Why we will still need museums in our increasingly digital world
Besides being a great song, The Sound Of Silence resonates with me for an altogether different reason. It conjures up what I like best about museums, art galleries, all those marvellous places that have been doomed to temporary closure. Inside those buildings I can fully immerge myself in an intense, almost muffled atmosphere. A setting which allows me to be fully intent on the surrounding art. A silence that, just like the objects in it, is almost palpable.
Torn between nostalgia and euphoria
But before I get any more abstract (although this might fit this post’s artsy purpose), let’s face the facts: with the 44th edition of International Museum Day on the horizon, I’m torn between nostalgia and euphoria – nostalgia, since the intense experience I described above will most likely remain wishful thinking, at least for a while. Euphoria, because in today’s digital age, art aficionados and digital enthusiasts don’t have to fully forgo art and everything that comes with it.
Renowned institutions like Berlin’s National Gallery – the Old and the New one – offer virtual tours; others, like the Schirn Art Gallery in Frankfurt, heavily rely on so-called digitorials to prepare visitors for upcoming real-life exhibitions. Although the brick-and-mortar buildings remain shut, the digital sphere opens up new possibilities. As an art enthusiast myself, I’m happy that art is alive, that we can discover its many facets although we are shut up at home. This is a blessing, and I can’t wait to explore what Germany’s thriving art scene has come up with in the past few months! Skimming through roughly 6,500 institutions won’t be an option, however. So I guess I’ll have to pick out some beforehand and take it from there…
Museums as meeting points – for people, not just bits and bytes
I invite all of you to do the same and to take some time to enjoy Museum Day on May 16 (Germany) or May 18 (international version). Visit an (art) museum for a virtual tour or a real one if already possible. Immerging yourself in the world of art will surely help to forget coronavirus for a while or come up with new perspectives on our current situation.
During your tour you will surely get in touch with digital innovations – be it the artwork itself or new forms of presenting exhibits. I think these digital formats undoubtedly pave the way to the future, whether in art, academia, or industry. Digital formats are here to stay, irrespective of any pandemic. And yet, I still hope something will remain that will outlive bits and bytes, VR glasses and screens. Art itself has to remain vibrant, with the buildings and people who flood them – from Berlin, home of the C/O gallery, which I admire a lot, to Kiel, where I run my own exhibition room. How I miss mingling with the artists and visitors!
You cannot visit Sumatra on Google Maps
As beneficial as digital technology is, it can hardly replace art experiences gained in museums. Although art usually isn’t made to be exhibited in museums, they allow us to experience it in special ways: with all our senses, with other people, while creating distance from our everyday lives. Imagine searching for Sumatra on Google Maps: you will find it, you can even zoom in on that island and maybe see some beaches. But will you really have experienced Sumatra? While I prefer to leave the more elaborate answer to philosophers, I tend to say “No, you haven’t.” And to me, the same applies to art that was created to be experienced live.
The ancient Greeks, whose term museion is at the root of today’s “museum”, had a very specific understanding of the concept. They viewed it as a sanctuary for the muses. To me, any modern museum still holds something of that sacred quality. Let’s hope we will be able to (re)experience that magic soon enough.