The museum of the future – the museum of the world | Florian Pollack | TEDxLinz


Translator: Federica Rubattu
Reviewer: Tanya Cushman I want to ask you for a favor, the first favor of today. Remember the last time you’ve been to a museum and you liked it. Can you remember? Some of you might have been there for the art. There’s this very special, intimate,
almost celestial moment, where you sit there
and there’s a piece of art, and you talk to it and it talks back,
and it enriches your life, and you leave the place
different from how you came. There’s many other reasons
why people love museums. Community. One of the main reasons
people go to museums is because they want to share
this passion for the art with others. So retired people who become members
of the friendship party of a museum, they belong to this group. Young people who go there to have fun. Community is a very pivotal part
in why people come to museums. Love! Many of you – I bet some of you don’t accept it – but many of you have been to museums
with their loved ones, with people they wanted to impress, people they wanted to impress
by being smart. “Well, this is Caravaggio,” or so. It’s very important. It’s a very flirtuous place,
museums, I tell you. Or it’s Aunt Susie, Aunt Susie from Paris. She comes to Vienna,
and you want to show her your town. So where do you go?
Of course, you go to the museum. “Well, this, Aunt Susie,
is my museum, and so on, on, on.” A very basic reason
why people come to museums is the weather. (Laughter) Many curators, many art historians,
and many museum directors are not very happy about this fact, but when it’s very cold,
very rainy, or very hot, museums are always full. This was a Facebook post
we did this summer. We just wanted to show people
how the temperature levels in Vienna were. Outside, it was 36ºC, 37ºC, 38ºC, and in the Kunstkammer,
it’s always 20.5ºC, always. (Laughter) So this is a reason
why people come to museums. 20 to 25 percent of the visitors
in all museums all around the globe are children. So people come to museums with their kids. I took my two nephews and my niece – three, six, nine – to the Kunsthistorisches Museum
just three weeks ago, and we took a bag of plastic animals – you know, everybody
has this bag of plastic animals – and we went through the house
looking for animals and then tried to take photos
of our animals in front of the big ones. They loved it, and the six one
shared it on her Facebook page. So children, if you
do it correctly, love museums. Children love to paint. Children are the main visitor group
that accepts this moment that museums are great for creativity. All artists go to museums because,
of course, they want to study art. Many, many people
who just want to be creative, who want to be enlightened by the creativity of hundreds
or thousands of years, of course, they come to museums. Parents come to museums
in order to put their children to rest. This is a photo of the 1870’s. The British were very early
in opening up museums and very early in making photographs. Many museums are dark places because the objects
don’t like the light so much. If you spend about 30 minutes
in a very dark place – and you will notice this soon – your body tells you, well, fall asleep. So it happens, again and again,
that we find children lying somewhere, sleeping, in museums, and their parents enjoy the free time. (Laughter) Some of you just might like crazy dogs. Museums are full of crazy animals
of the past 5,000 years. So there’s many reasons to come. Why do I talk about museums
in the first place? Museums are very old institutions, older, many of them,
than hospitals, prisons, Parliament, sometimes even universities, in many cases schools. They are very old. So if we talk about the future,
of course, we have to look back. So this is why we talk about museums. The second reason
is an egotistical reason. This is where I work. And of course, it’s an incredible
privilege to work there. I work literally below – I work literally below Rembrandt, so one of the late
Rembrandt’s self-portraits. This is it – one of the late
Rembrandt’s self-portraits. This is where I work. (Laughter) Rembrandt is above me; there’s Rubens, there’s Velazquez, and there is – no, Velázquez
is somewhere else – and there is Vermeer. So I’m incredibly privileged
to work there. And, actually, and this is really
a coincidence to the date, today, October 17, 1891 – so 124 years ago, this place opened. So we are very engaged. We’re thinking about the past of museums,
the present of museums and the future of museums. We’re going to celebrate
our 25th anniversary next year, and this is why we’re very much
into this question of what the role of museums
could be and can be in society. The moment this museum opened, of course, was a moment
where the world was totally different. 1891. This is a drawing of the opening ceremony,
Emperor Franz Joseph being there, kind of opening his collection
for the masses. This was not the first
museum in the world. Museums started about 200 years earlier, in the late 17th century, and then, in the 18th century,
in the Age of Enlightenment, museums were opened
as a matter of educating the people. It was a democratic endeavor. It had to do with – people said, “Well, this is this incredible art, this is this incredible
knowledge of the past; I want to give this to everybody. Everybody should have access
to these places.” So museums like the British Museum opened in 1753, so Enlightenment on the way. The Louvre opened in 1793. Of course, this was
a revolutionary movement. It was really about, “Come on! Here’s this incredible treasure.
Come on in and share it with us.” Time changed, so some of the other big museums
that opened in the coming decades had somehow different perspectives. It was maybe, again, more, “I have the power, and I give you
the opportunity to look at my pieces, a bit.” So this is the Altes Museum in Berlin, 1830. Or we talk about the Metropolitan Museum
in New York, 1870. And the Metropolitan Museum
is a very interesting place. First of all, it has
about 10 million visitors a year. 10 million visitors go to this place,
go to an Old Master museum. Then, it is the biggest
museum in the world, and what they do –
everybody looks at what they do. And of course, it is the pivotal place for philanthropy. The Americans invented philanthropy. So it’s not only about power exerting some kind of “I know,
and I tell you what I know, and then you know too.” It’s also this philanthropic aspect
of “I have too much money on my account, so I want to give this to more people to experience these incredible,
precious moments.” What has changed? 2015, we’re obviously in the future. What has changed since then? Well, the people who opened
these museums up back then, they disappeared. The whole political system, the whole
societal structure changed a lot. Globalization is a very important element in terms of the real thing. If globalization also means that everything is
basically available everywhere, the real Bruegel
is only available at this place. The real, whatever, Gauguin,
Picasso – you name it – is available in one place. So it’s kind of anti-globalization. Of course, tourism changed,
migration changed. We have a UN now, by the way, and the UN, in 1984, said, “Everyone has the right
freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts, and to share in scientific
advancement and its benefits.” So this is in the UN Declaration
of Human Rights. It’s obviously important. These guys thought it’s important
to have access to the art to live a free life. Migration, tourism, a lot of things have changed
over the past decades since these big museums have opened. The number of visitors, of course,
has changed dramatically. The number of museums that have opened
has changed dramatically. 90 percent of the museums in Europe
were opened after the Second World War. So, it’s a big trend.
This is why we talk about it. This is why we think that museums
are very elementary parts of our society. So, this is the past,
this is how we came here. Now, what’s the big deal?
What’s the challenge? What are the questions
that we ask ourselves, the questions that we try to answer today? The first thing is access. Who gets into a museum? In many countries, museums are free. In even more countries, museums are, well,
not necessarily very expensive, but access to museums
costs between €15 and €25. So it’s not for free.
It’s a small investment. Maybe compared to a movie theater
with small popcorn and small Coca-Cola, it’s not so much,
but it’s a small investment. What about people who sit in Linz, going onto the website
of the Metropolitan Museum in New York and watching a piece of art there? Well, they’re also visitors. They also want to enjoy the art. Actually, this is an element, a small part, of a very famous painting
at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, called “The Tower of Babel,”
by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It’s about this size, and if you stand in front of it,
you feel something. This is an incredible painting. It’s an incredibly old painting –
it’s almost 400 years old. It has been very, very famous ever since, but still, if you go
on Google Art Project, you see things that you don’t see
when you stand there in real life. So what technology does and the possibility to sit in front
of your laptop computer anywhere – you can devour this piece maybe even better
than if you stand in front of it. This is a weird thing to say,
authentic versus not authentic, but this is something that will change the museum world
dramatically in the future: where people are
when they access museums, how expositions, how exhibitions
are put together. This is something where technology but also the ability of people to access
things from everywhere in the world will change what we do. Another thing that changes
is people’s expectations. So, as I said before,
some people come for the love, some people come for the food, some people come for the animals. 45 percent of the people
who go to Tate Modern come there for social reasons. This is Chris Dercon,
the then-director of Tate Modern, one of the most successful places in Europe, and they’ve actually been a bit depressed when they found out that 45 percent
of their audience comes for social causes because they put up
all this incredible art, and they do a lot of work
in curatorial, etcetera, stuff, and still people come
to hang out with friends. Well, this is a fact,
so let’s deal with it. Let’s create places that are open. Let’s create places
that invite people to come and share a good time with their friends. A massive thing is cultural, historical language,
religious background. If we compare the world of today
with the world 50 years ago, things have changed. Who would know why this guy up there – who’s, by the way, Maximilian I, emperor of a big empire – Why is he carrying a pomegranate? He probably never was in Israel
or in the Middle East to collect these. What does this mean? It’s very hard to find people
who know what this means. The lady on the top – I find this a very, very moving picture. Actually, she’s dying,
or she’s already dead. And some of you might not
have guessed it’s Cleopatra. Why didn’t you guess that it’s Cleopatra? Because you thought
Cleopatra had black hair, probably. Well, at that time,
they painted Cleopatra blond because they thought
it fitted her better. Who would know that? Who would not feel intimidated by a lady with a head and a sword? And what is this,
this Judith-Holofernes thing? Is this common knowledge? No, it’s not. So, what museums have to do now,
what galleries have to do now, they have to be much smarter
and much easier in helping people
to understand these pictures, helping people to get access
to these incredible works of art that were in the back of people’s minds,
many, many centuries, but this changed. The God of gods robbing a woman
by turning into a cloud. Okay, but you should know what this is
in order to understand the painting. Or maybe you don’t have to,
but it might be interesting. All this religious – all this religious iconography
that you find in museums is hard to explain to many, many,
many people who come to museums. If we talk about 50 percent tourism, if we talk about 50 percent
from totally other cultural spheres, we need some time, and they need to give us some time
to explain them who is torturing who, and why, in the end, does this poor boy have to carry a dress? Well, I can tell you later. When the briefing for the Kunsthistorisches Museum
in Vienna was written, which was about 1870, in the brief, they said, “When you come in, you should feel
small and insignificant.” Architects were very, very good,
so it still works today. And it’s actually a lot of barriers
that people have to overcome. It’s physical barriers. It’s hard to get in there
when you can’t walk very well. It’s hard to get in there
when you’re in a wheelchair. It’s hard to access the art
when you don’t see very well, when you don’t hear very well –
some other arts. So all museums, all curators everywhere are working very, very hard
to reduce the barriers, to give people an easier access
into these museums. Barriers are not only physical barriers but only the barrier
of “Am I smart enough?” If I go in with Aunt Susie
from Paris, and she asks me, “Uh, what do you think
about Renaissance and so?” would I feel embarrassed if I don’t know
so much about Renaissance? Probably. So this is another big challenge
that museums face today, is reducing the barriers,
making it easier for people. One last thing I want
to come to is technology. This is probably
the first selfie in the world, done by a guy called Parmigianino in 1523. He did this to be invited
to work for the pope. If you were Mona Lisa,
this is how the world looked like. You think this is what people look like? Because everybody stands there
in front of the Mona Lisa like this, doing a selfie. So another big challenge. What we want to achieve
with this, in the end, we want people to feel the love that we have for these objects. We want people to feel connected
to the art, feel connected to each other, and when they enter the place and they compare this to the moment
when they exit a museum, they should feel enriched
by whatever it is: being smarter, being more in love,
having had a good time – just leaving the place enriched. And I thank you very much
for your attention. (Applause)

4 thoughts on “The museum of the future – the museum of the world | Florian Pollack | TEDxLinz

  1. I love the museums he mentioned and many others. Would love to be able to travel more often and enjoy the socializing opportunities he mentions. Museums are timeless treasures.

  2. Why on earth would anyone give this a thumbs down? This is one of the best episodes of Ted. I can relate to everything this guys says.

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