Inclusivity, Objectivity, and The Ideal: The Museum as Utopian Space

By Donald Dunham.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

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

At first glance the contemporary “Cabinet of Curiosities” appears to provide all the necessary ingredients for inclusion into the utopic environment: the museum program generally provides access to all, a scholarly objectivity in the display of curated artifacts, and, in exhibit design, the object displayed “ideally.”

The museum as an “ideal” venue (outside the intended or original context) for select objects, for example, can be decoded through the British Museum’s neo-classical pedimented entry as well as through the Museum of Modern Art’s 1939 International Style structure designed by Philip Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone as an embodiment of the Modernist Utopian ideology.

However, not all museum structures, spaces, and installation furniture appear to fit the utopian template. Daniel Libeskind’s deconstructivist Jewish Museum in Berlin does not conjure up “perfect worlds,” in fact quite the opposite. Nevertheless, within the dystopian shadow of history lie the roots of Libeskind’s discontinuous void: the survival and rebirth of a broken people, a concept also found in the utopian work of the Russian Constructivists.

This paper examines the museum as a utopian space; using case studies and contrasting museum agendas, “The Ideal” is explored and challenged as prerequisite in the planning and maintenance of museum space.

Keywords: Museums, Architecture, Utopia

International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp.39-48. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 581.093KB).

Donald Dunham

Assistant Professor of Architecture, School of Architecture, Philadelphia University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

I am an Assistant Professor of Architecture at Philadelphia University, in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. My research interest focuses on the broad spectrum of architectural utopianism, and specifically how the utopian impulse informs vernacular architecture: this underlies architectural responses to nature, such as better orientation, ventilation, organization, and structure related to economy. A publication, “The Battle for Utopia in Architecture,” is currently underway. I am currently helping to develop a program in Museum Studies at Philadelphia University. I have worked as an architect in London, Paris, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. In addition, I have worked in museum preparation and exhibitions for the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the National Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa. While in New Zealand, I also taught architecture at Victoria University of Wellington and lectured on the conservation of art objects in transit.


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