Why do museums collect?

Museums collect artifacts for the education and enjoyment of the public. Artifacts have their own stories to tell, and the research yields new discoveries about their secrets and the people that had them. It is a museums mission to procure, preserve, exhibit, and interpret these objects. A museum should strive to reflect the diversity in its artifact collections.

There is something human about our desire to collect and display things. One of the earliest collections recorded was in ancient Babylon. Princess Ennigaldi, the daughter of King Nabonidus, who ruled the Neo-Babylonian Empire in the 6th century BC had collected and even curated Mesopotamian artifacts with origins spanning 1,500 years. We also know that in the 16th century we had cabinets of curiosities that were dedicated to housing unusual artifacts from works of art to natural history items. Eventually, this led to the forming of what we call museums today. The importance of these public institutions is needed now more than ever before to preserve our history and the history of different cultures and individuals. In addition to curating collections and making them available to the masses, many museums are utilizing new technologies to transform their public programs, digitize their collections, and share their research on the collections they have. With these modern methods, museums are able to engage audiences in new ways and extend their missions beyond their walls of the museum. We know today that many of the collections procured in the past may not have been procured in the right manner, and this is the duty of the curators and those connected to the collections to create something beneficial to the display for the public and the history of the owner to have an opportunity for sharing the works and continue the research occurring with the artifacts.

So, we have to ask ourselves what we can learn from the collections in the museums. Katy Barrett (2013) provides insight into this concept. “Objects give us a special kind of access to the past. They allow us to touch (within careful parameters usually) something that was used by people, and thus get a physical feel for their lives. We can learn about past societies’ values from what they kept, and what materials they made things from – or about daily life from such simple things as cooking utensils and furniture. Objects bear the marks of how they’ve been used, giving us access to ideas that may have been too fundamental to a person’s life ever to have been written down. The wear and tear on books can show us how people read them, with some even showing the rust marks of the knife used to cut the pages in an era when text was printed on large sheets of paper which were folded the size of the finished book.” Collections are vital to the continued development of histories and without them, much history could be lost. Museums are now challenged by decreased artifacts for collections. This is due primarily to financial challenges for procurement as well as continued preservation. What we are now challenged with is what will happen if museums stop colleting, or if they stop showing exhibits? Will we lose portions of our history?


Barrett, K. (2013 November 26). University of Cambridge Research: We ask the experts why do we put things into museums. Retrieved from https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/we-ask-the-experts-why-do-we-put-things-into-museums.




As far as the article that I wanted to share with you this week was the opening of the immersive Van Gogh exhibit. This really shows the way that modern technology can help museums reach a whole new audience and show them the world of art in todays world especially dealing with Covid. The exhibit sits at the crossroads of film and immersive experiential entertainment, as described. It really is a new way of experiencing art, and the buildings themselves and the architecture is an active participant in the art. Then there’s roughly 500,000 cubic feet of projection with 9 million pixels. If you’re a true technique geek and interested in looking at Van Gogh’s brush strokes, paint speckles and all of the details of his technique, you’ll see it blown up on a 50-foot by 200-foot wall and experience his paintings like you never have before.

QUESTION: What do you think of this way to experience an exhibit? Would you go to this show?
















2 Thoughts to “CURATION DISCUSSION #5”

  1. Angela Linn

    Thanks for bringing this up Michael! It’s so interesting that another exhibit is looking to explore the art of Van Gogh in an immersive way. Four years ago the Anchorage Museum hosted another Van Gogh exhibit that was touring the world: https://www.anchoragemuseum.org/exhibits/van-gogh-alive-the-experience/

    These “blockbuster” exhibits have been all the rage for the past few decades. I find that it brings up two questions for me. Do these kinds of exhibits belong in museums, where the point is supposed to be that we’re coming to see the real objects, or should they be part of a more public location? Should these kind of displays be considered Time-Based Media Art (which we’ll learn more about in Module 10) and entirely new and original works that are almost “sampling” historical works like musicians sample musical phrases?

    I also worry about the accessibility of these types of blockbuster shows, for which a visitor is charged an additional fee (often of at least another $20 on top of a $20 admission fee to the museum). Understandably a museum must cover the astronomical cost of renting these shows, but by charging that additional fee, they are excluding a large portion of their visitors who are either unable or unwilling to pay. Doesn’t this reinforce the exclusiveness that museums say they’re trying to move away from?

  2. Barbara Long

    Good Evening,

    Awesome post! I do not think that we would loose parts of our history. I believe that humans will always find away to incorporate histories in other forms. It just may not be a museum. From the beginning, humans have been adaptable and seeking new ways to express, convey, and to relay their narratives and histories through multiple mediums. This has been past down through generations, along with their material culture. Thanks for sharing.

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