In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Anthropological Quarterly 78.3 (2005) 697-708

[Access article in PDF]

Museums and Globalization

University of California, Los Angeles

It has now been almost fifteen years since Rosalind Krauss published her influential essay on the "cultural logic of the late capitalist museum" which identified a profound shift in both the identity of museums, and the increasingly corporate nature of the contexts in which they operate.1 From our vantage point today in the twenty-first century, museums appear to have completed this shift and firmly entered a new era of existence. Everywhere around us we see an increased public interest in museums, and a heightened role and renewed visibility for them in our society. Every year seems to bring either a new museum controversy, like the Sensation exhibit in Brooklyn, or a new mega-museum itself, always bigger and better than the last, like the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, or the Tate Modern in London. It is widely recognized that museums are central to urban redevelopment, and that the museum commission for an architect is considered the capstone of an architectural career. At the same time, the most recent economic downturn has led the media to increasingly speculate that museums are suffering from an identity crisis today, perched precariously at the financial brink while over-marketing their collections and sacrificing their institutional integrity.2 So what exactly is the nature of this new era, and how should [End Page 697] we critically approach these numerous and often contradictory trends? Clearly, there is no "pure" oppositional practice vis a vis the contemporary museum, that is to say, no museological context wholly uncontaminated by the circuits of capitalism, or the history of power of the western museum. How, then, should we begin to assess the range of emergent museum practices and counter-practices within an era of globalization? What standards of judgment are appropriate for this kind of critical task? And what is the role of the museum in the new public sphere dominated by globalization? Such questions, I argue, point to the necessity of a global perspective in a critical approach to museums today, one that is not exclusive to the logic of the art museum, but rather grounded in the dynamics of a broader emergent culture of exhibiting, and situated within a historical frame. By briefly examining the international practices of the Guggenheim Museum, in particular, I offer in this essay one critical approach to the phenomenon of the "globalising museum," and suggest the value of a postcolonial perspective for a museum studies that is relevant to the twenty-first century.

The McGuggenheim Effect

As Krauss recognized, the new era of the late capitalist museum was perhaps best embodied by the figure of Thomas Krens, the aggressive director of the Guggenheim Museum, who became somewhat of a Donald Trump or a Bill Gates of the museum world. Krens earned this reputation during the 1990's by presiding over a major expansion of the museum, an initiative he called the "Global Guggenheim," which many feel was unprecedented in the art museum world. When Krens arrived at the Guggenheim in 1988 at the age of forty-two, with an MBA from Yale instead of the requisite doctorate in Art History, the museum consisted of the famous Frank Lloyd Wright building in New York and a small subsidiary collection in Venice. Under Krens, the Guggenheim built new branches in New York's Soho, Berlin, Las Vegas and of course Bilbao, and pursued much-hyped additional projects in Venice, Brazil, Russia, and lower Manhattan. In an interview with Forbes Magazine in 1998, Krens continued to tick off the places he wished to see more Guggenheims installed: "Two or three institutions in South America," he boasted, as well as East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.3 Such bravado also drove several blockbuster shows at the New York Guggenheim under Krens like The Art of the Motorcycle in 1998 and Giorgio Armani in 2000/2001, an exhibition consisting famously of clothing made by the fashion designer. The official sponsor of the latter...