The American Muse

The American Muse

The American Muse

The American Muse

Excerpt

In the course of the last thirty or forty years the concept of the responsibilities of the museum to the public has changed considerably. As late as the nineteen-twenties a museum was primarily an elegant repository for the accumulation and display of art objects assembled by one or more magnates. The collections, of course, were dedicated to the enjoyment and edification of the public, but first of all they were monuments to the taste, discrimination, wealth, and fame of whoever had assembled them.

Today the emphasis has shifted to public service. Museum administrators still seek to enhance their collections with rare and great works, still seek to round them out for the sake of completeness, still attempt to house them as handsomely as possible. But first and foremost in their minds is the need to make them useful to as large an audience as possible. To the connoisseur they must present works of the highest quality. To the scholar the museum must offer detailed historical and technical studies on each object, as well as provide a storehouse rich in research material. To the layman the museum must present the works in such a way that the displays become a source of enjoyment and a thought-provoking survey of the history of man, of his ideals and achievements. It is to fill the last need that museums are gradually evolving from treasuries of unique objects to panoramas of man's aesthetic and intellectual evolution.

There are, of course, limitations to the didactic uses to which one can put a museum's permanent collections. The objects were usually assembled somewhat haphazardly, and the most one can hope to achieve is to place them in some semblance of chronological order. In the case of special loan exhibitions . . .

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