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The Museum of the Museum

Part 1 Dissertation 1998
Paul Gardner
Oxford Brookes University Oxford UK
I should tell you now that I don't like museums. I never did. They make me feel sad. And tired; I feel old in museums and I get tired. It's like there's not enough air and too much stuff. It makes my head hurt. I don't know. It's a feeling, about here. Mostly I want to leave. I don't know, I'm just talking.

This study is entitled The Museum of the Museum; a self-important name,
you might think, which perhaps reflects its ambitions better than its
content, although no more than any other museum, such as the Museum of
Childhood or of Mankind.
"Still, it is nice to have a title which overcomes limits it is the task
of the book it denotes to establish, in case someone should think that
titles are only what works are called."
[A.C. Danto, The Transfiguration of the Commonplace (Harvard University
Press; Cambridge, Mass, 1981), p.v]
Italo Calvino showed aspects of the modern city by distilling and
elaborating upon each to invent fifty-five 'Invisible Cities' [I.
Calvino, Invisible Cities (Harcourt Brace; New York, 1972)]. Similarly
this study hopes to construct a tale to better identify and illustrate
the contemporary condition of the museum. It exists in two parallel
texts: one describing an imaginary museum and its collection, and the
second (which is rather more didactic) appending and annotating parts of
the former. The Museum of the Museum is principally a collection of
observations regarding architecture and the contemporary museum, related
in the various parts of this paper, its contents and organisation.
"Every exhibition has physical limits that define and shape its
[P. Greenaway, Some Organising Principles (Welsh Film Council; 1993),
The Museum of the Museum's limitations are set by time and the
definition of its contents. It is open for only nine hours and might
include everything. Sometimes it might even forget its limits and escape
them, which is not always bad.
Baudrillard, Jean (1968) 'The System of Collecting.' in: Elsner, John & Cardinal, Roger (1994) The Cultures of Collection. London, Reaktion Books
Duncan, Carol (1995) 'The Art Museum as Ritual.' Art Bulletin. March, Vol.LXXVII, no.1, pp. 10-13
Libeskind, Daniel (1991) 'Countersign.' Architectural Monograph No 16. London, Academy Editions
Montpetit, Raymond (1995) 'Making Sense of Space.' Museum International. vol.47, no.1, pp.41-45
Rorimer, Anne (1995) 'Reevaluating the Object of Collecting and Display.' Art Bulletin. March, Vol.LXXVII. pp. 21-24
Paul Gardner

Paul Gardner's text was written for his diploma dissertation, and in its design, structure and content is a complex and original piece of work. The author muses on a range of problematic issues related to the nature and function of museums, including topics such as the process of collecting, systems of classification, and the uneasy relationship between configured space and categories of intellectual thought. Fiction is mixed with rhetoric, quotation with speculation, and architectural design with academic inquiry.
The study above all questions the need for and the status of museums. It carefully avoids giving a chronological account of museums as a building type, since even to accept this intellectual category would be to conform to the existing power structures that perpetuate museums. So another structuring device is used, that of describing nine hours in a single day during which a final museum, provocatively called the Museum of the Museum, is to be brought briefly into existence, like a May-fly.

The reader is therefore guided along a kind of journey of explanation and discovery, never quite knowing if the author's declared intention to design and describe the Museum of the Museum will ever materialise. Fragments of conversation from other visitors in the museum sometimes interrupt the flow, but never for long. At the end of the day we are shown glimpses of what the design might look like, but even then we are not quite sure whether this final museum can, or should, ever exist.

The external examiner who read the essay was Professor Robert Harbison of North London University, and he judged it one of the best texts he has ever read by a student. I agree, both for the wealth of sources that the author has embraced (there are plentiful echoes of Calvino, Borges, Foucault and Baudrillard), and for the intellectual ambition of the piece. Architectural students on graduate courses should not be content with replicating existing forms of scholarship and knowledge. As advanced-level designers with increasing access to digital publishing technology, they should be producing pieces which are creative and unique. This study by Paul Gardner certainly aims far
higher than most.

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