PRINT March 1993

Museum Piece

Exhibiting Cultures and Museums and Communities

THE PERIOD IS STILL RECENT when the authority of museums was widely taken for granted, at least among their target audiences. Modernist museology seemed like a fixed, almost scientific practice that could not be altered. One often did not think of exhibition decisions as made by individual curators; it almost seemed it was the massive, monolithic institution itself that was making the choices. What that institution collected and showed had a kind of ultimate weight. Though one might complain about details, there was a brute facticity to the museum that seemed prior to such complaints, and out of reach of them—the museum was simply a given.

Two recent books show how radically that situation has changed. Collections of papers delivered in colloquia at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., in 1988 and 1990, they attempt to chart new directions in museological praxis and discourse.

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