Thinking About Museums in the Digital Age…


Wednesday’s readings sparked a memory of one of the finest articles that I have ever read about art museums, Kurt W. Forster’s “Critical History of Art, or Transfiguration of Values?” (New Literary History vol. 3 no. 3:459-470, Spring 1982). Forster, art historian and first director of the Getty Center, presents a compelling model for the museum as a cultural institution as a repository of all cultural material from a given time and place, because only in context can objects—including art—be understood. The article was written at a moment when both materialism and semiotics influenced art history and sadly the type of museum he advocates has not been realized. Natural history museums may approximate Forster’s ideal, but these European forerunners of modern anthropology museums tended to contain oddities and particular interests of their owners rather than encyclopedic collections. Would Forster’s prescribed museum be viable in a digital age?


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