Art Museums

Authored by: David Gordon

Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, Fourth Edition

Print publication date:  November  2017
Online publication date:  November  2017

Print ISBN: 9781466552593
eBook ISBN: 9781315116143
Adobe ISBN:


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The urge to collect things of beauty and significance goes deep into history. Art museums safeguard art for future generations. Works of art have power, and that power has been coopted throughout history by those who wish to assert authority, position, and wealth. The evolution of the display of art for the public reflects social, economic, and political developments, and can best be understood historically. This entry traces that history from ancient times on to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the nineteenth century and on to modern times. Art museums provide an opportunity for civic pride, and for an architectural statement. The past three decades have seen a boom in new museum building. They are popular gathering places, and in catering (literally) for their growing audiences with cafés, special events, functions, and stores, they have to keep a proper balance between commercial activities and their core mission. Good governance is essential. Success should be measured in ways other than just by number of visitors. Temporary exhibitions should be worthwhile and not just crowd-pleasers. An issue of concern in collection management is ensuring that works of art have not been looted or expropriated. The popularity of art museums in a digital age is likely to continue as screen captives escape to look at real objects.

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