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10 Jul, 2009

Museums on the internet? Get real

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Excited talk about digital museums is just futuristic babble – museums are all about the physical artefacts

Neil MacGregor and Nick Serota, the two leading museum directors in Britain – and some would say in the world – shared a platform the other night at the London School of Economics and apparently they were getting very excited about the internet. They seem to have competed to say the most apocalyptically futuristic things they could think of. Museums in the future will be totally transformed by the online utopia! The ones who don’t adapt will go to the wall! It’s virtuality or nothing for the modern museum.

And yet, as far as I am aware – and some curators would dispute this – a museum is a collection of artefacts. It is a repository of physical things. Tate Modern has just made a remarkable leap in quality as a museum, and why? Because of the Anthony d’Offay collection. Because it has some very good stuff all of a sudden. As for the British Museum, it has so many objects it has to keep thousands of them in storage. In the end, all museums really have to do is look after their collections. End of story. The rest is blather.

To me, this sounds like another example of the modern museum losing its soul and its sanity: museums are not primarily publishers, or communicators, or TV stations, or whatever it is this bit of future-babble conjures up.

In reality, a museum is the opposite of the internet. It is a place where everything is physical and where every encounter is solid. It is somewhere real. It’s a very good thing, of course, that museums have great websites that enable the user to learn more about their collections, but these are just ways into the museum. They don’t substitute for it.

I, for one, don’t like the sound of this cyber-museum of the future at all. It sounds like a place where nothing is real and beauty becomes just a word.

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