The Museum as Theatre. A look at the museographical work of the Museu Nacional

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Juliette Raussin

From the museum as a temple to the museum as an actor in its present

For the last five months I have had the privilege of being part of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya’s Department of Museography in the framework of a curricular internship. This experience has been enriching in many ways and it has taught me a great deal about the ways in which a museum functions, but also about its importance in our society. Moreover, this period of training has also offered me the opportunity to observe and reflect on the great work of the Department of Museography, and also on the contemporary changes in museums.

The art museum had a real role in the multiple processes of sociocultural change through a wide range of cultural activities. The aim of the different exhibition projects proposed by the museum is not just to exhibit the collection, unique in the world, but also to make a sketch of society and its concerns through works of art.

Storage room of museum’s frames / Artworks movement to the storage room. Foto: Juliette Raussin

In fact, for some years now a new museum model has emerged whose prime function is still that of responding to a human need: the construction and transmission of stories. Narratives past, present and future. This need, whether unifying, restorative or disruptive, is even more essential for the art objects that are unable to tell their own story. In an attempt to respond to this desire for stories, museography, namely, the discipline that makes the spatial retranscription of the story possible, has become an essential tool of cultural mediation. Therefore, in my opinion, in the context of the gradual redefinition of its functions and missions, the museum has demonstrated that it is an increasingly important figure of authority in the definition of the stories of our time.

The novelty of this model is therefore based on a consolidated wish to connect even more with the public, especially when the museum houses a public collection that belongs to the citizens, when it is a common good. It is a case of changing the image of the museum, associated for many years with the idea of an untouchable entity, halfway between religion and power, a dominant authority, towards a museum whose function is to express rich, complex society through a programme of exhibitions representative of its diversity.

A cart to carry out the movement of the works of art for the exhibition Maternasis / Settingf of the exhibition Maternasis. Photo: Juliette Raussin

It can be seen that the museum is turning towards a more social policy model, which could even be called democratic, based on inclusion and on a profound commitment to society. This new model is inspired on the so-called “society museums”, which reflect on social and cultural diversity, on the place of minorities in a community, where the public is a fundamental component of the museum process. Museography, as I see it, has a crucial role to play in this process of change in museums.

Museography: the art of saying, the art of seeing

When I went behind the scenes of the museum as theatre, museography seemed essential to me in the mediation between the works and the public. Moreover, as a tool of cultural mediation, it involves reflection on the role of the institutions in the construction of new connections between politics, culture and the public space. Furthermore, this mediation ought to include a series of practices to foster the multiplication of the museum’s forms of expression and participation in the cultural life around it. Indeed, museography participates in the democratization of culture by broadening access to the means of creation to people from all walks of life.

Before and after the preparation of a room for the installation of a temporary exhibition. Photo: Juliette Raussin

Therefore, the museographist seeks to propose spatial arrangements to allow for a freer interpretation of the works in a system that serves the traditional narrative but extends it to a dialogue with the spectator. Museography uses the exhibition rooms as “self-speaking” means of communication with an implicit discourse. The specific nature of this discipline is based on an almost synaesthetic verbal and visual polyphony, transmitted by the medium traditionally called an “exhibition”. That is to say, museography constructs a polyphony of languages: visual (what the spectator sees), spatial (where the spectator walks), sensory (what the spectator experiences), without forgetting what the spectator knows and wishes to use in order to converse. Mediation through the space functions as a hypertext that the public deciphers during the exhibition, and with which it converses using its own experiences.

It is a case of establishing a relationship between the public and the space where the works arranged in it form a complete semantic system. This visual and spatial arrangement is not useful only for the thematic narrative of the exhibition, but also for a specific intention to mediate. In effect, behind the spatial arrangement of a room there is the museographist’s intention to produce a particular effect on the visitor: to move them, guide them or even to disorient them. This intention is expressed through museographical techniques that seek to find out how to present works, fitting them in a system of interpretation that is pre-established by the museographical programme but bearing in mind the cognitive, sensory, even poetic, constructs of the visitor.

Installation of the Casals i Ariet donation in room 51. Photo: Juliette Raussin

Thus, when tackling fundamental issues of our time, the museum tries to contribute to the construction of a self-critical society. Like a great human comedy, museums are not only committed to representing the processes of sociocultural changes through art, but also to revealing them to the visitor through a cathartic museum experience.

I would like to once again thank the director of the museum, Pepe Serra, for giving me the chance to do this internship at this great museum. I would also like to thank Lluís Alabern Vázquez and all the Museography team, who do an extraordinary and fascinating job every day, for sharing valuable professional and human lessons with me.

Juliette Raussin in front of Museu Nacional

 

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Estudiant en pràctiques del Departament de Museografia
Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne (Master Liseac)

Juliette Raussin
Estudiant en pràctiques del Departament de Museografia Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne (Master Liseac)

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