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Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions

Museum as Spectacle

May 20-July 12, 2013

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The last twenty-five years have witnessed a building boom of new museums in Europe. Being appropriated as a public relation tool, the museum is used by national and city governments for purposes of national grandeur (France), rewriting national history (Germany) or city image management (Frankfurt, Bilbao, or Groningen).

Architects consider the design of museums as the last realm of uninhibited creation of form up to a point where the container of art, the museum, becomes more spectacular than what is contained. Leisure engineers have discovered the museum as their favorite target, pitting the museum against traditional amusement and entertainment venues like the movies, soccer games, or shopping malls. Ever more cultural critics, however, see the museum as a theater of memory in which the fiction of a coherent representational universe is propagated and in which the desire to rescue "authenticity" from destructive historical change is played out ("Salvage Paradigm").

New insights into the construction of signification, self, subject, author, vision, gender, or race put the epistemological authority of the museum into question. Recent art practices by Marcel Broodthaer, Hans Haacke, Daniel Buren, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Barbara Kruger, Joseph Beuys, and many others have revealed the censorial character of the museum as an ideological apparatus. This critique of the practice of the museum from within the art world has had a destabilizing effect on the museum practice and shows the need to reposition the museum within post-industrial society.

Program intent

The summer program considers the museum as a design laboratory where different architectural ideologies can be traced and analyzed. In surveying the recent building boom of new museums in Europe by architects like Libeskind, Zumthor, Piano, Foster, Koolhaas, Tschumi, Stirling, Aulenti, Ungers, Gehry, Kleihues, Hollein, Ando, and more, the summer program wants to investigate how far the new museum designs have been reflecting above trends and how far they have hindered or furthered the restructuring process of the museum. It is the objective of the summer program to trace the changes in the conceptual framework of the European museum through personal experience and creative analysis of a great number of museums in many European countries over a period of eight weeks.