Engaging the Visitor: Architectural Rhetoric and the Inclusive Art Museum

By Elise Smith.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Variations in entryways to museums send powerful signals to the public, from the intimidating elitism of classical facades and imposing staircases to the open, glass-fronted expanse of many recent museum designs. This paper will focus on the rhetorical strategies of innovative new museum architecture in relation to the question of public access, both physical and psychological, to the collection inside. The complex sculptural designs of some of the most experimental museums, such as Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao, run counter to the compelling quality of more simple, direct entrances, and in those cases museum designers and administrators use alternative strategies to indicate the route of primary access. Outdoor sculpture, strategically-placed color, and alternative materials can serve to highlight the inclusive nature of these more visually complex museum buildings. Similarly, the primary entry spaces inside a museum can send comparable signals of welcome, order, and inclusion, although instead they are often distracting and alienating. A study of recent museum entryway designs reveals the power of architecture to foster or inhibit the public’s sense of access to the collection.

Keywords: Architecture, Entryways, Public Access

International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp.15-26. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 594.450KB).

Dr. Elise Smith

Professor of Art History, Art Department, Millsaps College, Jackson, MS, USA

Elise L. Smith received her M.A. in Art History from Vanderbilt University and her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She began the Museum Studies Concentration in the Art History major at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, where she has taught since 1986. Her books include The Paintings of Lucas van Leyden (University of Missouri Press, 1992), Evelyn De Morgan and the Allegorical Body (Associated University Presses, 2002), and Women, Literature, and the Domesticated Landscape: England’s Disciples of Flora, 1780-1870 (co-authored with Judith Page; forthcoming, Cambridge University Press).


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