William Poundstone
William Poundstone on Art and Chaos

William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

Is “Museum” a Stale Brand?

Pin It

At least two incipient L.A. museums are avoiding the M word. “Don’t Call It a Museum” runs a headline in the Hollywood Reporter. Architect Zoltan Pali, who’s teaming with Renzo Piano to design the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in LACMA West, explained that “Our mission here is simply when you come to this place, which we don’t really want to call a museum, we want to call it something else, it makes you forget that you are in such a place.” Come again? (Above, an extremely preliminary rendering.)

A gay and lesbian museum is also raising funds, but don’t count on it being called that. “This is going to be more than a museum, and we don’t even want to use that word,” Lavender Effect director Andy Sacher told the L.A. Weekly. In lieu of a museum Sacher promised “an emotionally immersive and engaging journey through LGBTQ cultures… using the latest in interactive technology and display techniques.”

In recent years a number of institutions with “Gallery” or “Library” in their names have replaced or augmented it with “Museum.” “Gallery” sounds like the art is for sale, and “library” says they lend books— plus you might be shooshed for speaking too loudly. “Museum” has also been adopted by a few places whose original names were just too clever for their own good (Seattle’s Experience Music Project became the EMP Museum). Meanwhile “curate” has become an all-purpose verb for anything.

Despite that, “museum” may be becoming a stale brand, at least for places that aren’t traditional art or natural history institutions. Do two comments in one week constitute a semantic trend?

Tags: , ,

Pin It


  1. by Roger Mandle

    The semantic debate about the word “museum” is the tip of an iceberg that is melting. Museums are in process, albeit at a time of financial strain, of redefining themselves. Museums now understand that they are more than a place, a collection, or a staff. There are institutions that call themselves museums that do not have collections. Museums are becoming an “idea,” in that they recognize that their responsibilities are first and foremost to their public, in whose trust they care for the objects and the staff they contain. And the public can now approach museums even without visiting them, via internet, television and paper publications. While a revolution is taking place, the disjunctures, experiments and outcries will continue – healthy signs that places that were formed from the inside out now are rediscovering themselves from the outside in.

  2. by Jan Angevine

    There is something about art having been colonized by wealthy people and corporations that turns my heart toward guerrilla ways, art revolution and radical shouting. Whatever it is called, and it can’t be “museum”, art needs an inspiration to fit a world on the brink of environmental disaster, a world facing the extinction of the water, air, land, flora and fauna. In this sense, everything old is not new again. Everything old is going to be gone. The museum, which among other institutions, has turned a blind eye to real crisis, while trying only to increase attendance, must go away to the place where the thoughtless, profit pigs go. There is a price to pay for neglect, and the museum, cloistered and self-referential to extreme, deserves to be replaced. Even if its only the Prada store in Marfa, bravo.

Add a Comment