A revised version of the paper I presented at the Museum Metamorphosis conference in Leicester last year, has now been published in the latest issue of Museological Review.
Museums are steadily changing. Yet analogising this development with biological or mythological metamorphosis could imply an elevation or naturalisation of events, which is potentially problematic. This paper therefore suggests a supplementary perspective, arguing that certain changes in modern day museum practices correspond to the logic of fashion. Where Foucault once described museums as heterochronias; places representing an ’other-time’, museums now strive to be both of their time and in time with the Zeitgeist. As a consequence, they must keep up with the speedy cycles of technological advancements and cultural change, and not only deliver, but also stoke the desire for, novel experiences. The paper explores the current vogue for fashion exhibitions as a case in point, arguing that this trend serves to promote the museum as fashionably current, but can also support novel formats for cultural reflection.
A new issue of KULTURKIK, a free, quaterly magazine about museum experiences, has just been released. The magazine is aimed at the general public – an elaborate advert for cultural heritage institutions, if you like, but with decent journalism and graphics – and distributed through museums in the greater Copenhagen area. And this, the third issue, zooms in on the trend for fashion in museums over 23 pages of articles and interviews (OK, some of the connections are a bit contrived, such as the styling of John Falk’s museum types, but still).
The main article builds in part on an interview with and the report by Marie Riegels Melchior, so it’s all familiar territory to me (as it should be), and mirrors the sentiments and articles quoted in earlier blogposts here and here. But it is remarkable that this trend is now so significant that it attracts general interest.
In short, the rise in fashion exhibitions is attributed to two things: a growing appreciation of fashion as a cultural form reflecting society, and the realization that fashion exhibitions attract a large audience (generating good press coverage as well as controversial sponsor deals). This popularity is in part thanks to the tradition for staging couture as theatrical spectacle introduced by Diana Vreeland during her time as curator for the Met. Curators from Charlottenborg and Arken also point to the cross polination between art and fashion as a reason for exhibiting fashion.
Whatever the reason, there are a lot of fashionable exhibitions around these days. Right now, in Copenhagen, there’s a choice of the already mentioned Rokoko mania at Designmuseum Danmark, Royal Galla at Amalienborgmuseet; India: Fashion Now at Arken and Mirror mirror at Den Sorte Diamant. A very diverse selection, actually. Perhaps, over time, my choice of focus will seem less exotic than it does now.