The Post-Modern Museum

At some point in the mid 20th Century the modern museum began to take on a new form. Consumer culture gained a hightened level of self-consciousness, and the very notion of “the self” as shaped by individual experiences rather than a societal imperatives, took root and fostered a new way of thinking about museums. What emerged was a focus on the customer, a deeper understanding of the audience and meeting that audience’s needs. The post-modern museum emphasizes the user, education, relevancy and accessibility. In fact it is often described as a place of lifelong learning, supplementary to a more formal education compulsory learning in schools. Unlike the modern museum which might be characterized by didactic pedagogy, learning in a post-modern museum is experiential and accounts for different learning styles. Here the constituent chooses his or her own interests and the museum tailors its programs and exhibitions to those interests. Instead of prioritizing the curator’s voice as an overarching authority, these museums rely more on the meanings produced by their visitors and constituents through interactive engagement. As Eilean Hooper-Greenhill puts it “Meaning is produced by museum visitor from their own point of view, using whatever knowledge and skills they bring with them, according to the contingent demands of the moment”. Here, modern social psychology and constructivist educational theory prevails.

Museum Stages.xlsx

Exhibitions in these museums are largely developed with the aid of professional designers, creative practitioners who borrow the tools of advertising, a carefully crafted language, the focus group, formative evaluation and the survey. They are generally multi-modal, mixing a large variety of tools and techniques – combining exhibit script, objects, photography, graphics, media, interactivity, immersive sensory experiences, dramatic and directed lighting  – all of which serves to stimulate the exploratory desires of the visitor. The may have a proscriptive route but often have ways to wander and impulsively dig deeper into subjects you might be interested in. The ultimate challenge of this kind of museum which seeks cultural relevancy is that culture is a moving target.

Tim Ventimiglia

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