Juan Carlos Rico

Museums, could it be like this? 

Juan Carlos Rico

Museums, could it be like this? 

His hypothesis was that the cause of the failure of all of them lay in their inability to put themselves on the side of the future. Who knew where the future was? It was a matter of luck, it depended on circumstances, on whether one was carried along by the current of that future that was forming in the present. Redemption. Henry Roth

To create in a period of deep crisis is nothing more than to investigate first and experiment later.

The glass box. Juan Carlos Rico

In these same pages, last August I wrote the article: Tourism: towards the consumption of culture, which by the way has had a lot of repercussion at a professional level in our project. I would recall three ideas: 1st, tourism as the advance guard of cultural consumption; 2nd, the question of how this process would affect all other activities related to heritage, art, in general and more specifically the museums to which we have dedicated our research project; and 3rd, fiction as a tool and aid in research.

All this comes to mind, because in recent days, reviewing some of our publications I found something very surprising in Museos arquitectura, arte II Montaje de exposiciones (https://jcr21office.blogspot.com/2018/11/museos-arquitectura-arte-ii-el-montaje.html), a text published in its first edition in 1996 by Silex publishing house, that is to say, almost three decades ago.

I use the word surprising, since the book ended with an epigraph under the title: Towards the future, describing, not only in terms of fiction, but rather in science fiction, what a museum could be like in a few decades. On rereading it, I have been able to appreciate, in certain descriptions, many of the reflections expressed in the previous article on tourism, imaginatively taken to spatial and concrete proposals. I repeat: it was written almost thirty years ago.

I reproduce it literally, with only a few minor changes in its wording:

"Towards the future.

After years of open work, of research and publications, of consultations with the best international specialists, of innumerable controversies that included the citizens themselves; the museum had opened its doors in an expected event that socially surpassed the limits of the city, for its audacity and originality.

I decided to wait a few days, so that the flow of visitors of the first weeks would diminish. I wanted to see it calmly and reflect without pressure on something that interested me personally so much.

Consequently, I did not read anything about the new exhibition project, only the publicity that I was unable to avoid. It insisted on the risky and experimental character, totally pioneering, that very soon all the great museums of the countries around us would inevitably imitate.

Admission was no longer free, in order to kill two birds with one stone: the costly financing and the massive influx of visitors in recent years; different exhibition menus were provided depending on the works you wanted to see and the comfort you wanted to receive while doing so. Depending on the level of the pieces, the rate varied: the higher the quality, the more expensive, according to the comfort as well.

From the beginning it seemed very expensive to me, although I had, for reasons that are not relevant, a special pass that allowed me to move freely throughout the exhibition.

The first thing that surprised me was the large welcoming area; the wandering and dynamism reminded me of a shopping mall: information over the loudspeaker accompanied a profuse proposal of activities, shows, posters and pamphlets and various hostesses in all imaginable languages offered you different programs. It even caught my attention, employees dressed as popular characters from the children's world for the little ones; and characterized as protagonists of paintings and sculptures, for the adults.

As I began to advance through the successive level locks, the atmosphere gradually became more selective, depending on the expectations of visitors that each room received. The works were spaced one from the other and the architectural design and furnishings were kept in line with the different levels of the exhibition..

I was particularly struck by the radical separation of the works and the visitor. The former were always located behind a curtain wall of safety glass that completely isolated them from both the environment and the people. Computer screens offered all kinds of information, whether about the pieces, the museum or its social services. Smoking, drinking and eating were allowed. While touring this unique exhibition. From time to time hostesses passed by offering refreshments, fast food, as well as many of the articles and souvenirs that could be purchased in the various stores. There were small kiosks with tables and chairs, where you could have a snack, sitting down. Soft ambient music did not interfere with the public address system that continuously informed about the whole range of possibilities offered by the center: conferences, round tables, visits to workshops, warehouses and laboratories, contests, games, movie theaters, mime, dance and theater shows, day-care services and care for the elderly, offers for the reproduction of paintings and sculptures made in the center's own workshops.

In the last lock, that is to say, in the most expensive areas that contained the most important pieces, these were placed individually, one per room. In these rooms, equipped with comfortable armchairs and extremely well cared for furniture, there was sometimes only one person, who stayed as long as he wished, while manipulating the light, the air conditioning and the music to his liking. Hostesses assigned to each work, personally attended to all the needs of the clients, who had telephone, TV, videos, internet, etc., at their disposal. In the seats they had an interactive system, through which they received all the required information of the work or, if they preferred, they could choose one of the numerous games, based on it, that the didactic cabinet of the museum put at their disposal.

I passed by some of them, without crossing the threshold, if indicated by the red light on the upper lintel of the door and I found several visitors, who were looking at "The cheerful drinker" by Frans Hall, around a table with bottles of wine and glasses, next to another room where they were tasting the same fruits that exhibited a still life. In another a heated conversation about Dürer's self-portrait and, even further away, a group was playing backgammon in front of Rembrant's "Night Watch".

But the coincidences do not end here, in 2008, that is, twelve years later we undertook the most ambitious project in which teams from different universities from different countries collaborated: The glass box, a new model of museum (https://jcr21office.blogspot.com/2018/09/la-caja-de-cristal-un-nuevo-modelo-de.html ), The glass box a new model of museum (https://jcr21office.blogspot.com/2019/08/the-glass-box-new-model-of-museum.html ) I reproduce some texts of its introduction:

The glass house, is a research program that tries to find, an abstract spatial prototype (not located in any specific plot but easily modifiable to be able to adapt to any) that would define the new organization of all the components to replace the already obsolete program of the current museum.

Why this name?

"The glass box" alludes to a double meaning: on the one hand, conceptual transparency, on the other, spatial transparency.

The first one tries to reflect in a clear way the whole process that generates the development of the project, in one sense or another; that is to say, assuming the advances and changes that could be achieved, as well as the risks of mistakes and failures that this type of experience entails.

Physical transparency is achieved through a spatial organization that makes all the functions visible from any point of location of the spectator, whether visitor or professional of the center. Warehouses, workshops, laboratories, exhibition, documentation center, administrative area, management, commercial area, etc., are always open to view. There is thus a symbolic and real "profanation of the temple" of this new attitude.

This clarity, both in theory (organization chart) and in practice (spatial solution), intended that everything could be seen both prescriptively and symbolically, that there was no deception, that any visitor would know with a simple glance, what a museum is or what it should be, and that in the case of reproducing what was described in the previous science-fiction text, it would perfectly differentiate what is culture from what is not.

(Note: all images that illustrate this article belong to said project


Juan Carlos Rico holds a PhD in Architecture from the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid, is an Art Historian from the Faculty of History of the University of Salamanca, Sociologist and Philosopher from the UNED. He is currently studying social anthropology. Museum curator He coordinates a multidisciplinary team for the research of the exhibition event and its relationship with space, which has been reflected in various publications.

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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