On Museums and Their Significance - by Steve Cannon
It must have been somewhere in the mid-50s in Lincoln N.E., one of the many states of the great plains, the prairie states west of the Mississippi, that I happened to look up one night and see Sputnik orbiting the Earth. It was obvious that something was up. The space race had begun.
It was years later, after the death of John Kennedy, after Michael Jackson did his Moon Walk that Marshall McLuhan announced on T.V. that the Earth is work of art. And it was said that the only manmade object that could be seen from the distance of the moon was The Great Wall of China -- not to mention the Cahokia Mounds outside of St. Louis and the Pyramids of Egypt. This is not to omit Adolph Huxley's book on Lysergic acid (LSD) called Doors of Perception, AND André Malraux's book Museums Without Walls.
It was sometime in the mid-60s that site specific art came into vogue -- the rage of the age. And it was around the same time, because of urban development and the like there of, riots and all, that America's attention focused on cities as works of art in and of themselves.
Many years hence, after the turn up of social architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Frank Gehry, Phillip Johnson, I.M. Pei, and Rem Koolhaas, the buildings which housed art became more important than the art which was housed therein. The artists, of course, became secondary to the architecture and architects.
For example, many people who visit the Guggenheim are more interested in the building than the art they experience there. The same is true for Gehry's Guggenheim in Bilbao Spain. Because of this, a whole procession of contemporary artists are more inclined and interested in showing their work outside of museums, in public spaces.
And if one enjoys art as experience, then one can easily stroll through any cityscape and/ or rural landscapes of the world and by using their own eyes, can pick and choose what they consider art. In other words, art is all around us -- not necessarily preserved in museums.
With the horrors that happened in Baghdad after the invasion of U.S. forces, the world was thrown into a state of shock by the looting of Iraq's treasures from its national museum. Art Objects, artifacts, and symbols of human history which had endured over 500 years, were pillaged and squandered. Imagine the outrage that would have occurred if the Metropolitan Museum in New York City had suffered such a fate.
It was André Malraux, in his book Museums Without Walls who showed us and forced us to celebrate through the centuries, art from around the world. It was this same book which demonstrated to us that no one culture is more important than the next.
Now that there are over 2000 museums in the U.S. alone, specializing in everything from forensic science, to sex, to movies, and decorative art, it's hard to say which is more important than the next. The sad fact of coarse -- now days most museums charge admission. What any culture decides to preserve in its museums is a reflection of themselves -- the cultures identity. America's culture in that regard is no different from others around the world.
But if we were to look to the future we would realize, as Marshall McLuhan mentioned earlier -- the Earth itself is a work of art. We ourselves exist in a living Museum and choose on an everyday basis what to preserve and what to trash.