Exhibiting the German Past: Museums, Film, and Musealization ed. by Peter M. McIsaac and Gabriele Mueller (review)
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Reviewed by
Peter M. McIsaac and Gabriele Mueller, eds. Exhibiting the German Past: Museums, Film, and Musealization. University of Toronto Press. x, 302. $60.00

This edited collection explores the ever-blurring boundaries between museums and film through the common strategies they adopt to select, arrange, and frame objects. Centred on the concept of musealization, twelve intriguing chapters reveal the myriad ways by which these media represent and interpret the past, thereby shaping historical consciousness and collective memory.

A relatively recent term, musealization refers to what Andreas Huyssen called an "expansive historicism" and the related museum boom of the latter part of the twentieth century. The accelerating speed at which objects and practices became obsolete and thus subject to museological processes triggered a shifting sense of temporality, according to Huyssen, [End Page 277] and a feeling that musealization "had infiltrated all areas of everyday life." Germany is a rich context though which to explore such processes. As Annika Orich and Florentine Strzelczyk explain in their chapter, this country's interest in museums, and the Nazi past in particular, is "a manifestation of a larger cultural phenomenon that followed in the wake of German unification: the widespread fascination with history and memory."

The collection had its genesis in a network of scholars based at the Canadian Centre for German and European Studies at York University that culminated in an international conference. It includes scholars of German studies, art history, museum studies, international affairs, history, and sociology, representing primarily universities in North America and the United Kingdom.

Simon Ward explores the "urban museal gaze" through Wim Wenders' film Der Himmel über Berlin, seeing the film as an archive of an urban landscape that is "a repository of the past," ripe for "museal encounters." Mark Rectanus shifts the focus to Munich, illuminating the ways in which the "boundary zones" of BMW Welt, BMW Museum, and the Jewish Museum Munich are framed by cinematic discourses or practices.

Alice Kuzniar draws our attention to how the documentary film Unser täglich Brot "archives its subject matter neutrally" like "the visitor to the museum who is invited to distanced, clinical, educated observation." Her analysis raises questions about different modes of authenticity and their relative impact on the spectator. This theme returns in Catriona Firth's comparison of the musealization processes of Stefan Aust's book Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex and its film adaptation, and their respective claims to authenticity: the book presenting testimony and appealing to intellectual rationalism, while the film "uses mood and atmosphere to evoke an 'authentic feeling."' Stephan Jaeger, in turn, questions the extent to which creating authentic feelings through immersive experiences may come at the expense of historical analysis through a comparative analysis of TV doco, docudrama, and museum exhibits. Anne Winkler and Jonathon Bach explore the connections between materiality, embodied experience, and memory in the private/amateur GDR Museums (Museum of the Democratic Republic) that are challenging dominant discourses about life under socialism through their musealization of East Germany everyday life.

The final two chapters provide a welcome practitioner/scholar perspective: Michael Thomas Taylor and Annette F. Timm's reflections on the musealization of sex through their exhibition PopSex! and Peter Mänz's commentary on the exhibition Film at the Deutsche Kinemathek as an example of an object-based interpretation of film history. While the collection will be of interest to both scholars and practitioners, these two [End Page 278] contributions highlight the future potential of facilitating more dialogue between theory and practice. As a scholar/researcher with a strong interest in visitor experience, I was also disappointed by the lack of audience studies. Instead, the analyses of scholar/experts stand in for a generalized spectator, obscuring the possibilities of multiple viewer perspectives. Future work could be richly expanded by recent theories of visitor meaning-making and performativity from museum studies.

However, these are minor quibbles. The strength of the collection is its interdisciplinarity, enriching both museum and film studies, as well as related fields within cultural studies. It provides an invaluable insight into German perspectives for English-speaking readers and will interest both specialists and non-specialists in German history, film, or museums, as a fascinating insight...


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