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Definition: museum from Collins English Dictionary


1 a place or building where objects of historical, artistic, or scientific interest are exhibited, preserved, or studied

[C17: via Latin from Greek Mouseion home of the Muses, from Mousa Muse]

Summary Article: museum
from Aesthetics A-Z

Derived from the Greek word mouseion, which originally denoted a place holy to the Muses, the term came in modern times to denote an institution – often embodied in a designated building – for the exhibition, preservation and study of artworks (and other objects) as well as for a whole range of related social, educational, and cultural functions. From the perspective of the institutional theory of art, museums play a crucial, indispensible role as a framework for the presentation of a work of art by an artist to an artworld public, hence in the admission of an object into the realm of art. Such admission may yield both aesthetic and legal consequences, as in the case of forgery, for instance. Ordinarily, the museum is taken, albeit not without reservation, to embody the principles of aesthetic autonomy and disinterestedness by virtue of the actual segregation of certain artifacts from the desires, purposes, and utilities which inhabit ordinary life. Critiques of aesthetic autonomy are thus ipso facto critiques of this view of the museum. For example, this can be seen indirectly in the problematic relation between the museum and the avant-garde, whose unruly adherence to the principle of aesthetic autonomy tends to conflict with the institutionalized sense of that same principle as epitomized in the museum. A more direct critique of the notion of the museum can be found in postmodern theory and artistic practice, in particular in the attempt to unearth and dismantle the 'museumizing' gaze, that is, the historical-theoretical narrative, which enables the petrifaction, reorientation, and redefinition of life within the orderly, epistemologically oppressive confinement of the museum space.

See culture; education, aesthetic; law; sociology

Further reading: Hein 2000

© Eran Guter, 2010

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