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by Archaeology Newsroom

The “New museology” revisited

Published in 1989, the anthology The New Museology, edited by the author of the present article, addressed some of the most important issues which then formed part of the contemporary debate about the role and function of museums in Britain. This article reviews some of the questions raised in that anthology, in particular that of the central function of display amongst the other activities on which museums engage. Whether the display of objects should be considered a science or an art, and, if an art, how it might be thought to relate to other art forms. The author argues that the science of display, that is the technical aspect of display, is fairly easy to teach. But the art of display is a very different matter. It means developing, above all, a very special kind of visual sensibility which relates intimately to specific ways of seeing, and therefore, of interpreting and understanding. In this respect, the art of the exhibition designer closely resembles that of the stage designer; indeed, the comparison between display, regarded as an intrinsically theatrical act, and the art of theatre is an instructive one. This comparison is briefly analysed in the last part of the article.