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Natural History Museums and Artistic Interventions

Info: 7428 words (30 pages) Dissertation
Published: 10th Dec 2019

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Table of Contents

Natural History Museums

Charles Darwin

Natural History Museums and artistic interventions

Natural History Museum – London

American Museum of Natural History

The role of technology in the development of a Natural History Museum


Natural History Museums

The emergence of Natural History museums was triggered by the constantly developing interest in natural history and the humanity which was one of the main characteristics of the 16th century. This interest led to the development of specialized collections in Europe which contained interesting and highly important specimens. Many of these collections were located in Italy. Such a collection was known with the term cabinet in England and France and as Kammer or Kabinett in Germany and other German – speaking countries of Europe. The terms Wunderkammer or Naturalienkabinett were used to describe a collection which contained natural specimens (Lewis, n.d.).

The importance of natural history collections is high and recognized by ICOM. In the relevant Code of Ethics, which was issued in 2013 it is stated that Natural history collections are serving as an archive of the natural world and of the relationship developed between the societies and the environments where they live. What is worth mentioning is that often they can document the past that no longer exists. Therefore, it is crucial that these collections are treated with attention and care (ICOM, 2013, V). Therefore, it is no surprise that Natural History Museums are considered to be a significant part of the museum world.

Various objects may be found in the context of a Natural History Museum. Human remains, specimens of recent organisms or organisms that are extant, including plants and invertebrates, rocks, minerals and fossils are some of them. Natural History Museums serve a purpose that consists of various parameters, such as a) to build and to store collections of natural history, b) to conduct research and to work on the interpretation of their results, c) to assist and give support to the conservation of objects, d) to encourage the appreciation of the natural world and to enhance its understanding by the audiences, e) to work with the public and help them find a meaning deriving from the understanding of natural heritage seen in museums or in the natural environment (ICOM, 2013, V).

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin’s was born on 12 February 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. He became one of the most important scientists of recent time with huge contribution to the science of biology. Darwin’s first volume, was published in 1830. During the next year, 1931 he got an invitation to sail on the Beagle from Plymouth. One of his most famous and studied books is titled On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of favored races in the Struggle of Life. This book was published in 1859 and among others it has set the foundation for the so – called Theory of Evolution. Along with another book, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, which was published in 1871, Darwin caused a big change in the way scientists, particularly in the field of Biology, were approaching the origin of life (Francis, 2007).

More than that, Darwin was a keen and brilliant observer of nature who was influenced not just by natural history illustrations but also by the imaginative themes of contemporary painters. If we tried to summarize his theory, he was trying to explain the way in which from the simplest things began the evolvement of all forms of life (Hamaoui, 2009).

Charles Darwin’s collection was acquired by the Library belonging to London’s Natural History Museum, even though the museum had no previous formal connection with the collector. However, it was stated that his work is of crucial importance for the field of evolutionary biology, which is one of the areas that museum’s researchers are interested in. Moreover, among the objects contained in the Darwin collection there are some secondary resources that are useful for the study of evolution[1].

Furthermore, he “Darwin Manuscripts Project” is developed in the American Museum of Natural History t. This is a historical and textual online edition of the scientific manuscripts of Charles Darwin. In the database that is developed and constantly growing are at this point around 96,000 pages of Darwin’s manuscripts and 25,540 images of high resolution[2].

Natural History Museums and artistic interventions

The exhibition “Endless forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts” was an ambitious attempt to explore the relationship that links the theories of Charles Darwin with the art of Europe during the 19th century, a period characterized by the tendency of people to discover, to invent and to conquer nature (Hamaoui, 2009). When entering the exhibition, the visitor encounters two bronze sculptures, Emmanuel Fremiet’s hulking gorilla kidnapping a woman and Hugo Rheinhold’s ape sitting on the top of a stack of books. What is notable is that one of those books was the Bible and another one was called Darwin. The purpose of the two sculptures was to highlight the two competitive theories of Darwin’s times. This exhibit also contained a wide spectrum of art and of specimens, geological artifacts and fossils. It was divided into different vignettes aligned in a roughly chronological order (Donald & Munro, 2009). One of the most impressive exhibits was entitled “Struggle with the quarry”. It represented a heron who had caught an eel and was itself caught by a falcon which was controlled by a suggested falconer.

Natural History Museum of London

The Natural History Museum of London is a world – class museum which attracts many visitors each year. The museum’s purpose, as described in its web page is to make a difference in the way people understand nature and its history. They want their work to trigger an open debate regarding the future of the world and of humanity. Last but not least, the Natural History Museum of London strives to enhance the understanding of science for its audiences regardless their level of education. The work of the museum focuses in three main themes: a) the origins and evolution of the solar system, the Earth and life, b) the diversity of life, the natural diversity among species, habitats and ecosystems and c) the sustainable futures, that the society depends on[3].

The museum’s strategic priorities until 2020 aim to reflect its commitment to the extension of its impact digitally, nationally, internationally and within the area of the city of London. The collections of the museum have always been a resource for the scientific research and for debate among the members of the scientific community. Up until today the collections of the museum are constantly growing and developing together with their significance. The ongoing research based on the objects of the collection of the National History Museum of London also has a great impact in society. For instance, the museum’s work on parasites is actually used in treating neglected tropical diseases in order to improve human health all over the world, while research on geological materials has resulted in the discovery of new ways to extract scarce minerals that are absolutely necessary for modern technology. Another impressive fact is that in order for the museum’s collection to expand, after 2010 a new molecular collection facility and a laboratory for the “ancient DNA” have been created in order to enable further research on DNA derived from ancient samples (National History Museum, 2015).

Art has a significant place in the Natural History Museum of London. The exhibition titled “The art of British Natural History” demonstrates the combination of art and natural history in a unique, yet interesting way. In this exhibition the visitor can admire artworks representing some of Britain’s most iconic species. It consists of items from the Museum Library’s collection which highlight the depiction of Britain’s wildlife over the past 300 years. The exhibition is renewed every four months in order to finally display more than 200 original illustrations[4].

American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History is one of the largest museums of the world. It is situated in Manhattan, New York City. It owns more than 33 million specimens in its collection. The 45 permanent exhibitions of the museum are located in 28 buildings all connected to each other. Visitors of the museums can also take a tour in the library and the planetarium, also situated in the same buildings.

Of these specimens only a few are displayed at a given time, according to the museum’s planning. The museum’s mission is to conduct scientific research and to hold educational programs in order to discover and interpret the natural world, different human cultures and the universe, and also to disseminate this knowledge to the world[5].

Art has an important role in the American Museum of Natural History as it is present in many events and exhibitions. At the same time, technology has an equally important part in the experience provided to the visitor. An impressive installation called “Digital Totem” was made in 2016. It is an interactive installation, part of a pilot project aiming to bring visitors one step closer to the indigenous communities and native residents of the Pacific Northwest. With the help of this installation visitors can examine 30 selected artifacts from the collection of the museum, listen to native languages and create soundscapes with recordings of the sounds of the nature, animals and local instruments. It is worth mentioning that for the creation of the Digital Totem the museum professionals collaborated with members of indigenous communities such as the Kwakwaka’wakw, the Haida, the Nuu – chah – nhlth, the Musqueam, the Gitxsan, the Tlingit and the Tsimshian communities[6].

The event “Stories as Living Beings: An installation” is also dedicated to the attempt of the museum to start including indigenous people in its exhibitions and bringing them closer to the non – native audience. This installation features characters and environments of the award – winning short films made by Amanda Strong, an indigenous filmmaker who strives to present the colonial history based on the experiences of her own family[7].

The role of technology in the development of a Natural History Museum

Technology has caused a revolution in the way art is produced and experienced today (Paul, 2003) and is in the 21st century widely used in the museum sector supporting all its operations. Texts, images and sounds can be useful means of developing and presenting museum projects (Thomas & Mintz, 1998). Web 2.0 technology has contributed in the exchange of information; therefore, they have become really popular. They give museum professionals the ability to enhance their communication and interaction with visitors, to advertise their work and to spread their ideas to the world (Aula, 2010). The development of Web 2.0 applications has provided museums with powerful yet cheap tools to support all their functions and to promote their projects, online or not (Thomson et al., 2013). Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube and many more are now used by an increasing number of museums worldwide (Badell, 2015).

One of the current topics of interest and research in the field of education technology education and highly related to art is creativity (Johnson & Daugherty, 2008). The contemporary museum sector nowadays is one where digital culture is actively collected. The use of computer – based interpretive media gives museum curators the ability to develop exhibitions and to support experiences in a more creative and empowering way. Technology has assisted the development of museums’ attempt to attract more visitors as well as to fulfill their ethical responsibility (Parry, 2010).

Despite the advantages of the usage of technology is the museum sector and the expansion of it in every aspect of their operation, museum professionals, more than those in other sectors, were characterized by an amount of anxiety towards computer and the possible advantages of their usage, which derives from their ignorance and lack of understanding (Williams, 1987). Even in most recent studies researchers have highlighted the tendency of museum professionals to be significantly reluctant towards technology and even consider the usage of certain platforms, such as Facebook, as not serious enough to be related with culture, art and museums (Vogelsang & Minder, 2011).

However, this has changed throughout time and nowadays museums tend to incorporate all short of technological means in their exhibitions as well as to other aspects of their operation. They have large databases, they proceed to the digitization of their collections, they maintain fully functional web pages and they attempt to use the available technologies when possible. Moreover, many museums have proceeded to the development of applications for computers of for tablets and smartphones that aim to enhance the visitor experience, but also to assist people with special needs in their tour around the exhibitions. Based on this, the Natural History Museum of London, which was presented previously has developed a visitor app which is available for free and can help visitors of the museum to find their way around the various galleries of the museum as well as to find information and “behind – the – scenes insights” into the collections. Visitors can find details about the most important and interesting specimens and to view all the events where they can participate. Last but not least, the application contains location – aware maps, where the visitor can spot all the public spaces of the museum. This application is very useful for every visitor of the museum as it replaces a guide that would probably be needed to provide all information needed to understand the contents of the galleries and collection. Furthermore, the application can be even more helpful for visitors with special needs. For those who are partially or totally blind the application can provide the information they would have missed because of not being able to read the inscriptions. People who are moving in a wheelchair would find the application useful for showing them where the lifts are, or to find their way through the museum, to go directly to the spot they are interested in without having to wander around.


Aula, P. (2010). Social media, reputation risk and ambient publicity management. Strategy and Leadership, 38(6), 43 – 49.

Badell, J. I. (2015). Museums and social media: Catalonia as a case study. Museum Management and Curatorship, 30(3), 244 – 263.

Donald, D. & Munro, J. (2009). Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts. Yale University Press.

Francis, K. A. (2007). Charles Darwin and the origin of species. Westport, Connecticut & London: Greenwood Press.

Hamaoui, K. K. (2009). Endless forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 82(2), 75 – 77.

ICOM (2013). ICOM Code of Ethics for Natural History Museums. Adopted unanimously by the 23rd General Assembly of ICOM in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 16 August 2013.

Johnson, S. D. & Daugherty, J. (2008). Quality and characteristics of recent research in technology education. Journal of Technology Education, 20(1), 16 – 31.

Lewis, G. D. (n.d.). History of museums. Britannica.com, https://www.britannica.com/topic/history-of-museums-398827, accessed 7/10/2017.

Natural History Museum, http://www.nhm.ac.uk/, accessed 13/10/2017.

Natural History Museum (2015). Strategy to 2020. http://www.nhm.ac.uk/content/dam/nhmwww/about-us/our-vision/NHM%20Strategy%20to%202020.pdf, accessed 12/10/2017.

Parry, R. (2010). Museums in a digital age. London & New York: Routledge.

Paul, C. (2003). Digital art. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Thomas, S. & Mintz, A. (1998). Virtual and the Real: Media in the Museum. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums.

Thomson, K., Purcell, K., & Rainie, L. (2013). Arts organizations and digital technologies. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

Vogelsang, A. & Minder, B. (2011). Audience: A holistic approach to developing social media guidelines for Swiss Museums. In J. Trant & D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2011: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics.

Williams, D. (1987). A guide to museum computing. Nashville, TN: American Association for State and Local History.

Cultural and natural heritage

Culture is a term for which many definitions have been formulated, each one influenced by the background and the point of view of each researcher. The first appearance of the term was around 1430 in the Oxford English Dictionary where it was explained as “cultivation” of the soil due to its Latin origin from the term culture. However, the meaning of the word went through significant changes during the course of history. Back in 1871 Edward Burnett Tylor in his work Primitive Culture described culture as a complex whole that includes various elements like knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and each capability or habit that people acquired in the context of the society. Much more recently, Schwartz (1992 cited by Avruch, 1998, p. 17) describes culture as a whole has resulted from human experience, organized or not, which was acquired by individuals within a population. Therefore, the definition of culture is highly influenced by the individuals’ interpretation of things which was transmitted from their ancestors or formed by themselves. Finally, according to Spencer – Oatey (2008, p. 3), culture consists of values and assumptions, beliefs, procedures, policies, orientations and behavioral conventions that are accepted by certain communities and have a level of influence in people’s lives and behaviors.

The term Cultural Heritage, according to UNESCO refers to “monuments: architectural works, works of monumental sculpture and painting, elements or structures of an archaeological nature, inscriptions, cave dwellings and combinations of features, which are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science; groups of buildings: groups of separate or connected buildings which, because of their architecture, their homogeneity or their place in the landscape, are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science; sites: works of man or the combined works of nature and man, and areas including archaeological sites which are of outstanding universal value from the historical, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological point of view” (UNESCO, 1972, Article 1 in UNESCO, 2005).

Natural Heritage, as described in UNESCO’s Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, consists of various elements such as the biological formations that constitute the natural features and are of high importance for humanity, the geological and physiographical formations, especially when they are threatened with extinction and the natural sites that are in danger from various causes. All these elements are of high importance for humanity, either from a scientific or an aesthetic point of view (UNESCO, 1972, Article 2, in UNESCO, 2005).

The preservation of cultural and natural heritage

According to UNESCO, the conservation of the diversity of life is an important factor with great influence on human welfare. Therefore, with the contribution of the World Heritage Convention the most important natural sites of the world are part of the World Heritage List. In order for a site to be inscribed on this list, it must have specific value, represent significant parts of the history of the earth, host important natural habitats or demonstrate ecological and biological processes[8]. The protection of natural heritage sites is even more crucial when considering the fact that many of the sites are being in constant danger due to various reasons, including human interference (ICUN, 2014).

Both cultural and natural heritage are considered to belong to all humanity, not just to one community or nation. Therefore, the destruction of one part of cultural or natural heritage is a loss for the humanity as a whole (UNESCO, 2005). This statement is still extremely important due to the many threats that put cultural and natural heritage into danger. Among them and beside the factors that traditionally are believed to threaten heritage, such as wars or natural phenomena, the technological progress and the globalization, both main characteristics of the 21st century, or the social and economic developments could jeopardize cultural and natural heritage.

Natural heritage and the museums

In the course of the 20th century museums have undergone many changes in order to develop and be consistent with the role they need to undertake within the society. Since the mid – 20th century there has been an increased awareness regarding the importance of preserving the environment and protecting it from the various dangers that are threatening it. In order for this to happen plenty of scientifically significant sites have been preserved. Moreover, there is an emerging tendency to develop historic and natural landscapes as museums. Another related development is the emergence of the so – called ecomuseum, useful tool for preservation of traditional ecological knowledge and of the practices that can promote sustainable development of landscape (Zapletal, 2012).

A traditional museum consists of a number of buildings and collections, while an ecomuseum can be characterized as a complex of areas, where cultural and natural heritage and memory are showcased. According to Heron (1991) there are three main features in the ecomuseum: a) a strong sense of pride for the traditions, the habits and the architecture of local people, b) a connection with economic restoration and c) an attempt to save endangered culture. As Davis (1999) suggests the ecomuseum can have a significant role in the protection of complex heritage. Moreover, it can encourage the local population’s efforts to maintain sustainable development for their area. Therefore, the ecomuseum is not limited within a building or a series of buildings that would host a museum, but it goes far beyond it. Finally, Joubert (2005) summarizes the four principles of an ecomuseum which are a) the area, b) its heritage, c) the inhabitants and d) education.

The role of museums in preserving natural heritage is of high importance. Museums of natural history are still sometimes considered to be data banks which help indicate the changes in the environment. Their preserved material can correlate with the environmental changes, so the museums’ collections can serve as predictors or tag indicators of possible future changes in the environment (Ripley, 2014). The importance of this role is highlighted by UNESCO (2015, p. 21): “The Museum is one of the expert organizations for the conservation of cultural heritage and often museum becomes unofficial center for the preservation of cultural and natural heritage. Considering the great experience and potential of the museums preserving World Heritage objects, they could become methodical centers in the field of conservation, restoration and preservation of heritage in their region. Visitors also could be involved to this activity — museums could prepare special courses on the fundamentals and techniques of conservation and restoration”.

– Πως αυτές οι δράσεις αποτελούν πηγή έμπνευσης έτσι ώστε να γίνει κάτι ανάλογο στην Ελλάδα ( και συγκεκριμένα η πρόταση έκθεσης στο μουσείο Γουλανδρή)


Avruch, K. (1998). Culture and conflict resolution. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press.

Davis, P. (1999). Ecomuseum. A sense of place. 1st Edition. London: Leicester University Press.

Heron, P. (1991). Ecomuseums. A new museology? Alberta Museums Review, 17(2).

ICUN (2014). The benefits of Natural World Heritage. Identifying and assessing ecosystem services and benefits provided by the world’s most iconic natural places. Glant, Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Joubert, A. (2005). French Ecomuseums. Paper presented at the Communication and Exploration: Papers of International Ecomuseum Forum, Guizhou, China.

Ripley, S. D. (2014). Museums and the natural heritage. Museum International, 66(1-4), 45 – 48.

Spencer – Oatey, H. (2008). Culturally speaking. Culture, communication and politeness theory, 2nd Edition. London: Continuum.

UNESCO (2015). Policy brief. Role of museums in promoting the Principles of the UNESCO 1972 Convention concerning the protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. UNESCO, Russian Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM Russia).

UNESCO (2005). Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Adopted by the General Conference at its seventeenth session, Paris, 16 November 1972. In Basic texts of the 1972 World Heritage Convention. Paris: UNESCO.

Zapletal, M. (2012). Ecomuseum as a tool for preservation of traditional ecological knowledge and practices for sustainable development of landscape. 1st International Conference on Ecomuseums, Community Museums and Living Communities, 19 – 21 September 2012, Portugal.

Contemporary art: meaning and dimensions

The contemporary is in fact an operative fiction as it regulates the division between two sides: the past and the present while also includes the sense of future. As Osborne states, “the new within the present does not merely demand more attention than what is not new; increasingly, it negates the latter’s claim on the definition of the present itself” (Osborne, 2011). Being contemporary actually means to be alert to the circumstances of a specific moment or period, to exist and develop according to the times. When referring to contemporary art, according to the description formulated by the Irish Museum of Modern Art, one refers to the works of art which is made by artists living in the current period of time. Contemporary art is referring to any category of culture, including mass media, digital technology and any form of entertainment(Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2010, p. 5).

Contemporary art was developed within a context of constant and significant change in various fields. Social, cultural, political and technological developments had an important role in this period when concepts such as industrialization and urbanization emerged. Furthermore, at the same time the middle class began to rise as well as a consumer culture which was going to develop even more in the coming years. The advance of technology in all sectors, especially in photography and film, led to the enhancement of traditional practices and methodologies, while allowed the emerge of new experimental approaches that resulted in new forms of expression, such as abstraction, modernism, impressionism, fauvism, cubism, constructivism, futurism, surrealism, expressionism and formalism (Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2010).

According to Osborne (2013), contemporary art is post – conceptual art. He considers art to be in reality a privileged cultural carrier of contemporaneity. This type of post – conceptual art, he continues, has six main features: a) a conceptuality, as art is anyway constituted by concepts and the relations between them, b) an aesthetic dimension, as it is necessary that any type of art needs to be characterized by some sort of materialization, c) an anti – aesthetic use of aesthetic materials, d) a reference to the infinity of the possible material means that are used by the artists, e) a radically distributive unity of the individual artwork, f) a malleability of its borders (Osborne, 2004). Contemporary art nowadays is found in particular places and is specific to them. For instance, there is Janet Cardiff’s The Missing Voice in 1999 – 2000, a narrative where visitors carry a portable audio player which guides them around the location and provides information about topics such as stories of various interests. During the same year, 1999, Danny McCarthy in The Birdcages of Dublin, used the building of the Fire Station Artists Studios in Buckingham Street where he placed five birdcages. Those cages contained a speaker, not visible to the visitor which played different sounds from the area of Dublin including bird sounds. The participants were actively participating in the whole process and interacted with the environment (Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2010).

The philosophy of art criticism

The purpose of art in a museum is multiple and goes far beyond just telling a story. Work of art can interact with each visitor who responds to what is in front of him. This is an encounter between the visitor and the objects exhibited and museums need to leave open space for this relationship to develop (McCellan, 2003). Art is highly connected to creativity which is present in all of its forms (Sawyer, 2006). Art criticism is a means of distinguishing the different values each piece of art carries.

Unlike what was the tendency in earlier time, recently art criticism follows a narrative of inclusion. As Danto, philosopher, author and art critic for The Nation and Artforum, states that in most cases art criticism developed during the decades of 1950 and 1960 tended to exclude from consideration certain types of art and to give specific directions to artists. However, Danto believes that it is time for this exclusion to end and for the critics to stop manipulating art. In his opinion, works of art can take any form the artist desires without barriers or constraints (Danto, 2009, p. 160).

Pluralism is one of the most important consequences of the philosophy of art history and this means that art critics should not focus on what they like and what they do not like as this is exclusively a matter of aesthetics and personal preference. On the contrary, they should try to detect the important elements and values that differentiate each work of art and to highlight their presence and their contribution to its overall quality. This is especially valid in the case of contemporary art, which rarely is, as Delacroix would say for paintings, “a feast for the eyes”. Therefore, without excluding the importance of this factor, art critics should bear in mind that a work’s beauty is just one of the elements they should be looking for.

The public of the art

The public for art is not homogeneous. On the contrary it is characterized by high diversity which derives from the different background of each visitor, their interests, their educational level, their existing knowledge, and other factors like race, ethnicity and gender. Therefore, it is not easy for a museum to determine a single, very specific target group to aim at, even though looking at art museums’ mission statements one can notice several barriers that lead to the compromise of their ability to fully extend themselves to the public. This tendency is related with museums’ commitment in object preservation as well as with their origins from private collections. Museum curators are most of the time hired to care for the collection itself and not to make sure visitors enjoy their tour and get the most out of it (McCellan, 2003).

The challenge for an art museum today is to be able to relate with a largely heterogeneous audience and to address their needs (Miles, 2004). That is a real challenge, a puzzle for museum professionals to solve without falling into the trap of equalizing this audience to a single mass audience.

Understanding Installation Art and its types

The very beginning of the history of Installation Art can be placed in as early as 4 BC in Ise, Japan as well as in the Caves in Alasce (Rosenthal, 2003). Art critics and historians have not yet really concluded in one definition of the term. Its origin is found in the verb install, which refers to the action of placing something, for example a work of art, in a specific place, which will be the void of a gallery or a museum – or any other place decided by the artist. At first the focus of the artists was on the institutional art and public spaces. The action of the installation tended to alter the location.

According to Lucie – Smith (2003) installations are certain constructions of ensembles of objects and effects that engage with their surroundings and dominate them. Many installations are characterized by a mostly immersive nature, which enables and motivates the visitor to enter into the work and to interact with it using all his senses to investigate and find out its different meaning. According to O’ Doherty (1999) contemporary artists shifted the paradigm of installation art discourse which at first was an objective critique into a more alternate subjectivity, which tends not to focus on the object but to care more about spatiality. Finally, as Suderburg suggests “Installation art as genre, term, medium, and practice acts as the assimilator of a rich succession of influences. In installation the object has been rearranged or gathered, synthesized, expanded, and dematerialized” (Suderburg, 2000, p. 3). Understanding Suderburg’s definition leads to the assumption that installation art is a form of contemporary art, an act that gives the object a different use and puts it in a whole new dimension.

Considering the types of Installation Art, Rosenthal distinguishes two categories. The first one is the “filled – space installation”. This is a type of installation that has the potential to be easily redone at different locations than the original. This potential is due to the fact that there is a coherence between the parts of the installation rather than between the installation and the place where it is located. This way, when describing the installation one does not refer to its surroundings, but only to its different parts. He also divides the “filled – space installations” in two categories: the enchantments, which is an overall environment from which the visitor cannot escape and the impersonations, that make the visitor unable to even recognize that a work of art is present in a specific place. Enchantments are related to theater. The examples that he describes are various and include the Merzbau 1919 – 1937 (Kurt Schwitters) and the installation called 1,200 Bags of Coal, 1938 (Marcel Duchamp) two examples of enchancement, and The Store, 1961 (Claes Oldenburg) and the Equitable Center, South Plaza, 1986 (Scott Burton) as two examples of impersonations (Rosenthal, 2003).

The second type of Installation Art that Rosenthal describes is called “site – specific installation”. With this name he refers to the installations that are linked to a wider space, the place where they are located in. For this installation to be made, the artist has to have thoroughly explored the location where his work will be placed and to formulate it in conjunction with it. Nevertheless, the installation must include locale since its meaning is in consistence with its context. This type of installation tends to be characterized by rootedness to the location and is most of the times plastic and perpetual. Site – specific installations are also divided into two categories. The first category includes the interventions, which, according to the author are a “type of installation that uses a tool of inquiry or even attack” (Rosenthal, 2003, p. 61). In the second category he places the rapprochement, a type of art where the installation itself is the subject and the physical context is preeminent. Rapprochements can be related to architecture. Regarding his examples of site – specific installation, Rosenthal refers to Mile of String, 1942 (Marcel Duchamp) and Clown Torture, 1987 (Bruce Nauman) as interventions and Spiral Jetty, 1970 (Robert Smithson) and Wrapped Raeischtag, Berlin (1977 – 1995) (Christo and Jeanne – Claude) as rapprochements (Rosenthal, 2003).

Artists and the museums

The real character of Installation Art, however, has yet to be fully understood. According to Rosenthal (2003), Installation Art can be considered to be the medium which can offer greater and broader possibilities investigation and for expression. The interaction between the contemporary artist and the museum is one of great importance and of great interest to explore. First of all, it is crucial for an artist to have at first his work seen by a museum curator so that he can get the opportunity to enter the museum world and present his work to a wider audience. The relationship between the two sides is one characterized by interactivity and is can have great advantages for both sides.

The relationship between the artist and the museum is peculiar and sometimes described as obsessive (Putnam, 2001). An artist may view the museum environments in different ways and the same applies in the opposite direction. Artists can treat the traditional museum environment as a place where socio – cultural debate takes place. In other cases, the museum may be viewed as a site of site – specific practices (Dudley, 2010).

The contemporary artist is viewed as a person who can format and offer to the public a new reading and a new way of understanding and interpreting museum collections. This can happen by proposing new contrasts, parallels and references and by letting the public, each one of the visitors discover the hidden messages and encounters. This way the visitor is encouraged to interpret museum collections according to his own views and experiences and not by strictly following the direction proposed by the artist or by the museum. One of the most radical examples of interventions and reinterpretations of their collections is the reinstallation of a museum’s permanent collection (Putnam, 2001).


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