Tony Bennett’s “The Exhibitionary Complex”, for me, was the most interesting out of the three readings — followed shortly by “Why Museums Make Me Sad” by James Boon. They both cover similar topics, Bennett going moreso into the history of how museums emerged as a sort of middle ground between the low brow exhibitions such as freak shows, and the high brow. All of these come from a similar desire to put things on exhibition (thus, “The Exhibitionary Complex”), especially things regarded as unknown to the general viewer. For instance, this is what eventually popularizes the world fairs that defined a generation for its exuberant and ostentatious exhibits that showed off things from ‘far, far away’ (although maybe not a galaxy’s distance).
Common people then did not have the luxury of the Internet, or even the luxury afforded to us today through a public school system that covers world history and cultures. Rather than being able to form their own opinion about pieces they see on view, they are subject to whatever information the curator decides to put on display for the viewers. As Boon notes, people have an inherent interest in the unfamiliar, and enjoy viewing such objects with fascination and amusement, disregarding the curator’s assertion of power over them. In 2016, the sentiment has morphed. With the advent of the Internet, and more importantly, Wikipedia, the way we consume knowledge has drastically changed. This has also changed how we have come to view knowledge and museums. Coincidentally, my friend posted a link to an article about the “crisis” museums and the humanities are facing on Facebook (right here), which outlines this scenario well. We want to know more and more about whatever subjects pique our interests, and drawing our own opinions on the subject, which has resulted in a power struggle between the museum and its viewer.
Beth and Steven, the authors of the article, say that these institutions have the option to make their images and knowledge open source, or to even just advertise their published works more. Rather than protest against this shifting change, museums should acknowledge their special presence on the Internet as a key source of information.