Anthropology, Culture, Heritage, Museums
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Museums and Time

MOMA, New York City

“Why are museums associated with the past?”, asks Pietro Clemente, Anthropology Professor at the University of Florence, Italy, in a paper focusing on Heritage. Perhaps because of the Muses, or Egyptian, Etruscan and Roman museums. When you think about these ancient people, you think they are in a fuzzy and remote time, not in the ‘real’ time of our knowledge of them: but then archeology is one of the most modern and computerized subjects of the humanities. Of course, there is still some room for romantic gestures and visionary insights, but the last word is based on computed tomography.

Collections are a relatively recent phenomenon, and for certain categories (objects of ordinary people, calling cards, modern art) it is constantly changing.

The ICOM (International Council of Museums, a UNESCO related NGO) was founded on science museums and civilization museums, like archaeological and ethnographic ones, that have more than 150 years, and are constantly updating their communication and multimedia technology.

In this sense there is nothing more up-to-date, postmodern, and technologically advanced of a museum. Especially if you think about it as a means of mass communication, linked to widespread education, growth of cultural tourism,  and the social demand for roots and territorial identities that need to be constructed and represented.

“If I had to imagine a global world”, continues Prof. Clemente, “I would start with the internet or television. But I could also start with a museum, not only because you find it on the internet, but because it is the object of  international travel packages, of reproductions and souvenirs that disperse throughout the world from its own spaces.

The museum today is a cultural institution capable of initiative, capable of playing a socially formative role to raise awareness and build knowledge, to save the future of the past and the past of the future.

The museum today is (or would like to be) a ‘Gramscian’ ‘organizer of culture’ rooted in civil society.

The contemporary museum is therefore in a movement towards the future: the past is one of the main objects on which it works to produce images that form the base of tomorrow’s imagination”.

© Melissa Pignatelli, Luglio 2012.
Pietro Clemente, Antropologi tra Museo e Patrimonio, in Antropologia. Annuario n°7, Meltemi Editore, 2006.

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