Experience or Interpretation: The Dilemma of Museums of Modern Art by Nicholas Serota (Thames and Hudson pounds 7.95)
Sunday 09 February 1997
If you are hoping to find here a blueprint for Serota's plans for the new Bankside museum you will - despite his title - have to peer deeply, and probably in vain, between the lines. Instead, Serota opens with a brief history lesson, tracing the changes in galleries and museums, over their short lifespan, from the idiosyncratic cabinet of curiosities into a formal (and firmly educational) historical record and on into today's experiential, collaborative display spaces. He then ranges across examples from all over Europe and America, taking in the role of the curator/interpreter, the artists' active input, and the part played by an increasingly visually aware public. New ways of thinking about spatial relationships have revolutionised the concept of "showing" "a work": an artist like Carl Andre or Richard Serra may create and demolish a sculpture in each location (the epitome of transience), while something as apparently mobile as an artist's studio display (like that of Brancusi) may be meticulously recreated, made static, inside a museum.
Serota's style is as dry as a biscuit, and it takes a little persistence to get the most from this skilfully organised account; in the end we're warmly rewarded for our patience, however, with the insights generated by the author's cool but intense connoisseurship. Catherine Storey
(above) Light fantastic: an installation by Dan Flavin at the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1992;
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