Museums and Monsieur Felix

Charly Wilder, in his New York Times article “When a Visit to the Museum Becomes an Ethical Dilemma,” highlights the challenges museums face in the 21st century as they decide whether to repatriate artifacts.

The following key words from the article are predictable when writing about this topic: responsibility, trove, story, theft, significance. There are weightier words, too, like “problematic provenance” and “rightful owner” and “contested holdings.” Together, these terms tell a tumultuous tale: things of great value have ended up in the wrong places.

In the movie Charade, Audrey Hepburn’s character realizes that three rare postage stamps worth a fortune have been lost when her friend’s son trades them for a miscellaneous collection of low-value stamps with Monsieur Felix, a stamp dealer. When Hepburn’s character tracks down Mon. Felix and asks him about the stamps, he must admit they are not his, and he does so by graciously saying “For a few minutes they were mine. That is enough.”

Is it too much to ask that museums adopt the same attitude? They have held objects like the Benin bronzes or looted paintings by Egon Schiel far longer than a few minutes and have experienced the thrill of displaying them. That is enough.

Tranformations: Spaces for Brighter Futures Inspire Found Poetry

A recent Dezeen article featured designs from 15 students at the University for the Creative Arts’ School of Architecture who were asked to imagine the future of hospitality. In response to their innovative ideas, I devised the following found poem, formed by lines from their proposals.

Designed to allow for more enthusiastic and interactive activities and occurrences

narrative as well as materiality and texture

exploring the way that light moves through the building

natural sunlight and colourful acrylic walls 

the play of light, smells and intricate clay textures

an intricate and cryptic telecommunication system

a ‘chill’ zone

help people reconnect to their former lives

specialised cuisine, a library of cultural knowledge, a communal social space and a giant backgammon set

workshops in ecology and bee-keeping, as well as space for group therapy sessions

rediscovering one’s cultural identity through a communal cooking process

grow produce and provide sustenance for the urban population

working to combine nature and architecture for a sustainable lifestyle

local sources

this is where we resume the story.

Who should have access to a museum?


By Andrew David Baker

Two recent articles highlight the challenges museums often face as they strive to provide spaces for everyone to interact with art. Blake Gopnik enjoys the opportunity to view art up close in uncrowded galleries and wonders if “museums have to rethink or reverse decades of growth in buildings, budgets and programming.”

Indeed, any visitor to a major museum knows the frustration of trying to see the art while navigating a sea of the backs of other people’s heads, not to mention the glare of their phones as they photograph the masterpieces and move on. Gopnik’s opportunity to “commune this deeply” with art in an empty space is a dream many of us wish for. But other aspects of his paean to untrammeled museum visits are more troubling. He writes, “As museums everywhere contemplate their post-Covid future, their Covid-troubled present carries us back to a glorious, more art-friendly past.”

What makes a past with fewer visitors more friendly to art? It seems Gopnick is on the verge of suggesting that great art be locked up in inaccessible temples, or at least hard-to-access temples. To make this happen, he wonders if museums should institute “a limited supply of timed tickets” to stem the tide of visitors. As someone who believes in the social impact of museums, I cannot agree with any suggestion that includes the word “limited.”  If anything, museums should fling their doors open wider and for longer periods of time to allow for more access, not less.

In this spirit, Zachary Small describes museums who are welcoming art from artists with disabilities. One artist, Panteha Abareshi, “examines the disabled body as a depersonalized object in the medical system. It’s a feeling now understood by more of the general public,” Small writes. One reason museums are reaching out to such artists is that “virtual programming opened the door,” Small continues. Perhaps this is an example of every cloud having a silver lining, as the pandemic forces museums to rethink what they do while at the same time creating opportunities for wider access. Small quotes Bethany Montagano, director of the USC Pacific Asian Museum, who says that her institution plans to “no only include but buoy the voices of sick and disabled artists.” Later, Small points out that the Munch Museum has “plans to translate a contemporary art exhibition into sensory experiences for audiences.”

Let’s hope that such sensory experiences are enjoyed by multitudes, enriching the lives of as many visitors as possible.