A few weeks ago, I wrote about a man who found a fish fossil that provided surprising information on evolution. (Blog 7/2/15) It wasn’t the first time I’d read about some discovery found moldering in the bowels of a museum and I always have to ask myself, “How can an object be said to be discovered after it has been excavated, catalogued and stored in a museum?” Museums are meant to be keepers of knowledge not places where objects get buried, forgotten and lost.
In my untutored opinion, once an item has been discovered, it should stay discovered. I don’t expect chaos like the contents of my sock drawer.
In a recent article, Virginia Postrel complains that pieces in an art museum can suffer a similar fate. (“Art doesn’t belong in storage,” by Virginia Postrel, excerpted from BloombergView.com in The Week, June 19, 2015, pg. 10) Most of the country’s treasures, she insists, are gathering dust in museum basements. That means 95% of a collection is out of sight and “…the art-loving general public gets to look [at them] only every few decades, if ever.” (Ibid pg. 19)
As most museums are tax-payer subsidized, Postrel’s solution would be to sell much of this buried treasures to smaller museums where they would receive greater exposure and use the profits from these sales to offer free admission to the public. (Ibid 10)
Postrel’s suggestion makes sense. The admission price at my local museum, hardly a major institution, strikes me as prohibitive. When I raised my concern with the director, I received a stiff reply and the price of admission remained unaltered.
Like Posrel, I don’t mean to imply museums neglect their overflow. But smaller museums would air them more frequently and inventory wouldn’t get lost or forgotten. Under the present system, if it can be called a system, I wouldn’t be surprised to open the newspaper one day to read, “Forgotten Rembrandt, Discovered at the Metropolitan Art Museum.” Out of sight, out of mind shouldn’t be an organizational principal for a museum. It’s not even good enough for my sock drawer.