María Wills Londoño

foto mw

Curator, Museos del Banco de la República, Colombia

Museums – Should they be listed among the most endangered species of the world? Or is this crisis part of their organic evolution?

Once upon a time, Museums were a space of inspiration, of admiration, a space of useful and dynamic knowledge, as the official guardian of heritage they attracted intellectually curious publics. In the XXI century, these functions do not seem to be as useful. Some huge Museums have become theme parks, holdings of art history icons and others, places for nostalgia with ghosts haunting their spaces. Contemporary art practice is redefining the circulation of creativity and more recurrently intimate independent approaches are seducing intimidated or curious publics. In times of social networks and internet based living, when people go out to the streets they are looking to see real faces, or have extreme experiences: intermediation and interaction instead of passive approaches to art.

What is a Modern Art Museum supposed to be today? What is the definition of collaboration between the cultural sectors? Should the Museum be inert in regards to all the new artist run and independent spaces? Should it try to imitate them? What can we learn from each other? Are independent spaces interested in learning from Museums? Can relations be horizontal and overcome power hierarchies, and above all how can the political in regards to management of public Museums be sensitive to changes faster?

These are some of the issues that came through my mind during the conference.

After hearing the cases, the studies, and the workshop, I was able to conclude two aspects from all different debates: one would seem more practical, the other more theoretical. Yet the practical in today’s Museums can be deeply philosophical, as structures tend to become more rigid making it difficult to work with creation and innovation. Museums have to be willing to take risks: procedures, contracts, ways of dealing with new ways of art have to be flexible and creative. Museum managers, and this would be the practical move, have to use imagination and innovation in the way of administrating every day issues and conflicts. Contemporary art, research and creation from an institutional point of view can be assimilated as too complicated or as challenging depending on the culture the museum’s teams have.

Public Museums have to understand that static should not be an option, and spaces need to breath faster. Oxygen has to be brought through risky projects that go beyond Museum walls and this requires courage. The New Museum in New York showed a really interesting option of making education part of the structural aspects of exhibition and art discussion.

Secondly I thought our objective, as museum workers, is to renovate traditional museums as places for active perception. I would humbly propose the tools are openness and a critical attitude toward discourses in history. Permanent collections should be available for research and for creative projects. With all due respect to history, contemporary and postmodern approaches are showing that archives and storytelling can be re-interpreted in the most various ways. Some Museums should of course keep a pedagogical and settled-linear storytelling of the events that evolved into the present state of the arts with their permanent collections, but on the counterpart give options to curators, artists, researchers and publics in general, to investigate and use the collections and archives to question that previous storytelling via temporary exhibitions, virtual projects, works of art, pedagogical projects, publications or any other experimental processes.  This accessibility could give new life to these spaces. Interactive and virtual platforms have gotten us used to the refresh button. Huge institutions cannot be as immediate as that; projects require huge logistics and planning, but the refresh attitude can be made part of the Museums will and be more thoughtful. Heritage should not be rigid; instead it could be a place for paradigms, for questioning, for dialogues with popular culture, with politics, but above all with individuals, wining their confidence, interest and understanding is the complex quest in this universe of diversity.

→ Grantees 2012