Monday Postcard #62 – Do Museums Need “Blockbuster Exhibitions” to Attract Visitors?
Last week, I read the review of my friend Ivana Novoselac about the most recent Brueghel exhibition at the KHM Vienna. She asked her followers what we think about “Blockbuster Exhibitions” – special exhibitions with a substantial budget, eye catching interior to display the works and a related media buzz.
In general, I am positive towards these “blockbusters”. Art has always been something which seems to be for the elites only. Museums are regarded as “sacred halls” where we are not allowed to talk or touch anything and where we are expected to worship the works. But there has been a trend reversal: museums have become entertainment platforms – with cafés, bars and parties.
I grew up in a family where arts and culture have always been considered as really important. My parents dragged us to exhibitions – just like every kid, I most of the time found it boring. But the older I got, the more I appreciated it. Not every child grows up with that privilege. On the one hand, there is the monetary perspective that a lot of families simply cannot afford to spend a day at a museum. On the other hand, the parents’ access and attitude towards arts and culture also plays a big role.
Even though I consider myself part of the art crowd, I very often feel like an outsider. I realized this on a recent art trip where my clothing style, my gestures and way of talking and what I considered interesting was very different from the group. I got the feeling that the “inner circle of the arts” was not interested to let outsiders in and they seemed really detached from reality. If I feel left out, how do people feel who have no experience with art and who just want to get started? It must seem really daunting.
Therefore, I appreciate all the means museums employ to make themselves more accessible. Needless to say, museums had to jump on the digital bandwagon as well. And there are great examples such as the MoMa or the Albertina or the afore-mentioned KHM in Austria. I think if tools such as social channels or blockbuster exhibitions bring people to the museums, they should definitely be used. Provided they also offer more insights for those who are more familiar with art and who want to read more about the research and backgrounds.
However, there is a flip side: when I visited the Yayoi Kusama exhibition in Singapore, visitors seemed to be more concerned about the perfect selfie than exploring the artworks. Do we risk to lose the mission and meaning of art?
I think it is valid to say that it is a balancing act indeed. On the one hand, the typical museum visitor is ageing and hence, young people’s interest needs to be drawn to museums. On the other, the main mission of art is to express our thoughts, make us think, mirror our society and have a strong political viewpoint. Without critical art, we will not move forward as a society, as a country and as human beings.
If “blockbusters” manage this balancing act of promoting art and raising awareness and, at the same time, do not lose focus on the art itself, these new methods serve their purpose. I am really curious about which new paths museums will take in the future and how they will juggle the different stakeholders and interests.
If you want to read more about this topic, you can read my interviews with Ivana Novoselac and Alexandra Schantl.
Relating to this topic, I have prepared a special article for you. I have spent a lot of time and effort on it and have finally managed to finish it: this week you can read about my experience at the first Bangkok Art Biennale. I have also prepared all my tips about the venues and how to visit and I will publish a video about it. It will touch a lot of the topics I have mentioned above.
What are your views on all these new movements in the museum landscape? Do you appreciate them or do you think museums have lost their original mission?