Can Museums Ever Be Neutral Spaces?
The idea that museums are not neutral spaces, in terms of both evolving roles within such buildings themselves, as well as the debate around decolonizing galleries, are two notions that should be explored and continued to be in the discourse of the contemporary art world. How else might we evolve as a global community without allowing for the evolution of our cultural institutes? This is clearly a much more complex crossroad than it might seem at first thought, especially when considering the volatile conversations occurring online and in real life between those on opposite ends of the ever so polarized political spectrum.
Many institutions, steeped in immense history, a sort of old money mythology surrounding the value and commodification of the work itself and centuries of these works co-existing with the outside world’s human struggle, now collide with the zeitgeist of the modern world. This era we are in today is aimed at facing harsh realities of our society’s history and directing ourselves towards a new future, towards a more equitable and just world. One must consider the reality that museums are largely institutes of preservation, of collecting ancient artifacts from an all encompassing timeline of humanity and presenting these findings to the world to understand, study and in some ways also appreciate or feel inspired by.
There is undoubtedly something extremely exhilarating about being able to see perfectly preserved objects and artwork from ancient civilizations on display in person, especially when exiting your sometimes mundane everyday, modern life, and walking into these physical spaces where the souls of the past stare back at you, reminding you of the many human achievements from hundreds or thousands of years before you were born into the world as a living human being. It doesn’t seem as though anyone advocating for evolution in the institutions that exist today is asking to change this epiphanic feeling one can get from visiting museums that consist of these historical pieces of paintings and sculptures, but a needed dose of realism is sometimes needed in the lives of everyone to make a better future.
Although history presented in the form of art is beautiful to indulge in, one must not completely sever these works with the serious societal problems that dominated the world at these times, allowing only for white upper class males to partake in the medium, and the colonial empires pillaging and plundering of their newfound territories’ Indigenous populations, often returning to the empires with pieces of art that were quite literally stolen behind a trail of blood, slavery and destruction of another culture.
If art is all about fulfilling the potential of the human spirit in aesthetics and beauty, it must continue to give space to those currently fighting for a more beautiful, peaceful and opportunity rich world for those of every gender and individuals from every background, religion, sexual orientation and ethnicity. To truly allow for art to continue to flourish and stand the test of time, but also being responsible for making and influencing change towards a better version of humanity, telling ourselves that museums are untouchable neutral spaces or suppressing arguments around decolonization, is only going to be at the expense of the current contemporary art era we are in. Most of all, it’s at the cost of the quality of life for everyone in our society today.