In Praise of the Encyclopedic Museum
|Publication Date: 16 January 2012 ||Cloth • $22.00 • £14.00 |
|UK Publication Date: 23 January 2012 ||978-0-226-12677-7 |
Since the Enlightenment, the encyclopedic museum has been a repository of human achievement, a reminder, in the midst of our many differences, of the value of such cosmopolitan virtues as tolerance, understanding, and a sense of shared history. But today museums find themselves under attack from critics who argue that they are little more than relics, promoters of Western imperialism and a distorted sense of both history and culture. Could it be that the encyclopedic museum has outlived its usefulness?
With Museums Matter, James Cuno, president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust and former president and director of the Art Institute of Chicago, offers a rousing defense of encyclopedic museums and their unparalleled ability to engage, enlighten, and educate the public. Cuno begins by taking us on a brief tour of the modern museum, from the creation of the British Museum—the archetypal encyclopedic collection—to the present, when major museums host millions of visitors annually and play a major role in the cultural lives of their cities. Along the way, he acknowledges the legitimate questions about the role of museums in nation-building and imperialism, but he argues strenuously that even a truly national museum like the Louvre can’t help but open visitors’ eyes and minds to the wide diversity of world cultures and the stunning art that is our common heritage.
Engaging with thinkers such as Edward Said and Martha Nussbaum, and drawing on examples from the politics of India to the destruction of the Bramiyan Buddhas to the history of trade and travel, Cuno makes a case for the encyclopedic museum as a crucial component of contemporary public life, promoting values that are essential in our ever more globalized era.
James Cuno is the president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust. He served as president and director of the Art Institute of Chicago from 2004 until 2011, the Courtauld Institute of Art from 2002 until 2004, and the Harvard University Art Museums from 1991 to 2002..
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