37]

Theory and practice of museums – the set parameters around the concept of experience

At another level and said in a more generalized way, the continuity of work by museums is specified by such a challenge to link theory and practice by something making innovations in perception and understanding through further going thoughts possible. Accordingly future exhibitions or events in the museums must be adapted to that inner most need to fulfil not merely the mission(s) in visualized displays of things, but in practice by influencing the future course of events in such a way that society at large adheres to the principles set out by such a mission.

The process of collecting, preserving, displaying to make possible such interpretation involves museums in ethical issues which become apparent in both theory – the institutional and scientific base for validation of experience and knowledge - and practice – the way the museum interacts with its environment. The latter may be called for lack of a better description the ‘Zeitgeist’ or spirit of the times and entails why people are willing to go and to see something ‘outstanding’, ‘novel’, ‘unique’, ‘forgotten’, ‘mysterious’ etc..

Whatever attributes are given to what museums make possible in terms of experiences, that becomes evident in what museums stand for. It explains how various audiences, visitors, scholars, students, children, parents, tourists etc. appreciate and even learn to love the institution called ‘museum’. Organisationally speaking, their success depends on how reliable they are in terms of what they communicate through their various activities centred mainly on their collections and exhibitions.

One goes to the traffic museum to experience not only the history of transportation but also to follow innovative narratives on how the mobility of mankind has changed over the centuries and in recent years. Someone wishing to see a coin collection or an art collection of the nineteenth century would not expect to see that in a traffic or transportation museum.

Museums as set parameters make possible such experiences which ought to be passed on to the next generations.

In German the difference between ‘Erlebnis’ – subjective experience – and ‘Erfahrung’ – experience based on lawfulness – would aptly capture what museums work for. But by setting themselves as parameters of certain key experiences of value for future generations, they risk equally in making that passing on into a routine. Many museums succumb to the logic of static frameworks. They focus only on a particular period or that painter and forget that people move on to new time frames so as to hear, see, smell, taste and touch things in reality. They need it for not only abstractions but virtual realities trouble them.

People need to step into the present (it can be also the present of a certain thing i.e. how a printing press worked then in the 18th century) for only there they can experience things. That means involving their senses. Traditional museums block that as the sign ‘don’t touch’ creates already a barrier between the hands wishing to touch and the apparent need of the museum to keep the object intact. Modern exhibitions differ insofar as animation along with touch screens and new artefacts (in the Titantic exhibition there is a cold metal sheet to imitate how freezing the water was when the ship sank) involve the senses but at an entirely different level where virtual realities are imposed upon the imagination and wish of the visitor to experience things. It is this simulation technique that has become an interest of research in order to find out how much people, in particular children learn in such artificial environments. The term ‘immersion technique’ as if putting someone completely under water suggests a certain absorption degree must be reached before any sense of experience can be made. Likewise the term ‘cave setting’ reminds of archaic forms of mankind putting his images of animals feared the most on walls before getting the courage to hunt them down. At least, retrospective interpretations transposed onto modern settings tend to link the old with the new as if there are definite models of both experiencing and learning at work and which museums might want to adopt in order to further such processes by embodying entirely new learning environments.

The experiences made in museums as their secret to be shared only with those who enter not knowing what to expect but leave excited as having discovered another aspect of this amazing world, they are real when they touch the imagination and make people think about other things than what they can and do experience in their immediate surrounding. To follow such subversive logic a museum has not to be antagonistic to the locality the visitor comes from but develop an inherent structure by which the visitor is able to alienate him- or herself by plunging into that world of the museum and when returning home feels estranged enough to reflect upon his or her own self understanding as having now a different tone, shade of colour and appreciation about facts of life.

Most telling is how Carol Becker re-accounts here initial experiences at the Brooklyn Museum:

“There is no doubt that I loved then what Valery called ‘the anarchic chaos of the museum’ (Adorno). In those days, more than now, objects from all over the world created an enormous internal cutter that filled the space and overwhelmed the senses. Perhaps most significant for me and for my friends was the feel of that space – solemn, cavernous, stuffed with things, and mostly empty of people. This space was ours, an extension of the cinema of our dream lives. In my memory at least, entry was free for children. And although I’m sure there were guards, I don’t remember any. Nor do I remember the stores and the selling of objects that now seem so ubiquitous. What I do remember is the freedom the museum represented. It was our place, albeit a grown-up place, within which we could be transported to multiple other realities and moments of cultural history. It made Brooklyn huge. It made my life huge. I could roam many continents in an afternoon, surrounded by sacred objects from Africa, India, Brazil. I could go upstairs to American landscape painting and see my own continent that I was still to explore. While looking at European painting, I could dream of Paris and battles raging on the English Channel. I could travel back in time with the possibility that I might actually travel forward into such realities in the future. At this time I didn’t think about those who made the objects and I certainly didn’t attempt to deconstruct the meaning of my gaze. The most important thing for me, then, was that it was our museum to roam in as we did our streets.”   [38]

Here are made already some hints as to what changes affect in turn museums of today: the gift shops, the deconstruction of meaning, seeming loss of freedom to roam and to explore so that there seems less dreaming and little stuff to go on. If museums are not careful they will end up converting themselves into spaces of sensationalism sparked by one spectacle taking place after another. Their programs try to mark the high and low parts of the cultural seasons. [39] If everything is designed to attract more visitors and tourists alike, it will leave local people and those seeking cultural identity through museums somewhere stranded in-between the old and the new. No wonder then if museums are no longer considered to be like a home for further going dreams about other lands, realities and places to visit in future. At best they may be perceived as investment opportunities for future cases but this would mean money is hitching a historical ride with cultural heritage in order to regain value over time.

In-between temporary exhibitions and permanent collections

Organisationally speaking, once concepts and methods no longer coincide very easily, the museums become fragmented institutions. They risk that people working there know no longer what the others are doing. Also the new kinds of specialization bring with them not merely a more neutralized relationship to the cultural content of museums; they foster also greater isolation. As such deeper meanings and intricate connections between details escape the attention of those forced to communicate only at mass media level to a potential audience discoveries and experiences made in due course remain at best something marking that day and nothing more.

Unfortunately museums tend to promote only a certain understanding of history and society. They do so by leaving out too many details and by favouring highly selective practices they end up never questioning principles of selection according to which something acquires value. In most cases Ancient Greece is depicted without the existence of slaves while the Roman Empire has become if anything an empire to learn from on how to stay at the top even if it requires ruthless methods. To such museums clings still an aura of being a part of privileged society which stands above changing times. While the illusion is cultivated that daily life is filled with too many trite or irrelevant details not really worth bothering with, the very opposite may be true with museums housing the trivial while people face in real life all tragic components. By not realizing that there exists such a huge difference, museums as ‘unchangeable’ parameters in a sea of change can but further aloofness and neglect of real socio-political questions about human development.

Admittedly the reconstruction of the past is no simple matter, or even impossible as thought so by the philosopher Juergen Habermas. Still, it matters greatly if the Archaeological Museum in Athens shows only archaeological findings depicting art works on grave stones, for it may give rise to the misleading interpretation that art works were meant then only to dignify the dead and not the living. Such a thesis cannot be disputed as long as there is a lack of counter evidence based on artefacts museums may have in their archives but which are not accessible to the general public. But in knowing that, what is on display can never validate the full knowledge of things. At best it reflects a conscious museum policy embedded in how society wishes to view and to think about the past.

To repeat some of the points made so far the inner culture of museums is disrupted by following main trends:

By staying within these traditional parameters the glance of museums is directed more towards the rich findings of a king’s burial site than towards the commoners who were buried outside the palace’s walls and who left hardly any traces. That retrospective affirmation of hierarchical rankings in collections of cultural artefacts of the past is of concern. It can solidify present societies based on inequalities as justified by differences in education, property, wealth, skills etc. just as it may reinforce a wrong distinction between the important and the trivial.

So while museums risk not ensuring in this drive towards privatization and capitalization of culture that cultural heritage remains a common ground of cultural identity, their methodologies based on false distinctions between what has value and what is authentic may lead to overlooking certain evidences although crucial for telling the story about that site, finding or interpretation.

Once the risk to overlook certain crucial facts is there, systematically speaking, a certain ‘cultural blindness’ reproduces itself. At the same time the authentic finding or what should have ‘value’ for the future is put ever more in doubt. Unfortunately museums do not give expression to such doubt but systematically respond as if irritated with performances, exhibitions and alterations in their collections aiming to convince. In a fast changing global world it is no longer so clear what is to be preserved, what should be promoted as ‘cultural heritage’. Museums respond in their own ways to this challenge by adopting a conversion logic when it comes to display artefacts which used to have ‘loaded’ meanings and which are now safeguarded as relics of the past long gone.

The conversion principle at another scale – the example of the Tate Modern

In London, the Tate Modern moved into a former industrial complex used in the past for heating by means of firing up coal. It has a very prestigious spot directly at the Thames and exists vis-a-vis the City of London where the main financial district is located. It has transformed the surrounding area and made going to the museum or art gallery into a cultural event or happening. Things are set adrift in a good way with crowds of people circulating freely. At the same time, the Tate Modern picks up these trends insofar exhibitions are linked to famous personalities and films made about them such as Frida Kahlo, the Mexican painter. In another exhibition they recollect revolutionary posters and show images of a political past located somewhere in between Romanticism and revolutionary zeal leading workers on. The recreation of such movement allows any visitor to reconnect with an atmosphere that prevailed when a certain style of politics dominated in the streets, in factories and in the world.

Why mention these aspects? While giving a certain profile to the surrounding area and thereby transforming it into a cultural landscape, the inner workings of such museums is a much more complex process. Museums can be called ‘memory institutions’ but only if they allow for the ‘working of memory’: a going with the times, with changes, with success stories and failures. For museums work with pieces of evidence that can invoke memory associations while blending out completely other parts of reality. Like anyone putting objects into an empty room, pieces of evidence gathered can interrelate single objects with the image of the whole only up to a certain point. Then, by adding another piece, the image changes and as Adorno puts it, ‘the whole is no longer the truth’. What belongs still to the hunting, what to a newly emerging agricultural society and what transcends both types of organisational dispositions since a common element to all mankind, that is difficult to classify once the time borders blur and sense perception is confused by the concepts and categories used to denote the times brought to light. Here a change in parameter is needed most if transformations of entire societies in their disposition – from hunting to agriculture as an example – are to be communicated within such measures of time so as to know what is needed to change and fore mostly not merely tools, but attitudes, values and ‘mental maps’ by which people survived before, during and after these big changes.

When called upon to articulate precisely these changes in parameters museums respond unfortunately often too late and with little else but yet in another routine manner for the challenge to demonstrate a change in parameters is much bigger than that. This is especially the case if museums do not step outside the categories they have grown accustomed to as the best and only way to describe that period of time, the artist or event. Consequently they really do not know how to mediate between different time periods other than showing abrupt departures or historical cuts as if the same when going from one room to the next. With here the Egyptian, there the Greek monuments and nothing in-between, the all important time bridges and that what makes these mutual influences, transitions, revolutions and convulsions possible, is left all too often outside the museums’ own grasp of languages available to make that point. As a matter of fact they tend to fill these voids with yet another kind of silence leaving merely the guard fall asleep while hardly any visitor will understand what happens to them once they cross the threshold from one time period to another. These magical travels through time and space should be made more explicit and an extra subject for museums to cover.

Still, the task of the museum is quite simple at the outset. By letting a visitor enter for the first time such another world, one marked by a highly selective objectivity and sense of direction given to key items, something is invoked. Here the museums have the immediate task to make the visitor become curious. In the case mentioned above with regards to the exhibition in the Tate about ‘revolutionary times’, an exhibition is deemed then a success if it attracts not merely many visitors, but manages to stimulate each visitor into wishing to know more about such a political movement which produced such powerful posters as part of its language and even propaganda.

The raw forms of history are made here visible but only, and here comes the first qualification, in this detached manner that only museums are capable of. When Carol Becker refers to Adorno’s thesis about museums tending to neutralize culture, she means museums give ‘value’ in a very restricted sense to something to be seen as piece of historical evidence: a poster. A certain perception of that period of time and its specific political movement is then not merely suggested through the posters but formed. [40] It takes place in a neutral space. There are neither the loudspeakers nor the chants of workers raising their fists that fill the exhibition space but only the language of the posters is allowed to speak. Apparently, so the suggestion of the curator of that exhibition, it suffices to let the imaginative eyes do all the talking within the forms – the posters in this case - the museum has brought back to exist in the present i.e. in front of the eyes of the visitor.

However, the full meaning of those posters can only be grasped, if the ‘hidden assumption’ is made explicit: the ‘unspoken’ declaration by the museum through such a specific exhibition that these posters are the only things left from that movement, of those times! Here Giovanni Pinna speaks rightly so about ‘the hidden political dimension of museums’, insofar as not merely the senses evoked by these posters suffice to capture their meaning, but the ‘ perception’ of the context in which they were created and for what they stand for now as then. By giving existence to only a certain perception in the form of these posters, the highly selective viewpoint becomes not merely explicit, but it demonstrates the setting of a new parameter as part of how society of today wishes to regard generally those times of the past and in particular that specific time period when revolutions from the Soviet Union spread all the way to Mexico if only to end up just like that: posters left flapping in the wind while the demonstrations and the revolutionary zeal of the workers has disappeared in the meantime.

Almost not noticed, the time frame has changed and apparently so subtle, that people tend to forget, no longer wonder or else ignore the fact that they no longer understand themselves as revolutionary workers, but as visitors of museums. They have gone silently over a time bridge and become so easily onlookers of past times. By blending out in themselves all these discontinuities in their political, social and cultural identities existing then but no longer now, that is after having crossed these time bridges offered by museums to the present, they pose no more substantial questions about their past histories. Instead they are led to believe that they can reflect themselves in such mirrors of the past. Almost too easily they are brought by subtle comparison to the conclusion that they have changed since then. They are no longer fighting for their Rights; instead, they think life freed from all hardships, beyond work, is the real world of pleasure allowing them to consume time. As a matter of fact that neutralized space of museums making possible detachment from real life is supported by the artefacts. The posters are no longer flapping in the winds and washed down by rain but find themselves now in straight jackets of frames making sure that they have no wrinkles and are as new and fresh as if just printed yesterday.

Several things can be extracted out of such ‘changes’ in time frames determined by forms which remain in existence not merely as perception of things, but also as meanings given to them. A museum ensures as parameter of society’s such perception of things that the political component is removed from the item and only the intrinsic historical and aesthetical values communicated for the sole purpose of a kind of review. Ironically there stands no longer a dictator up in the tribune to watch the workers march by, but now the visitor is put in a position of aloofness with regards to such historical event. He is the one who lets the posters pass by as if outside and beyond such a movement. The subtle identity change from a historical and political subject to a cultural observer reviewing things of the past in a neutralized space is never made conscious. Yet it is the impact of museums once such parameters have been set. It involves promoting like the advertisement campaign of an undercover agent and shoving like packers of passengers of Hong Kong’s overcrowded metros almost physically the visitor into taking up quite a different position to the historical and political self, namely as someone no longer involved in political movements, but apparently one who is informed about the past and therefore able to see the dismal result of that movement in the posters left behind. What illusions then, what freedom now! The comparison made possible by museums is always in favour of an undefined but asserted presence even if no words can be found to describe such a feeling.

Critical evaluation: performance, discursive practice, importance

As long as museums stick to a traditional and conventional approach to things, they will be limited in performance, fall short of a truly reflective discoursive praxis and are not able to overcome loss of importance other than copying and becoming more and more institutions similar to entertainment and leisure service providers.

i. Performance

All this is to say museums as parameters of society represent something like the unchangeable, or what has permanent value. With it goes the intellectual praxis of conservation, namely the interpretation of cultural artefacts. This praxis is often based among many other techniques on historical knowledge, intuition and artistic creation of meanings as way to exaggerate upon specific meanings and attempts to follow what is left nowadays of science as the methodology upheld by the staff of the museum. Such praxis sets standards and is described in terms of modern evaluation methods as the ‘performance of the museum’.

As the fulfilment of missions demands the attention of not only curators, museum directors, trustees and politicians alike, but also and fore mostly the general public itself, something has to be said at the outset of such an attempt at a reflective overview of museums in a globalized world. There is after all one cultural good not easily made into something tangible, if at all it can be transformed into a tangible commodity and yet which is a crucial indication about the state of affairs: public trust. Such trust is a prerequisite that museums remain engaged within the bounds of ethical sound practices when it comes to preserving and promoting knowledge about cultural heritage in general and information in particular about their collections. It is this trust and the expectations in museums as ‘cultural organisations’ which make the setting of parameters on how to deal with cultural heritage so decisive. [41]

If anything such a crisis will strain the museum’s performance and end up looking very similar to what some persons would describe as upsetting their lives if too many parameters are changed at one and the same time. If these changes in valued relationships between knowledge of the past, present and future cannot be worked out either as a certain development leading on to new inventions or placed in a certain context of understanding as for example, the impact of the White man upon the lives of Indians as shown in the Canadian heritage museum in Ottawa, then museums will grow silent. And society outside such deeper understanding based on getting to know not merely the own but the cultural heritage of others can be easily provoked into even violent reactions to further changes, especially if that poses a greater risk to society than what it can be imagined as possible answer to these challenges. The very conversion of a cultural challenge into a ‘threat’ is the best indication that things are going badly wrong.

ii. Discursive praxis

There are different ways to describe how museums perform but as institution of representation of knowledge about certain things, they come close to what Michel Foucault understands as ‘discursive praxis’ moving from one certain interpretation of things towards another interpretation if better evidence has been found and a cultural consensus created around the newly found meanings begins to manifest itself in texts. That observation by Foucault is substantiated by what happens within institutions and museums. They have all their special way to classify, to describe and to interpret things and thereby connect within a specific, equally representative system of what has value to society seeking knowledge within a certain order according to which there can be connected ‘les mots et les choses’ – the order of things. [42]

Because of the methods museums have tended to apply over time and this mainly by means of archiving things according to certain categories, they end up typifying human history and promoting only specific interpretations. Such conservation of human knowledge may help solidify key concepts of human evolution and ear mark scientific discoveries, technical innovation and historical facts but it leaves out one important point, namely that things should not be left at that. Rather museums should facilitate the stepping out of parameters set in the past by showing from their vantage point how people can enter an active present and regard things differently from the past. After all interpretation is a creative act.

Museums can become more than mere learning places provided they know how to make transparent changes in parameters while staying within forms of existence and thereby avoid coming to the brink of catastrophes. For that is needed not merely a new way of looking at things, but also a demonstration of how living forms, work organisations and cultural innovation can go together to make possible existence on earth. [43]

Human tragedies must be depicted by museums and they must facilitate a learning out of the past in order to shape the future differently. By definition museums must be able to make a difference between the past and the future. This cannot be done if ideological convictions are upheld by denying, for example, that the Holocaust ever existed or by not taking human beings with all their doubts seriously.

Unfortunately the tendency for museums to depict only one side of the story about mankind is furthered by communicating only certain viewpoints, in particular those that have dominated over time and which are closely related to collective images. Museums risk thereby transporting stereotypical modes of thinking about other people over time while leaving the elusive self to an illusionary ‘well being’ not to be questioned. This goes hand in hand with research conducted at universities and museums. In the end that falls short from questioning any of such societal dispositions towards glorification of heroes while hovering in silence about the darker sides of history.

Science used to be a solid base for museums but no longer. The reliance upon a scholarly study of manuscripts along with a steady cataloguing of evidences has not been able to sustain the process of interpretation as demanded by modern society. There are many more discrepancies, indeed make shift interpretations to bridge the gap between what is known on the basis of hard evidence and what needs to be said in a communicative form in order to let audiences participate in events organised by museums. A definite short coming is to alter learning into entering exciting exhibits capable of entertaining the audiences more and more with ongoing spectacles – superficial presentation of things but enriched by use of the multi media to intensify certain effects like fire works lighting up the night sky.

The critical moment: museums as illusions of continuity in an eternal present

Once the parameters for spectacles are set, then naturally any museum allows itself all the freedom to show as many different angles as can be imagined when it comes to view that revolutionary time period or for example ‘modernity’ to which Centre Pompideou in Paris or the Tate Modern in London have ascribed themselves to. As part of ongoing exhibitions, the message will be the same, namely that all the different spaces in the Tate Modern would not suffice to illustrate the general points of that era by merely one exhibition. [44]

It legitimizes the museums’ ongoing practices by promising and allowing themselves to show more details about the same period of time in the next and then still in another special exhibition. This permutation of exhibitions Carol Becker calls the ‘continuity of the spectacle’ as defined by Guy Debord for they have the aim to make an illusionary ‘eternal present’ appear as real as life itself. [45]

Carol Becker names several reasons why museums must go beyond that, if exhibitions are not to exhaust themselves in the mere playing out of variations of one and the same subject matter:

Museums have tried to shut out that noisy media discourse but once inside those silent rooms what can be expected? Will such a structuring of an exhibition suffice as suggested by the points mentioned above? Can such a master plan for further going exhibitions be a part of the novelty of museums?

In view of this tendency towards creating ‘spectacles’ everywhere, Carol Becker thinks that a going beyond the mere spectacle requires a new kind of representation of ‘humanness’. [47] As this is deeply ingrained in memory other than rituals need to be developed if to be drawn out into the open and put on display as not something removed from personal experiences but to be discovered in the ‘self’ by venturing over the ironic distance between viewer and cultural artefact.

By this very definition of culture museums can be perceived as places of rituals for learning to recognize what has value. Seldom do they deviate from how society wishes to present itself and thus they risk being mere tautologies. For instance, if an Ethnographic Museum shows traditional customs, furniture, tools and paintings which go with a rural, equally rustic life, but leave out the social tensions between man and nature, economic deprivation and centralized management systems, the folklore like image will conserve merely a traditional society and hide its inner contradictions as much as tensions.

If that is the case, generally speaking, then this disposition towards typification makes museums extremely weak when faced by social contradictions. They will be unable to become truly innovative especially if they fail to culturally adapt to changes demanded from museums and societies alike by a world gone global on the basis of a new communication and transportation mode.

There seems to be no possible escape from ‘certain’ parameters. [48] Once people visit museums handling these issues in only a typical way, they end up in a specific routine when it comes to passing on values inherent in the past to the future. One indication is what stories people tell to one another; another is that in a society like the United Kingdom basing mainly its understanding of history on glorification of war as experienced in the recent past, i.e. Second World War, that it is still possible to enter a new war as the case in March 2003 when the government under Tony Blair decided to join the American forces entering Iraq and this despite a formidable opposition in the UK against such a move.

Such contradictions can be explained by the fact that Second World War predominates in the minds of the many as a justified war. It is further marked by an admirable defiance of all odds and continues in the telling of many glorious deeds outweighing apparently by far the countless innocent people killed, or rather it seems so because of that huge death toll all the more heroic are the deeds of those who entered the war to face a dictator. The death of the many makes those energized who survived it tell their stories and here then the museum risks by spinning a tale out of it in order to satisfy an official version to suppress the deeper disturbing questions. This can explain the endless re-accounting of heroic deeds, including in a special exhibition about children surviving the Blitz Krieg. By making a direct link to those courageous pilots flying one mission after another, the war out of defiance is never questioned.

Use of the new media

If this is not already enough of a challenge, there has to be still added the changing role of museums as they adapt to new methods of display, the use of enriched media a case in point. The entry into the virtual reality means that museum experts must be attentive to what determines the new discourse. For instance, at the Flanders Expo in October 2005 the theme was very much on how to make this new virtual reality work.

The fair covered following topics:







Difficulties to organize a discourse suited for the modern practice in museums is reflected by technological and educational topics entering thematic fields linked with ethics as envisioned by the conference. [49]

Global discourse

Here it is difficult to draw a consistent line of thought through ongoing discussions about key cultural features to be found within that overall arch of Western Civilization. But there has started a dialogue with other civilizations as exemplified by Louis Baeck who refers to the Islamic view of globalization when describing the newly emerging discourses:

Emerging non-western multiple modernities

The various geopolitical configurations of the world each produce a dominant discourse. During the period of ideological rivalry between the two superpowers, the choice was between westernization or, alternatively, sovietization, with a reluctant Third World in between. Since the implosion of the Soviet empire and China's entry in the international market, the "assertive" cultures and religions are the ones who find themselves in trouble. The pressure of global standardization exercised by the sole superpower and the prevailing view of neoliberal globalization have produced identity countercurrents. In the large cultural areas of the world - China, India, Africa and Islamic lands - ground swells surge to oppose the standardizing pressure, in favour of the right to authenticity and difference. The most striking example is China, a colossus of 1.3 billion inhabitants, which achieved the highest rate of growth in the world during the last twenty years through a strategy of openness, modernization and internationalization which is quite different from the western model. The so-called socialist government, while controlling the project, combines an authoritarian one-party state and a network of multinationals that bring hefty investments and technology. With its low-cost exports and the enormous surplus of its commercial and financial deficit with the United States, China has already become a driving force of the world economy. In India, the strategy centred on the creation of niches of sophisticated technology is more autonomous. And its modernization is more democratic than that of China, in accordance with its multicultural genius for synthesis. In Malaysia, a new unified wave of Islam supports a remarkable economic dynamic. During the 1990s, multiple trajectories of non-western modernization emerged, even in Latin America where the postmodernist current is proudly called modernidad periférica. Thematic areas and texts about the various possible angles on this subject are increasingly debated in conferences throughout the world. In the Muslim world, since the end of the 1990s, seminars and conferences in Beirut, Cairo, Damas, Rabat, Lahore and Kuala Lumpur on globalization's issues and global governance have taken place. Multiple Internet networks have spurred transnational contacts; they act as opening catalysts in circles that had until recently been closed or had existed in an ethnic, cultural and religious cleavage. Clicking on the heading "liberal Islam" leads to some forty sites of Muslim intellectuals of international reputation. [50]

It is something else when confronting the self-proclaimed role of the British Museum seeing itself as meeting point between different civilizations. [51] The controversy about the Parthenon Marbles highlights this traditional self-understanding insofar as the British Museum still claims today as being a much better keeper of these historical evidences of greatness linked to Ancient Greece than the Acropolis and any related museum in Athens. This has influenced the keepers negatively when it comes to informing the general public about the background of this controversy. [52]

In that sense museums position themselves and can influence greatly the cultural discourse by extending through many and varied dissemination processes, including workshops held in due course of thematic exhibitions, the principle thesis about Western Civilization. This is how museums have activated so far the know-how base of society disposed to doing just certain things according to a self-understanding fostered over time and cultivated in reference to both findings of past achievements and linkages to new creations of cultural artefacts.

In that sense museums could fulfil an important social function if they would allow a practical discourse mature over time. By no longer resisting changes in meaning and by not enriching already established meanings, but rather by facilitating the creation of new meanings, they can reinforce the questioning of what was until now the prevailing epistemological orientation of society. In terms of self understanding this society saw itself exclusively as being a part of Western Civilization only. That becomes evident in what museums deduce out of culture and cultural heritage in their own special way. It marks the geographical divides between the North and the South, the West and the East and reciprocates the political version of that when the industrialized nations come together at their G 8 meetings.

All this and more reflects itself in a combination of museum practice and general education reinforcing basic notions about human life on earth. Always it is treated by museums as if only great achievements of mankind over time count. Such glorification of heroic deeds and significant because apparently decisive events (even though in substance they entail horrific tragedies for countless unknown people) as the make up of the history of nations and empires outlines the forms in which museums can and do exist. All that and more continues still today in what is being taught at school and passed on as liveable knowledge by other educational institutes. That can lead to over identifications with figures like Alexander the Great or even in cases of extreme Right Wing groups with Hitler, Stalin and other dictators like Pinochet. Always a glorified past allows for no further questioning of such identities upheld due to their apparent strength and overt success stories even if it meant swaying people to follow for the wrong reasons awful and harmful purposes.

Loss of importance

To go beyond a Foucault analysis of institutions may be too huge a task but museums as parameters of society can be viewed in conjunction with what has becoming an alarming trend in recent times. Besides the partial or even entire destruction of cultural heritage due to global development, museums themselves are loosing increasingly the sense of importance they used to have as sacred places of knowledge. Carol Becker would describe her first discovery as a child of a much wider world in museums because they were then still not bothered by guards or gift shops. [53] By the same token, it means a commercialization of everything inside and outside the museum’s premises will drive out not only life and meaning, but reverse the value a museum has for society.

One does not need to be transposed onto the level of museums once certain forces wish to exploit cultural heritage and culture for mere commercial reasons while throwing them onto the ‘compost heap of history’ if they no longer perform to the tune of the free market. There are also political forces which can destroy a certain cultural heritage if it does not give evidence of the own wanted supremacy and rather proves that other cultures exist as well e.g. the Talibans destroying the Buddha sculptures so as to remove evidence of other religions existing aside from Islam. The plundering of the museum of Baghdad after the occupation of American and British troops of Iraq once ‘permanent war’ started in March 2003 gives similar reasons to think a massive disregard for being a place where the oldest civilization of mankind resides was needed among many other things to justify the going to war and the occupation of Iraq.

Museums become prime victims once war is unleashed and with it the need for a new order which the new power wishes to establish in the present. It seems that museums are functionally treated when power seeks to control through these institutions the past, while deriving legitimacy for its doing out of such cultural heritage interpreted to give power the illusion of being the most advanced civilization on earth. The kind of control museums exercise over all cultural artefacts seem to indicate fear will continue to prevail, the fear that always new questions can resurface and threaten power’s grip over reality.

If taming of the past is clearly in the interest of power, and with it goes a conservative outlook on life as things should remain as they have always been, then museums face the difficult task to arraign themselves accordingly. They will have to live that tension brought about by the need to stay abreast with latest innovations, scientific discoveries, new artistic trends and above all with changing framework conditions. While burdened with all these tasks, they face an uncertain future due to realizing that there is no definite cultural policy being implemented by any of the political parties ending up in government.


In other cases, museums have to faces many other demands ranging from community services to needs to survive financially i.e. without the support of public funds. All this and more forces museums to enter a difficult ‘present’ which becomes very quickly a highly problematic future if the continuity with the past is not there.

Museums no longer are just places where important things are preserved, nor just a building or institution where objects of artistic, historical, or scientific importance and value are kept, studied and put on display. [54] In the past museum policy concerned itself what was stored compared with what was on public display and how much to rotate between permanent and changing exhibitions. But nowadays they have to make accessible online what is in their archives while they have to re-organise themselves constantly in order to provide all kinds of ‘fresh’, ‘exciting’ and ‘novel’ services aiming to bind visitors and friends alike. With special artistic and educational programs for all ages in demand as well, they have to become multi facet institutions with as much economic or social as cultural interests. In exchange for different kinds of supports they make available their spaces for all kinds of performances and even allow their premises to be used for social functions such as weddings or special gatherings e.g. when cocktail drinks are served for a privileged group amidst the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum.

All these activities take these institutions well beyond a traditional understanding of museums and make it necessary to reflect anew what museums are all about. This has to include questions of evaluation as to what role they have and should play in a society. On a positive side it may involve them in protecting entire indigenous people as is the task of Te Papa museum in New Zealand [55] or else in giving back some dignity to people who had suffered terrible things during the Holocaust by not forgetting them i.e. by looking more carefully at all traces they left behind even if it means digging in rubbish [56] or else in continuation of careful research validate more thoroughly all documents about concentration camps. [57]

Inner workings of societies – the cultural paradox

Most telling for the extended role of museums is what a guide said when visiting Auschwitz in 1999: ‘as long as atrocities continue and human rights are violated in the world, the mission of the Auschwitz museum, namely to prevent such things from happening again, will not have been fulfilled’. That then takes the museum well beyond its own walls and requires a follow-up in terms of education of future generations and social practices.

Consequently it becomes paramount that a museum understands and reflects the inner most working of society as expressed through culture in both a negative and positive sense. George Steiner called it the ‘l’ennui’: the puzzle of culture to reflect as much man’s greatness as culture has not prevented man from committing crimes against fellow men, women and children. [58] By the same token, museums provide insights into what society wants to remember as having been created but this cannot be equated easily with what has been destroyed at the same time and even by the same process.

Hence museums find themselves often at cross-roads between forgetting and remembering or rather what should be forgotten before being able to remember it again. It depends on how memory works. When discussing the Dresdner Gallery still destroyed at that time and only recollected how the various rooms looked like by using postcards to remember which paintings hung in what rooms, Cocteau and Aragon said there comes a time to step into the ‘river of forgetting’ for only then, on the other side, things can be remembered differently. That matches with the sense of life going on with business as usual or the kind of normality mankind needs if to come to terms with still newer challenges ahead while the burden of the past still weighs heavily on everybody’s shoulders. When the gates of Auschwitz opened, a famous violinist greeted the survivors with the advice go back to the jobs you have done before: carpenter, shoe maker, painter. Indeed survival depends upon the ability to do normal things without forgetting the greatness of life and the affinity people have to one another due to love, open equally critical minds and honest soul.

The terrible truths told by the Auschwitz or Buchenwald museums make this notion of museums being a paramount of society ever more difficult. There is the paradox that at the very peak of collective memory with museums displaying a tremendous institutional, organisational and technical skill in preserving things of the past, sets in a tendency to forget the unpleasant, the non conformist, the reminders of failures. This may take place deliberately, systematically or unconsciously but certainly since 1945 museums know other things must guide them and define their missions.

There is no suspension of museums like Auschwitz possible; its very existence is linked to both remembering what took place during the Holocaust as it remains a challenge in both present and future terms to prevent further atrocities being committed against humanity.

However, the more practical question has to be if a museum can supersede itself? If yes, the museum would step outside its traditional role and undertake the remembrance of things by retaining a special sensibility to things belonging to a certain period of time. The act of superseding the past entails the museum giving meaning to that period by elevating these things to another level of perception. Here the method of contextualization in the case of an icon removed from a church requires a new suspension of things.

Hegel refers to superseding when he speaks about ‘revenge’ being included in the concept of law.[59] ‘Aufgehoben’ has the same meaning as something being taken care of by the state when punishing the offender rather than a brother of the victim. The demand for civilised conduct is higher than the motivation to rectify the name of the family through an act of violence. The latter would only intensify the vicious cycle of violence and spark endless conflicts.

Hegel talks as well about remembrance as being the abstraction of the abstraction. [60] In that sense the museum can never tell the full story of the past for the museum retains from that period of time only a fraction of artefacts and therefore meanings. By necessity any recounting is abstract. This sense extends itself beyond what any museum can say. It becomes most explicit in the case of the Auschwitz museum as the real abstraction to death is silence. Insofar the museum has set a higher goal for itself, namely to prevent the continuity of the very practice that is the object of that museum, a discussion can begin only after breaking with such a past. As such the museum becomes itself a ‘cultural paradox’: a reminder of what horrible things took place in the past while needing to contradict practices in the present if they fall under the same category as to what took place at Auschwitz during the Nazi era. By retaining a sense of what it means to let power exterminate the lives of others not considered to be Germans, that is not only Jews, but also gays, lesbians, gypsies, political resisters, the mentally ill, in brief all the non conformists, the Auschwitz museum must assume a critical position wherever atrocities are committed. The fact that the world can delay responses in Darfur by not naming it genocide what is going on, there is being repeated what Second World War showed as failure of the allies to bomb the trains going to Auschwitz or the camp itself.

The practice of the Auschwitz museum extends itself to other Holocaust museums when it comes to respond to such atrocities. The Holocaust museum in Washington brings photos taken by Brian Steidle under the title: “My Camera was not nearly enough” to prevent the crime against humanity. [61]






























About this cultural paradox something else has to be said in reference to George Steiner. For in a deeper sense the museum must avoid any categorization of things as this very same mechanism was used to exclude and to exterminate people. The museums must be able to show the destruction of those who do not fit into any of those categories confirming with the will of the people to cede all power to the state. Such showing is not yet an explanation why and indeed very often museums try to document, but not interpret at the same time such a process of destruction. They can reveal through documents of orders how an administrative law was applied to exclude and to exterminate the Jewish people. Yet this must be shown by the museums from a non conformist position to the mere work with categories that distinct power tends to misuse. If lessons are to be drawn from such past museums must give courage to go beyond administrative practices (of which the scientific method is an integral part) and let people come to terms with reality outside all categories.  It may sound utopian or highly illusionary but as Thomas McCarthy, the Irish poet from Cork says, museums (and the cities they are in) must communicate such culture on the basis of which people can still believe in a honest way that human dignity exists in everyone even when not visible all the time. [62]

From testing public taste and opinion to risky provocations

Yet given such a critical posturing between internal and external practices what can museums do to alter the situation in which human beings cannot find their way? Right now the means of museums are variations of exhibitions. They can be made more explicit by museums taking still other items from their vastly rich collections resting in the archives to convey a stronger message, stress a point or else draw attention to things overlooked until now. Once taken from the archive and put in a certain context, they can enrich the exhibition by items taken on a loan from other collections in other museums. The rearrangement lets visitors see familiar objects in a new light especially when compared to other findings from the same period of time. Altogether museums can go beyond themselves and let in new ideas and fresh impressions with the potentiality to alter even the meanings of the original items. There is an interplay of ideas especially if the exhibition becomes a showcase of an art work by itself i.e. they way things are presented, shown, made accessible. Here the use of multi media can be seen as an entirely new way of making possible such variations, enriching thereby, so the intention, the experiences made by visitors of these museum items.

Curators are at their best if they manage to assemble the most important pieces from that period of time as if gathering evidence for their specific thesis. Viewers can then look over their shoulders and follow their glances as being the time when everyone was startled by the first use of the camera about to replace the portrait painters. This leads on to the next significant statement about that time, namely that a new profession of photographers brought into the scope of city life and society very different images, first in black and white, then in colour. Things are revealed that an eye had not seen in close ups, while the invisible participation of the imagination to see the objects is muted or blended out – something not said but demonstrated as many exhibitions have underlined when tracing the path from painting to photography as nowadays books to films has become a thematic expression to indicate the difference between the imagination and the visualization process according to these new techniques. As this will determine the way things are referred to and spoken about, including the way things are put to use in other than artistic contexts, all that has significance as to how the order of things is perceived, structurally speaking, in terms of power or human existence. It includes the image of the human being portrayed in a passport photo, when the police scan the eyes or the photographs of children made when they entered the concentration camp (as in the Auschwitz museum) etc.

Josef Karsh, the famous portrait photographer using only black and white, managed to get Churchill’s typical angry and bulldog like expression only by offering him first a cigar and then tearing it out of his mouth in order to capture with the lens a subtle moment. Photographers keep on saying, it is not the camera but the eye capturing what is important. Good museums work like that but unfortunately not many of them provoke society in the way Karsh did it with Churchill in order to reveal more telling stories about society by using many and varied forms of communication when it comes to conveying meanings about things in general. [63]

Certainly museums must learn to work more like any artist: very specific, concrete, subtle and always keeping in mind that the most simple is most difficult to express. Still, when it comes to display items, then simple forms have to entail the complex if the potential of existence is to be revealed through them.

Here Giovanni Pinna would surely like to add that the intellectual component, the search for the scientific value, must not be left out from such an emphasis upon an artistic approach. As a possible answer to such a request can be reminded what Carol Becker said at the Volos workshop in June 2005, namely ‘that artists would never like to replace curators and museum experts, but as visual persons they see things simply differently’. [64] Their inclusion in the curator’s process is needed if museums are to progress beyond set the time frames and own standards, themselves a result of the parameters as wished for by society at large.

This then brings the discussion about what museums can do to enliven their exhibitions to subtle tracing methods indicated by how museums mark and let be known different kinds of developments. Like art works being exaggeration of something which observant eyes will see first and once enlarged upon in the form of a display in a museum then exposed to the public eye, [65] the parameter(s) of society will become visible.

In that sense exhibitions are ‘ready made’ objects as Max Ernst used to call his method of frontage when just copying the pattern of a stone on a piece of paper he had just laid over it. They are ‘ready to be seen’ expositions of key features by which society has so far dissected and reassemble things all in the illusion that an authentic reconstruction of the past for eyes to see in the present is possible. In that sense all exhibitions and displayed collections belong to the category of exaggeration as part of the language a museum can use when displaying things.

Naturally some people will object if an exhibition displays things that hurt or even insult religious feelings as did, apparently, the SENSATION exhibition which included a painting of the Holy Maria over which was smeared elephant cot. [66] There are other confinements such as the wish by many curators to leave things as they are, that is how they were found, including archaeological findings even if they have lost in the meantime all their colouring as many Greek sculptures have and which has prompted lately a discussion around experimental exhibitions attempting to recreate the colours. Modern technologies allowing such simulation effects indicate already the direction in which the language of museums can extend itself i.e. by including computer simulation and virtual reality techniques. Nevertheless the key confining principle for museums has to be letting visitors experience things while knowing what additional guidance next to the exhibits must be given by guides, information and other resource tools so that through such validation the visitors reflect upon it and take home these ‘experience’ and therefore become an integral part of their ‘memory work’.



In that sense museums as parameters of societies have their work cut out for themselves if they are to come anywhere close to helping people and societies confront a problematic present marked by lack of continuity and loss of memory. People have been marginalised in the past but never before on such a massive scale as in this age of the Information Society and global economy. The will to change has been replaced by discontinuity and loss of orientation has made many people homeless more in mind than in real physical terms. They gather information at airports and yet are often confused as to where they left their car in which parking lot three storeys under. Or they call the office to see if they have not forgotten something while already on their way home. Preoccupied by too many things happening all at the same time, people feel over demanded, over stuffed and bombarded from all sides by various kinds of information, so that they don’t even remember their dreams or how they ever made it through the week. But like those who worked in the industrial age sometimes fifty or more hours a week and then when called upon to tell a story about that past remembering only that on Sundays they went out for a walk and ended up drinking beer with friends at the local pub, so the present generations are numbed. Many things are no longer remembered simply because too many things happened at the same time. There is even a great confusion between what is not so important but still important enough to make a difference in life. Derrida tried to reflect upon this in emphasizing ‘l’ecart et la difference’ but he too started to worry towards the end of his life if the cultural heritage of his generation of thinkers would be preserved by future ones? [67]

Indeed people struggle to keep their faces of normal life. Yet in their wish to be successful there is the risk of pretence by showing how time and money can be consumed or even wasted regardless of the consequences. They may wish to pretend that they are enjoying life, but at a high price. For if they no longer know how to come to terms with real failures their stories of confronting human reality will be very weak and often go unnoticed how weak they are in their suppositions about themselves and others. This is not just something produced by a manipulative world based on managing expectations as a clever way out of a deepening of the human crisis due to a lack of true commitment and too many left out, behind and aside. This is especially the case when society no longer comes to terms with the parameters it has set to define its own myth about past, present and future life.

To get beyond such lies, including false myths, that is a challenge for museums. Exhibitions will have to show not only how children survived the Blitzkrieg of Hitler as did the Imperial War museum in 2005, but why people of today can remember only so few details of survival. Is the collective memory base so weak because people are weighed down by too many failures, in particular those which are not of their own making? The ‘burdens on their shoulders’ linked to a guilty conscience must be eased somehow. It cannot be left alone to the state or churches. In that sense museums have to become active within the dialectic of securalization by ensuring culture is used to tell true stories. Otherwise people will face an uncertain future and doubt themselves since never told anything worth believing in. Coupled with the ‘global war against terrorism’ and the manipulation of public opinion which goes with it, people are experiencing many other kinds of break downs of normal living processes. There are the many natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. and the political ones due to corruption and incompetence when people’s lives could have been saved had there been heeded safety precautions and money for the levees protecting New Orleans not eaten up otherwise. All these plights are reinforced by loss of economic prospects and loss of not just jobs but meaningful activities. With this deterioration in living standards go automatically new threats to health and safety, the AIDS pandemic just one example, the increase in cancer and heart failure related deaths another. There is a common plea for normality by all people as they experience their lives becoming deeply problematic.  Just as the 7th of July bombing in London demonstrated that daily life based on routine i.e. taking the tube every morning to work can suddenly erupt and be transformed by exploding bombs since their route to work has become a part of a war zone, war itself can never be justified even though President Bush believes 30 000 dead Iraqis is worth the sacrifice for democracy. Here the marks of civilization tell a different story for retrospectively only those societies can be considered to be humane and civilized if they avoid human tragedy and therefore do not ask of anyone to make a sacrifice of the most precious thing they have, namely their own lives. The sudden turn of events by youngsters from Birmingham turning into suicide bombers in London’s underground has caught many by surprise but the logic of politics favouring war and asking in real terms for human sacrifices to become an accepted thing in the process, that is not only devious, it is deeply wrong and shocking how the rest of the world looks on as if not their own responsibility and business. No wonder then that the bomb blasts on July 7th took immediately the G8 meeting off the news and replaced it by ‘street fear’.

Museums can respond by retaining a sense of being safe havens for critical reflections about cultural heritage, if that is possible in these troubled times. But answers must be given to questions on how to avoid war and even more so humans being sacrificed. The Commission Report to the City of London said by giving recognition to other cultural heritages contributing equally towards community life, museums can find a new role in society. With such need to redefine the tasks of museums, there goes UNESCO’s declaration on cultural diversity. Museums need to follow and allow for a differentiated perception of what can and should have another imprint upon daily life than when, for example, the British empire existed and the British Museum was asked to keep imperial collections to demonstrate own cultural superiority. With culture becoming a soft power in questioning abuse of cultural heritage to suppress others, museums must recognize that people are troubled by the failures of all cultures. It is also known that once people fail to face a problematic future in time, then the chance diminishes to do something about it in a non violent way. Burdened by this accumulative process of many more failures adding to the weight on their shoulders, museums could ease the pain by showing how to learn out of these failures. It would mean entering a new path of museology. Indeed museums themselves must learn to question the parameters society has set for them to follow as if it is the sole task of museums to create the illusion of continuity and a myth about the past.


Louis Baeck, The Islamic View of Globalization, contribution to world discourse in the forum of www.planetagora.net (editor: Jean Tardif), 2005

Carol Becker, Surpassing the Spectacle, (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002)

Carol Becker, “Museums and the Neutralization of Culture: A Response to Adorno”, (unpublished manuscript), Chicago, 2005

Matthew Bogdanos, The Terrorist in the art gallery, International Herald Tribune, Monday, Dec. 12, 2005, p. 8

Cornelius Castoriadis, Crossroads in the Labyrith. (trans.: M.H.Ryle/K.Soper) MIT PRESS, Cambridge, MA 1984. 345 pp.

Jocelyn Dodd and Richard Sandell, INCLUDINGMUSEUMS, (RCMG publication, 2001)

Hatto Fischer, The hidden dimension of museums – organising intangible heritage, contribution to Heritage Radio Network – www.heritageradio.net, 17th of May 2005

Hatto Fischer, Some comments to the opening of the Wieland Museum on June 25th 2005, contribution to Cultural Features, Internet Radio, www.heritageradio.net , 25.6.2005

Hatto Fischer, A Tribute to Derrida, (Heritage Radio Network: Cultural Features (www.heritageradio.net) 2005)

Hatto Fischer, British Museum - keeper of civilizations (www.heritageradio.net: cultural features, Athens 20.8.2005)

Michel Foucault (1966) The Order of Things, New York

Hegel's Elements of the Philosophy of Right (Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts)

Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) publ. University of Chicago Press, 1962.

Michael Kimmelman, When museums play a commodities game, first written for the New York Times, published by International Herald Tribune, July 16 / 17, 2005

Giovanni Pinna, “The intellectual organisation of museums”, Paper given at the HERMES Symposium in Krakow, Oct. 28 – 30, 2005

Alan Riding, Culture’s subtle role in fighting terrorism in: International Herald Tribune, August 4, 2005

Richard Sandell, Museums, Galleries and Social Inclusion, A paper prepared for the Heritage Lottery Funds, (UK 2000)

George Steiner, Language and Silence: Essays on Language, Literature, and the Inhuman (New York: Atheneum, 1967).

Evelyn Waughn, (1999), The Loved Ones, Amazon books, USA.

Vincent van Gogh, Complete letters of Vincent van Gogh, (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1958)

Carol Vogel, U.S. museums’ selling spree has its critics, in: International Herald Tribune, Wednesday, October 26, 2005, p. 1


Hatto Fischer, Evaluation report of the Volos workshop on Museums, June 2005, HERMES – Volos project archive


National Employment and Social Inclusion Monitoring and ESF Operations II

Article 6 ESF and Readaptation to finance “innovative approaches to the Management of change” (Budget heading 04.021000.00.11 – Call for Proposals VP / 2003 / 21)

SUMMARY AN ANALYSIS OF THE ECONOMIC POTENTIAL OF THE CREATIVE INDUSTRIES IN VIENNA Prepared by: Kulturdokumentation Veronika Ratzenb.ck, Katharina Demel Mediacult Robert Harauer, G.nther Landsteiner, Wifo Rahel Falk, Hannes Leo, Gerhard Schwarz. Translation: Michael Lyman. On behalf of: City of Vienna, MA 27 EU-Strategy and Economic Development, Chamber of Commerce Vienna, Filmfonds Wien. This study was co-financed by the European Fund for Regional Development. Vienna, February 2004

Network of Cultural Capital Cities, First Symposium of Cultural Capital Cities, Athens, October 13 – 16, 2005 (to be published)

The Lending to Europe” report on collections mobility in Europe was published in May 2005.  There is an interview with Ronald de Leeuw, the Chair of the Working Group, on p.5 of the latest issue of NEMO News http://www.ne-mo.org/news edited by museum consultant Henrietta Hopkins.

Wider perspective - broader base” CIDOC annual meeting 2006 Gothenburg, Sweden http://cidoc06.se

European Projects

OpenHeritage: Enabling the European Culture Economy by Gabriele Scali, Flavio Tariffi, Stefano Cuomo, Hub Kockelkorn, Dominique DeLouis and George Mallen - October 2001 www.cultivate-int.org

HERMES – see http://www.swkk.de/hermes/lang_en/index.html

HERMES – Volos Project - see www.i-politismos.gr

Open Heritage www.cultivate-int.org/issue5/openheritage



Benaki in Athens, Greece http://www.benaki.gr/index-en.htm

British Museum

Canadian Civilization Museum http://www.civilization.ca/aborig/aborige.asp

Meeting of Museums in Athens 2004 http://www.cultureguide.gr/events/details.jsp?Event_id=67177&catA=12

Mercedes Benz Museum www.mercedes-benz.com/welt

Peabody Essex Museum www.pem.org/exhibition/current.php

Te Papa Museum, New Zealand www.tepapa.govt.nz

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum www.ushmm.org


Cologne Art Fair http://www.koelnmesse.de

European Commission: Digitalisation Program for Libraries, Museums and Archives http://europa.eu.int/information_society/activities/digital_libraries/index_en.htm

Heritage Radio Network  www.heritageradio.net


H-Net Network for Museums and Museum Studies

E-Mail: h-museum@h-net.msu.edu

WWW: http://www.h-museum.net

Yousef Karsh, Winston Churchill, gelatin silver print, 30 December 1941. Image source: Karsh - The Art of the Portrait.

Landdesignstudio, UK  www.landdesignstudio.co.uk

MLA – UK Museum policy

Inspiring Learning for All www.inspiringlearningforall.org.uk

Accreditation www.mla.gov.uk/action/accreditation/00accreditation.asp

The Renaissance in the Regions report www.mla.gov.uk/action/regional/ren_report.asp

Munich Trade Fair www.mutec.de

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC) www.mnac.es

Brian Steidle In Darfur, My Camera was not nearly enough (Washington Post, Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page B02), http://www.ushmm.org/conscience/alert/darfur/steidle/

Tate Modern http://www.london-se1.co.uk/attractions/tatemodern.html

University of Victoria, Canada http://www.uvcs.uvic.ca/crm



H-Net Network for Museums and Museum Studies

E-Mail: h-museum@h-net.msu.edu

WWW: http://www.h-museum.net

[2] Press release:
Commission unveils plans for European digital libraries
The European Commission today unveiled its strategy to make Europe’s written and audiovisual heritage available on the Internet. Turning Europe’s historic and cultural heritage into digital content will make it usable for European citizens for their studies, work or leisure and will give innovators, artists and entrepreneurs the raw material that they need. The Commission proposes a concerted drive by EU Member States to digitise, preserve, and make this heritage available to all. It presents a first set of actions at European level and invites comments on a series of issues in an online consultation (deadline for replies 20 January 2006). The replies will feed into a proposal for a Recommendation on digitisation and digital preservation, to be presented in June 2006. (...)

Full of text of press release

Link to the Communication and on-line consultation

[3] Source: Website: www.mnac.es Job description, new tasks: global discourse (9.12.2005)

[4] Cornelius Castoriadis, Crossroads in the Labyrith. (trans.: M.H.Ryle/K.Soper) MIT PRESS, Cambridge, MA 1984. 345 pp.

[5] OpenHeritage: Enabling the European Culture Economy

By Gabriele Scali, Flavio Tariffi, Stefano Cuomo, Hub Kockelkorn, Dominique DeLouis and George Mallen - October 2001

OpenHeritage [1] is a research project funded under the Fifth Framework Programme (Jan 2001 - Dec 2002) aiming to create an IT infrastructure and service to improve access to collections information held by regional museums and galleries. The collections of regionally distributed smaller museums will thus be as attractive and accessible as the larger, better known, museum collections. This "cultural driven" economy could give a significant contribution to the local economic development enabling the enrichment of local touristic and cultural assets.

[6] HERMES – see http://www.swkk.de/hermes/lang_en/index.html

[7] HERMES – Volos Project, see www.i-politismos.gr

[8] http://www.koelnmesse.de The discussion aims to answer the questions whether or not art fairs are still needed, and if yes, from whom are they useful: artists, gallery owners, buying public etc.

[9] www.mutec.de

[10] http://www.benaki.gr/index-en.htm


[11] From: Pellerin fpellerin@re-active.fr Subject: MUSEUM EXPRESSIONS 2006 Date: Mon, 12 Dec 2005 15:26:47 +0100 Source: H-MUSEUM

H-Net Network for Museums and Museum Studies

E-Mail: h-museum@h-net.msu.edu

WWW: http://www.h-museum.net

[12] Spyros Mercouris refers in an interview with Heritage Radio Network how his exhibition about ‘Ancient Drama and the Opera’ at La Scala in Milano is visited daily by Japanese tourists due to being on the map of their tour organisers. See www.heritageradio.net with file: ‘magazine’ and title “Are museums just digging in the past?”

[13] Politicians responsible for cultural policy speak about the cultural sector being not very different from a coal mining or ship making sector. They mean this sector will require equally investments and a handling by government as if just another industrial sector employing so many people. This sector is called either ‘cultural industries’ or ‘creativity sector’ and perceived already as strategic factor when it comes to urban renewal and urban sustainability.

[14] This can lead to further disturbing developments i.e. ethnic assertiveness and closed markets with culture drawing the borders as the case in Barcelona, a city supposedly to be open and dynamic, but which in fact refrains from hiring non Catalonian persons. In the past products were known by countries of origin. Sigmund Freud explains in ‘Die Verneinung’ why products signified by ‘Made in Germany’ require the negation of personal identities insofar people have to give their collective identities instead to these products. That exploitation practice continues when sacrifices are demanded from workers and employed people for the sake of the welfare of the country even when national identities do not uphold a rationality of the whole.

[15] http://www.uvcs.uvic.ca/crmp

[16] As a result of a big debate on collection and disposal issues going on in the UK and across Europe

“The Lending to Europe” report on collections mobility in Europe was published in May.  There is an interview with Ronald de Leeuw, the Chair of the Working Group, on p.5 of the latest issue of NEMO News http://www.ne-mo.org/news which museum consultant Henrietta Hopkins edited.

[17] www.mercedes-benz.com/welt

[18] http://www.cultureguide.gr/events/details.jsp?Event_id=67177&catA=12

[19] www.landdesignstudio.co.uk.

The studio received a bronze award for the UK pavilion at the Expo in Japan  (www.my-earth.org.uk )

Also they provide the 'interpretive architecture' for the Mary Rose a ship built by HenryVIII that was recovered after being underwater for 437 years! Other projects include the National Waterfront Museum Swansea which presents post industrial revolution Wales.

[20] Hatto Fischer, “Some comments to the opening of the Wieland Museum on June 25th 2005”, contribution to Cultural Features, Internet Radio, www.heritageradio.net , 25.6.2005

[21] The concept was presented by Prof. Jens Geelhaar at the HERMES workshop on museums held in Volos, June 13/14, 2005. The technical information design for the museum means an i-podster system of gathering and obtaining information. Visitors can go through the museum and be informed, click to get additional information and collect it for a later print-out at the computer terminal in the last room.

[22] See Hatto Fischer, “Evaluation report of the Volos workshop on Museums, June 2005”, HERMES – Volos project archive

[23] MLA – UK Museum policy as expressed in following three programmes:

Inspiring Learning for All www.inspiringlearningforall.org.uk

Accreditation www.mla.gov.uk/action/accreditation/00accreditation.asp

The Renaissance in the Regions report www.mla.gov.uk/action/regional/ren_report.asp

[24] INCLUDINGMUSEUMS written and edited by Jocelyn Dodd and Richard Sandell

Published by RCMG, 2001, p. 1

[25] Richard Sandell, Museums, Galleries and Social Inclusion

A paper prepared for the Heritage Lottery Funds needs assessment for the sector , UK 2000

[26] Hatto Fischer, The hidden dimension of museums – organising intangible heritage, contribution to Heritage Radio Network – www.heritageradio.net, 17th of May 2005


National Employment and Social Inclusion Monitoring and ESF Operations II

Article 6 ESF and Readaptation to finance “innovative approaches to the Management of change” (Budget heading 04.021000.00.11 – Call for Proposals VP / 2003 / 21)

[28] SUMMARY AN ANALYSIS OF THE ECONOMIC POTENTIAL OF THE CREATIVE INDUSTRIES IN VIENNA Prepared by: Kulturdokumentation Veronika Ratzenb.ck, Katharina Demel Mediacult Robert Harauer, G.nther Landsteiner, Wifo Rahel Falk, Hannes Leo, Gerhard Schwarz. Translation: Michael Lyman. On behalf of: City of Vienna, MA 27 EU-Strategy and Economic Development, Chamber of Commerce Vienna, Filmfonds Wien. This study was co-financed by the European Fund for Regional Development. Vienna, February 2004

[29] The Network of Cultural Capital Cities will organise an exhibition from March 27th to May 14th about its own 20 year of existence in Patras, Greece as Cultural Capital City in 2006

[30] Matthew Bogdanos, “The Terrorist in the art gallery”, International Herald Tribune, Monday, Dec. 12, 2005, p. 8

[31] Alan Riding, “Culture’s subtle role in fighting terrorism” in: International Herald Tribune, August 4, 2005

[32] Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) publ. University of Chicago Press, 1962.

[33] Carol Vogel, “U.S. museums’ selling spree has its critics”, in: International Herald Tribune, Wednesday, October 26, 2005, p. 1

[34] Evelyn Waughn, (1999), The Loved Ones, Amazon books, USA.

[35] Giovanni Pinna, “The intellectual organisation of museums”, Paper given at the HERMES Symposium in Krakow, Oct. 28 – 30, 2005

[36] Giovanni Pinna, “The intellectual organisation of museums”, Paper given at the HERMES Symposium in Krakow, Oct. 28 – 30, 2005

[37] *Wider perspective - broader base* CIDOC annual meeting 2006 Gothenburg, Sweden

The CIDOC annual meeting and conference 2006 will take place in Gothenburg, Sweden, September 10-14 2006, in the localities of The Museum of World Culture and nearby venues. Invitation and further info at: http://cidoc06.se

CIDOC is the international focus for the documentation interests of museums and related organizations - an international committee of ICOM - International Council of Museums

The conference themes enlighten the fact that more and more efforts are taken in the field of cross border cooperation and the focus on standardisation from outside the traditional museum sector.

At the same time as other organisations and users looks at museums we also have to look at the knowledge management movements outside museums and to collaborate between sectors as natural and cultural heritage. Aspects as fighting illicit traffic with heritage objects and bringing intangible heritage knowledge to future needs, amongst others, also form a challenge for the documentation systems.

We also would like to enforce the museology and information science researchers to study the standardisation evolution within the museum field.

[38] Carol Becker, “Museums and the Neutralization of Culture: A Response to Adorno”, (unpublished manuscript), Chicago, 2005

[39] An example of seasonal programming: survey on Halloween-related programming (22 Oct 2005)

A new graduate thesis is taking a look at how and why museums use Halloween-related programming.  The thesis is seeking museum professionals to discuss their opinions on Halloween-related programming and what kind of program their museum hosts, if such a program is available.  The thesis intends to provide a comprehensive examination of the pros and cons of all seasonal programming through an investigation of Halloween programming.

Topics will include how museums fit the program to their mission, seasonal programming as a revenue and membership generator, and the use of seasonal programming learning components. (http://www.hostedsurvey.com/takesurvey.asp?c=Hallowcgp

Contact: Mr. Cameron Wood, Cooperstown Graduate Program

Cooperstown, 13326, US

Phone: (607) 437-9687

Email: woodcj55@oneonta.edu

[40] In philosophy water exists only once perceived in the form of a lake, river, drop while reflection of things that exist depend upon not but moving forms e.g. in a river various shapes are formed and dissolved in a continuous manner.

[41] Trust is lost once museums enter fully the commodities game. See Michael Kimmelman, “When museums play a commodities game”, first written for the New York Times, published by International Herald Tribune, July 16 / 17, 2005

[42] Michel Foucault (1966) The Order of Things, New York

[43] The Canadian Civilization Museum attempts to promote such understanding by showing an entire Indian village in order to make visible the complexity of such a society based on different relationships to nature, mankind, Gods when compared to those brought up and educated on principles embracing Western Civilization. Still, the conservative trend is noticeable since it depicts not the conflict between Indians and White Settlers as much more among other things Indian participation in military services. See http://www.civilization.ca/aborig/aborige.asp

[44] http://www.london-se1.co.uk/attractions/tatemodern.html

[45] Guy Debord: “The society whose modernization has reached the stage of integrated spectacle is characterized by the combined effect of five principal features: incessant technological renewal; integration of state and economy; generalized secrecy; unanswerable lies; an eternal present.” Quoted by Carol Becker in: Surpassing the Spectacle, New York, 2002, p. 1

[46] Op.cit., Carol Becker, Surpassing the Spectacle….., p. 1

[47] Carol Becker, Surpassing the Spectacle, (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002) , p. 99

[48] According to http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/P/parameter.html specifying parameters means defining the characteristics of something. In general, parameters are used to customize a program. For example, filenames, page lengths, and font specifications could all be considered parameters. (2) In programming, the term parameter is synonymous with argument, a value that is passed to a routine.

[49] http://belgium.vsmm.org/pages/papers.html

[50] Louis Baeck, The Islamic View of Globalization, contribution to world discourse at www.planetagora.net (editor: Jean Tardif), 2005

[51] For instance, “Bridge the Persian gulf” was announced as if something hidden for centuries, namely ancient Persia's treasures were now coming to the British Museum and thereby underlining the special role the British Museum has as ‘keeper of civilizations’ (The Times) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/section/0,,1,00.html

[52] Hatto Fischer, British Museum - keeper of civilizations (www.heritageradio.net: cultural features, Athens 20.8.2005)

[53] Carol Becker, (2005) “Museums and the Neutralization of Culture: A Response to Adorno” , Chicago Art Institute (unpublished draft) in which she describes her love for what Valery called “the archaic chaos of the museum” and where “I could travel back in time with the possibility that I might actually travel forward into such realities in the future.” P. 2

[54] See definition of museums in Encarta Dictionary: English (North America)

[55] www.tepapa.govt.nz

[56] See interview with historical archaeologists digging at Buchenwald in the Internet Radio Journal “Are Museums just digging in the past?”, editors: Jan Brueggemeier and Hatto Fischer, 2005 www.heritageradio.net

[57] This refers to ongoing work at Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum www.ushmm.org

[58] George Steiner, Language and Silence: Essays on Language, Literature, and the Inhuman (New York: Atheneum, 1967). Robert S. Leventhal, The Cambridge University Literary Critic says George Steiner develops an entire poetics around what he refers to as the demolition or destruction of language in light of the historical atrocities of the 20th century, most notably the Nazi Genocide of the Jews. In his essay on Kafka entitled "K" in Language and Silence,, Steiner stated: "The world of Auschwitz lies outside speech as it lies outside reason. To speak of the unspeakable is to risk the survivance of language as creator and bearer of humane, rational truth. Words that are saturated with lies or atrocity do not easily resume life." (123) According to Steiner, Auschwitz and the atrocities of the Third Reich are literally unspeakable, they cannot be adequately expressed or communicated in language for two reasons. First, because of the misuse of language in the Nazi regime, language, and particularly the German language, has suffered a destruction so total that it cannot resume its previous function as the vessel of humane rationality and truth. Secondly, the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime were of such a nature that they transcend any words we could use to characterize them. Their barbarity goes beyond the referential and representational capacity of language. In an essay contained in the same volume, "The Retreat from the Word," Steiner urges us to follow oriental metaphysics and Wittgenstein and consider silence as a response to the ineffable. And in "Silence and the Poet," Steiner considers poetic modernity as an attempt to enact or "show" the limits of the expressable, the threshold of meaning, by allowing the silence of language, where language can only express its inadequacy, to emerge as such. In "The Hollow Miracle," Steiner stated: "Everything forgets. But not language. When it has been injected with falsehood, only the most drastic truth can cleanse it. Instead, the post-war history of the German language has been one of dissimulation and deliberate forgetting." (109) Or, in one of the most powerful and disturbing statements of the book, Steiner stated: "Languages have great reserves of life. They can absorb masses of hysteria, illiteracy and cheapness [...] But there comes a breaking point. Use a language to conceive, organize, and justify Belsen; use it to make out specifications for gas ovens; use it to dehumanize man during twelve years of calculated bestiality. Something will happen to it. [...] Something will happen to the words. Something of the lies and sadism will settle in the marrow of the language. Imperceptibly at first, like the poisons of radiation sifting silently into the bone. But the cancer will begin, and the deep-set destruction. The language will no longer grow and freshen. It will no longer perform, quite as well as it used to, its two principal functions: the conveyance of humane order which we call law, and the communication of the quick of the human spirit which we call grace." (101)

[59] According to Wikipedia Hegel's Elements of the Philosophy of Right (Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts) was published in 1820, though the book's original title page dates it to 1821.

[60] Hegel means when narrating something which happened in the past we extract but the essential and give it a form by which this event can be remembered by and thus by necessity it is an abstraction of what took place in reality back then. Abstraction is also a distance in time from the real thing.

[61] Brian Steidle In Darfur, My Camera was not nearly enough (Washington Post, Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page B02), http://www.ushmm.org/conscience/alert/darfur/steidle/

[62] See First Symposium of Cultural Capital Cities, Athens, October 13 – 16, 2005

[63] Yousef Karsh, Winston Churchill, gelatin silver print, 30 December 1941. Image source: Karsh - The Art of the Portrait.

[64] See Hatto Fischer, Evaluation of the Volos workshop, in: archive of POIEIN KAI PRATTEIN, Athens 2005

[65] Van Gogh said in one of his letters to his brother Theo, ‘that exaggeration is the greatest of all art provided proportions are kept’. See Vincent van Gogh, Complete letters of Vincent van Gogh, Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1958

[66] See Carol Becker, “Brooklyn Museum: Messing with the Sacred”, in: Surpassing the Spectacle by the same author, New York (2002), p. 43 - 58

[67] Hatto Fischer, A Tribute to Derrida, Heritage Radio Network: Cultural Features (www.heritageradio.net) 2005


Dr. Hatto Fischer


B.A. (Honours) in Economics and Political Science (Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada), Studies for MSc at London School of Economics, Ph.D. in Political Philosophy (Free University of Berlin) with thesis on ‘Articulationproblems of workers and the Tradition of the DGB’

Recent Tasks: Co-ordinator of European Article 10 – ERDF Project CIED ( Cultural Innovation and Economic Development) and of REINVENT – CONNECT Program to link Education and Culture

Organiser of Art Exhibitions (e.g. OSMOSIS – Photographers viewing each other’s cultures) in European Parliament and in Weimar and of the EU CIED conference (Leipzig June 1999), Advisor to the Greens for the Committee on Culture, Education, Media, Youth and Sports of the European Parliament (1999 – 2000)

Present Task: Coordinator of POIEIN KAI PRATTEIN

Likavitosstr. 23, Athens 10672, Greece Tel. 003 0 210 36 17 792


Philosopher and writer

Advisor on cultural matters and European projects e.g. MIRIAD 21, SISMA, RED CODE, GRDP along with advisory work for Spyros Mercouris, Honorary Chairman of the Network of Cultural Capital Cities and Cultural Months

Two studies for the City of Volos within HERMES Project on ‘The Use of Multi Media by Museums’ and on ‘Successful Cultural Planning Strategies’

Editor of the Internet Radio www.heritageradio.net


Short stories, poems and political essays e.g. What Europe needs, Cultural Premises for the future European Constitution; READER on Johannesburg World Summit about Sustainable Development; READER on the Middle East: Biotope of Violence; Street Fear; Reader on 11th of September; Articles for Internet Radio and Studies for HERMES Project.

Publication of ‘Poets and the Olympic Truce’ for Athens 2004 on www.poieinkaiprattein.org

Publications of articles on www.heritageradio.net to cover political and cultural news

Working on book called ‘street fear’

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