Tag Archives: museums

Collecting and playfulness

9 May

One of the collector cards from our game

We’re working on a big digital project at Wellcome Collection this year (and you’re going to hear lots more about it in October, I promise). We’ve been working in partnership with Brighton agency Clearleft on a process which began with some pretty vaguely-defined objectives for a digital product, and is now in code production.

The project itself and what we’re designing is pretty exciting. But so has the process. There’s been a lot of brainstorming and ideation, with workshops and idea generation sessions forming part of a process in which we come up with lots of ideas, winnow down to the ones that we think will work and are testable, and then develop them.

A lot of these exercises have been quite playful. Not strictly as games, but elements of exchange, competition, scoring and teams have been present throughout. And why should we have all the fun? We wanted to spread the joy, and communicate some of the more playful aspects of what’s sometimes been a difficult project to our colleagues. So for one of our monthly divisional meetings here at the Trust, we devised a game to help us think about one of the subjects we’re tackling in the project: collecting, the history of collecting, and the reasons why people collect things.

We based the game on Alex Moseley‘s excellent ‘Curate-a-fact’, as played by delegates to the Museums Computer Group ‘UK Museums on the Web’ conference last year. But (without even asking Alex) we mixed it all up and added an extra dimension to Alex’s game, making some players collectors and others objects. The rules went like this:

  • There are two packs of cards, ‘object cards’ and ‘collector’ cards; both are blank on the reverse.
  • The cards are mixed with a ratio of about 5 objects to each collector, to a total of the number of players
  • A single card is dealt to each player, face down & site unseen; players turn over the cards to begin
  • Collectors must collect five people holding object cards to form a collection
  • Objects do not automatically have to join a collection: they can look at other objects in the collection & decide whether or not to join that collection
  • Once collected, collectors may trade people holding object cards with other collectors
  • Rogue objects may form collections without collectors
  • Once collections are complete, the collectors must explain why they have collected what they have collected and what the collection says about them.

And here are the two packs of cards we used: the objects (PDF, 6.5MB) and the collectors (PDF, 500KB). The objects are a pretty idiosyncratic bunch: any set from your own collection would work as well.

Funnily enough, when we told Alex what we’d done, he told us that his original conception for curate-a-fact had included collectors as well as objects, but that he found in larger groups the collectors dominated.  With a roomful of about 30 people, we assembled five good collections (including one rogue one without a collector), and found some very enthusiastic collectors. Vanity, recategorisation and repurposing of objects all played a role in their collections’ stories, as they have historically with all collectors.

My main learning from this is that if it was my dayjob to make & adapt games for my colleagues to play, I’d be a very happy man. More seriously, I think that we need more appreciation of the role that playfulness and games play inside organisations both in developing projects and in communicating them. I’d be very interested to hear from anyone else in cultural heritage organisations who have used games and play internally in this way.


Seven takeaways from Museums and the Web 2013

23 Apr
Digital curating panel, illustration by Paige Dansinger

Digital curating panel, illustration by Paige Dansinger

I didn’t have any takeaways in Portland; one night I didn’t even eat dinner, and I didn’t get any Voodoo Donuts either. But I did go to some great sessions, meet some great people, and learn some interesting stuff. What follows is personal reflection as much as dissemination; there’s stuff to return to here.

The instrumentality of strategy. I’m writing a digital strategy at the moment. It’s not the most fun I’ve ever had. I’ve heard a lot of people in other organisations say that you don’t need a digital strategy: you need an engagement strategy, a communications strategy, or just an institutional  strategy. But one of the themes that emerged during the session on strategy was the use of digital strategies within institutions as a means of acquiring resources, attention, or recognition. It might seem arse-about-face, but the commonality of the experience (and I can feel the truth of it in my own situation) suggests that it’s not necessarily perverse, perhaps just part of the growing pains of digital departments. Sarah Hromack‘s excellent Institutional Strategy Digest zine launched at the session added a much-needed dose of humour to a topic that’s highly susceptible to pomposity.

Gamification fireworks. In a session variously titled ‘Let the Games Begin‘ or ‘Put a badge on it’, the debate kicked off as soon as the panellists started speaking. Bruce Wyman put the case for a behavioural economics of museums based not on the bottom line of cheap entry and bargains but on meaningful long-term relationships with museums. Sharna Jackson retorted that whatever the merits of the approach, it had nothing to do with games, and that badge systems often lead to karma-whoring behaviour that has serious consequences in situations like the Boston bombings. Kate Haley Goldman (who knows her games) valiantly tried to steer a middle course, but the debate was already spilling out onto the floor and into the backchannel. It was agreed at least that we may be approaching ‘peak badges’. It’s reassuring to see the critical spirit alive and kicking at Museums and the Web, not merely accepting every new innovation that the Masters of the Valley hand down.

Collaboration rules. Both the workshop I ran and the paper I presented were collaborations with people from othe institutions; the workshop with Sharna Jackson, the paper with the redoubtable Suse Cairns. Both were facilitated by the standard suite of cloud-based collaboration tools that we take for granted: gdocs, skype, dropbox. More importantly, collaboration was essential to the development of ideas. When you’re working with someone towards a definition of a shared project, there are many modes in which you can operate. Sometimes you try to write down what you think they’re already thinking (and sometimes fail); sometimes you get to try your ideas out before they’re fully formed; you can take it in turns to lead the process. Most importantly, your paper or presentation goes beyond just trying to fill your audience’s cup with the knowledge you have, and moves towards making and thinking new things.

I curate, you’re irate, we debate. The presentation Suse and I made of our paper on curation was a show of two halves. I tried to outline some art and museum-based models of curation, from Harald Szeemann to Iris Barry, that should inform what people do when they seek to ‘curate’ the plenipotent digital world; Suse offered a set of models from that very world that we might better take cognisance of within museums. It was gratifying that the ideas had some traction – Koven proposed a salon session immediately following, to carry on the discussion. Some of the debate felt stuck at the level of defining expertise; Seb Chan perhaps struck a nail on the head when he said that the difference between inside and outside museums was an question of the scale of the material. The best moments for me were when professional curators from outside the web/tech milieu made interventions stressing the importance of understanding curation historically rather than as a static practice. There’s an itch there that needs to be scratched some more.

Conversation as inspiration. Jennifer Trant always used to say that if you have the option of going to a session or having a conversation with a fellow delegate, have the conversation. I’m not scoffing at that after I randomly fell into a mind-blowing 90-minute conversation with Aaron Cope on Saturday lunchtime that began with Roombas then took in curation, artisanal integers, design chairs, savage modernism, raging at the sky, International Art English, rogue routers and the nature of collections data. Other excellent conversations were had with Annie Conway, Doug Mcfarlane, Ian Edelman, Ryan Donohue, Alan Hook, Oonagh Murphy, Seb Chan, Tim Lee, Paul Rowe, and Dave Patten.

All the world’s a stage. Larry Friedlander’s opening keynote proposed immersion as the keystone of on-site digital experiences. If some of his AR examples were unconvincing, the logic of the argument that in a world swimming in images we need to see anew through strength of experience was watertight. The closing plenary brought Punchdrunk producer Diane Borger to the ballroom via Facetime to discuss the success of Sleep No More as an immersive experience. Though the idea of bringing theatre to museums is undeniably thought-provoking, the MW audience was perhaps conditioned to see theatrical productions in terms of sets: the object as prop. I wonder whether there might be other kinds of less glamourously fictive theatre that we can also learn from, such as the verbatim theatre work of Jonathan Holmes, that begins with some of the same concerns as museums (history, evidence, people) to deliver theatrical experiences.

An arcade epiphany I’ve been producing & commissioning games for Wellcome Collection for 3 years now, but I’ve always had a touch of imposter syndrome about not being a real ‘gamer’, just someone who ‘gets it’. On Saturday night in Portland’s Ground Kontrol (in the company of genuinely awesome games people Sharna and Erica), a retro arcade bar stacked with classic pintables and original video game cabinets, as I aced the first light bike level on the original Tron game, I realised that video games really are and have been my thing. My own embodied understanding of ‘low latency’ is the fire button on Galaga, hammered with a flat hand. Arcade classics like this are islands in my childhood, in the brutalist concrete shopping mall I grew up near, in the strange hotels we stayed at on school trips. But I’m still shit at Donkey Kong.


29 Oct
Wordle from the final text of my dissertation.

Wordle from the final text of my dissertation.

I finished my Masters. Completed my dissertation on a laptop trembling on the verge of implosion, handed it in and…. even the expected anticlimax (no mark or overall grade for several months) was anticlimactic. In a few days my library card runs out and I’m back to being a pleb, begging for articles on #ICanHazPDF. In lieu of any tangible sense of achievement, I only have reflections on the experience.

I think I made the right choice of course. Not only because studying bang on the doorstep of work makes it easier to get to the library in the lunch break; I’m glad I didn’t choose  distance learning. There’s something about the immanent presence of other people that makes learning easier for me. People to bounce ideas off, to contradict , to find out more about, with different backgrounds and opinions, make all the difference. There were only a couple of places this didn’t work. The core course was taught by ten tutors in rotation, so none ever really got as far as getting the hang of the classroom dynamic; one other course was taught lecture-style rather than seminars. Facing front, we could hardly see each others’ faces, let alone start conversations.

I’m also glad that I chose an interdisciplinary course rather than a ‘museum studies’ course. The genesis of the Birkbeck course seems to have been a shared interest in something like ‘the problem of museums’ across several departments, rather then being rooted in archaeology or curation (although a lot of it was broadly in the area of art history). It didn’t feel like a museum career course as much as some others I looked at. Nevertheless, as part of the core course we did have to sit through a couple of slightly painful practical sessions on ‘how to get a job in a museum’. If I wanted to ‘get a job in a museum’ I wouldn’t start by doing any kind of museum course – I’d start by learning to do something useful that a museum needs, like being a press officer, a marketer, an educator, a conservationist, or even a website editor.

I was lucky enough to be able to do a module at UEL; Birkbeck organised the exchange of students with another new kid on the MAs-in-cultural-heritage block. How different two London universities can be. From the 19th century cosiness of Bloomsbury to new buildings on freezing docksides, rattled by planes landing at City Airport every few minutes. UEL felt part of a different London: less affluent, less white, less secure. But classes were twice as long, discussions longer and more divergent; sometimes watching entire films. Tutors who were more politically committed, practicing artists. Even the idea of ‘visual culture’ seemed to mean something different, more steeped in an explicitly political legacy of cultural studies, than it did at Birkbeck.

There were some crossovers with my day job – I wrote module essays on the Wellcome Library’s collection of AIDS posters, and on video games. A few colleagues very kindly read chapters of my dissertation. But in most ways, my professional and academic worlds remained separate. Something about being a student made me keen to present at academic conferences, and to extend my thinking about my work into areas closer to my study. In other ways the situation that Suse Cairns describes herself in, the critically engaged museum outsider, was reversed for me – attached to an institution I have a solid but non-academic authority to speak or write about my professional practice; being a postgraduate student changed a lot of my feelings and motivations, but added little to any authority I have to talk even about my own work.

On a mundane level the technology of study had changed immensely since I was last writing academic essays; and yet a lot hadn’t. Literature scrobblers like Mendeley and bibliographic management tools like Zotero make a huge difference to discovering and managing sources, but when it comes to spitting those sources out into footnotes and bibliographies, the limitations of referencing seemed painful. Such fine distinction between different types of printed journal and so little between vastly varying types of online sources (and a feeling, somehow hammered in an academic induction, that tutors would regard too many URLs-as-references as a sign of laziness). I spent a lot of time wishing I could just add hyperlinks to the text.

Writing the dissertation was a lonely business. Weeknights reading until my coffee-bulging eyes defocused; Saturdays spent spreading my papers out across a meeting room at work instead of playing with my son. (Protip for Bloomsbury-based students: work in the Wellcome Library. It’s spacious, peaceful, quiet and free to join.) Academic writing itself has both pleasures and pains. Precision requires discipline: you can’t afford to gloss over fuzzy thought with clever language; but few kinds of writing are worse than essays that have never been read aloud to hear how they sound. One of the biggest pains is that the writing you try so hard at is ultimately read by so few people.

Given the tedious way in which some quarters  of academia never stop banging on about it, it pains me slightly to say this, but twitter was really useful. People answered questions, responded to provocations, lecturers shared reading lists, artists put me in touch with curators, and researchers shared articles I didn’t have access to. An academic I have still never met in person gave me the most useful and detailed feedback on a chapter I had. Sometime I should make a separate list of people that I follow just because I quoted them in essays (based on what they actually tweet, it would be a very odd list).

I find myself asking what difference it’s all has made. I’ve learned a lot, including how to study; but study is really only its own end. Though it wasn’t really intended to, it might have opened up new career possibilities, even if I’m not sure exactly what. I met many interesting people, both students and tutors, and got a chance to put on a film show, which is always fun. Now, after nearly two years, I can read novels again without either guilt or impatience. In the first week after I submitted, I found myself wandering around bookshops and libraries, looking for things to be interested in next. Processing, insects, microbiological images all suggest themselves. But no more essays just yet.

Screening the Museum

3 Jul
Elizabeth Price: User Group Disco

Elizabeth Price: User Group Disco

Screening the Museum, a programme of artists’ film and video about museums, took place at the Birkbeck Cinema on Gordon Square on Friday 29th June 2012. It was programmed by me and presented by Suzannah Biernoff and me, with Laura Mulvey introducing the second session.

The films in the programme all took museums and collections as their subject in one way or another, from the examination and animation of objects to the museum as a site of interaction, to the critique of museum institutions.

The running order for the first session, a compilation of shorts, was:

Mouse Heaven, Dir Kenneth Anger, 2004, 11 mins

While Darwin Sleeps, Dir Paul Bush, 2004, 5 mins

The Phantom Museum, Dir Quay Brothers, 2003, 12 mins

Narrative Remains, Dir Karen Ingham, 2009, 12 mins

Museum of Stolen Souls, Dir Chris Elliott, 1993, 7 mins

Historia Naturae (Suita), Dir Jan Švankmajer, 1967, 9 mins

Monkey King Causes Havoc in the Heavenly Palace, Dirs Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi, 2004, 10 mins

Every Painting in the MoMA on 10 April 2010, Dir Chris Peck, 2010, 2 mins

Museum Hours (Preview), Dir Jem Cohen, 2012, 7 mins

Hole, Dir Adam Chodzko, 2007, 12 mins [excerpt]

User Group Disco, Dir Elizabeth Price, 2009, 15 mins

After a short break, Laura Mulvey introduced a fascinating film she made with Mark Lewis at the moment of the USSR’s collapse in 1991:

Disgraced Monuments, Dirs Laura Mulvey and Mark Lewis, 1994, 50 mins

and discussion of its implications continued apace over wine and food in the Gordon Square basement.

Links above to online versions of the films screened are offered in the following spirit:

The difference between watching a postcard-sized, poor resolution image of a film and truly experiencing that film can be correlated to students with seeing a photograph (or photocopy!) of a painting vs. the genuine item. Teach this as a form of media literacy.

which is from Jem Cohen’s The Double {+} Anchor: Notes Towards a Common Cause, a manifesto for the support of independent artists’ moving image well worth reading (we were very pleased to be screening films from LUX artists moving image collection and to have their support for the programme).

You can download the programme notes (pdf).

My interest is (natch) particularly in the work of (experimental) moving image artists who take the museum as their subject of representation. If you’re interested in the broader field of interaction between cinema and museums, check out the programme of last year’s conference Moving Image and Institution: Cinema and the Museum in the 21st Century to see who’s working on what in the field.

Public photography in museums: a survey

14 Sep
The Coral Reef

The Coral Reef by Doilum, on Flickr

I’ve been thinking a lot about personal photography and museums recently. As a civilian photographer it’s become a habit to ask, as soon as I enter a museum, ‘what’s your photography policy?’ And while I’m frequently pleasantly surprised to find that the policy is ‘please take photographs’, I’m also often surprised to have to sign a contract or wear a special sticker to be able to take photographs in a (usually publicly-funded museum). It’s sometimes baffling, and a little frustrating.

At the same time, in my professional life I run more than a few Flickr pools, where I actively solicit photographs taken in or around my museum.This is a bog-standard activity for most museums these days, and for museum staff who prize ‘social’ (which is usually to say: online community-based) interactions with their audiences, photography can be very important.

In order to try to unpick this apparent contradiction, I recently disseminated a short survey to museum professionals in an attempt to understand the current status of public photography in museums. I particularly wanted to find out what the factors determining permission to take photographs are, and whether they were in flux. The sample wasn’t particularly large or scientific [1], but I think I got a large enough set of responses (52) to get a sense of some interesting answers. I asked four questions: results and short commentary follow; there’s a longer interpretation at the end.

As a civilian photographer, I found the results encouraging — it looks like the pendulum is swinging towards greater permission for photography. As a museum professional, I found it slightly less encouraging: I think there are some barriers to greater photographic freedom that I have less power over and will be harder to dismantle.

1. Is photography permitted in permanent exhibitions in your gallery?

Over half the museums responding indicated that photography was permitted, and that their understanding of ‘personal’ use included posting photos to social websites. Reasons for complication included loan objects in permanent collections, and official ambivalence:

“allowed for non-commercial purposes”

“officially it’s prohibited but staff are allowed to turn a blind eye”

2. Is photography permitted in temporary exhibitions in your gallery?

Temporary exhibitions present a very different picture. Prohibition and complication together form the majority of cases, with less than a quarter of museums freely permitting personal/social photography.

The reason for complication? Overwhelmingly, restrictions are external to the institution itself:

“depends on the owner(s) of the displayed objects”

“photographic restriction from the lender”;

“depends on the temporary exhibition and the policy of the lender of individual objects or whole exhibitions”

“depends on the restrictions required by borrowers”

“depends on any restrictions placed by artists, funders or lenders”

“some touring exhibitions don’t allow photography”.

The significant difference between permanent and temporary exhibitions suggests that this isn’t a conservation issue but one of intellectual property rights. Particularly where a temporary exhibition involves loans from multiple sources or commercial galleries and  contemporary artists, public photography seems tricky to broker. It probably isn’t at the top of most exhibition organisers’ priority lists either.

But is this a static state of affairs? I also asked:

3. Has your photography policy changed in the last three years?

The results suggest that the situation is in flux, and that museums and galleries are moving towards a more photographically permissive environment.

Lastly, I asked for general comments.

4. Is there anything else about photography in your gallery or museum that you’d like to add?

These fall into a number of categories.

Straightforward issues of access:

“Especially for paper objects it’s a wonderful non-damaging way for people to take copies away with them.”

Institutional complications:

“For loans from other institutions we need to change the policy”

A suggestion, opposed to the general utopian current of capturing and sharing, that photography might be a mildly antisocial activity:

“A lot of visitors do not even ask if photography is permitted, but assume that they have a right to photograph any thing that they wish. Are there any suggested formula for a notice explaining the restrictions especially if other visitors are captured in the shots”

The disproportionate use of institutional resources in policing any policy.

“It may be all well and good to have a policy but policing it, especially if restrictive, is another matter entirely! Resource intense”

An awareness of the online ‘social’ environment.

“We have several Flickr pools into which we invite images, some of which are of the venue/gallery”


“Very hard to stop now with the spread of smartphones.”

A recognition of the distinct natures of photography and museums (my personal favourite)

“photography posted online or in print is neither a substitute for the museum experience, nor threat to attendance”


What might all this mean? Photography is rapidly evolving as a digital and social artform. ‘Personal’ photographs aren’t kept in lonely handfuls in albums any more waiting for their annual viewing to relatives; they’re published, labelled, tagged and discussed, part of an ongoing flow of conversation involving text and images. Perhaps you could say that ‘interpersonal photography’ has replaced ‘personal’ photography.

Photography in museums can therefore also be a complex thing. When you’re taking a photograph, you could be doing any one of a number of things, not just ‘capturing’ but also interpreting. You might be:

  • Making a ‘copy’ of the artwork/object you’re looking at for later contemplation
  • Capturing a moment: the moment of the visit; or a temporary exhibition
  • Sharing the experience of visiting a museum with friends, communities of interest, and strangers
  • Interpreting a work or object that you’re looking at: using a photograph to understand what you’ve seen

The results of the survey seem to me to reinforce an almost cruel irony. The museum objects which you are allowed to photograph are often those least in need of personal capture and interpretation (they’re always there, many images of them already exist, they have been catalogued and interpreted) whereas the things that might benefit most from personal photography are those to which there is least access.

It’s quite easy to take pictures of objects at the V&A, for example: individual objects which are on permanent display and have already been photographed many times before.  By contrast, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s temporary exhibition at the Serpentine is large, complex, immersive and will soon disappear, but photography is strictly forbidden.[2] You just have to look at the selection of photos on Flickr taken in Mike Nelson’s Coral Reef installation to see the layers of meaning and interpretation that mass social photography can bring to a rich, allusive work of contemporary art.

The ubiquity of multipurpose mobile devices makes things more difficult. It’s going to be hard for museums to be plastering their objects and displays with QR codes at the same time as attempting to restrict the use of the only device that can make sense of a QR code (a digital camera).

Outside in the real world, street photography is booming, but pervasive digital imaging has also become cause for conflict. In some places photography is seen as an essentially suspect activity, framed by an ‘anti-terror’ agenda. The response from amateur photographers has been to organise pressure groups, and also to inform themselves of their rights, sometimes in the form of a ‘bust card’ that contains a lawyerly summary of photographers’ rights which can be used in negotiation with representatives of authority. Interestingly, this particular bust card includes a passage that could easily be taken to refer to most public exhibitions, whether permanent or temporary.

It is not an infringement of copyright to take photographs of buildings, sculptures and works of artistic craftsmanship that are permanently situated in a public place or in premises that are open to the public.

So while the results of the survey seem to demonstrate that museums understand that the issue is ‘rights’ in the intellectual property inside the museum; whether this is compatible with the ‘rights’ of the public to capture and interpret their world, including its cultural heritage, through photography is less certain.

I’d be very interested to hear of others’ experiences and viewpoints, both from photographers and museum professionals. Post in the comments below, or talk to me on twitter.

[1] I disseminated the survey through my personal networks of professional contacts on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, The Museums Computer Group JISCMail list, and the Museum 3 community. The small sample was balanced, including both big and small museums, art galleries and social history museums.

[2] I’ve been inspired by this exercise to try and make a much clearer and more welcoming statement about photography for my own institution. (Now everybody else just has to do the same thing & make them machine-readable using a universally-agreed XML standard.)

Google Art Project vs the Delirious Museum

31 May
Now you see it, now you don’t. Henri Rousseau and friend on Google Art Project

Now you see it, now you don’t. Henri Rousseau and friend on Google Art Project

Google Art Project uses ‘Street View’ technology, but the street ends where the museum begins. Step over the threshold from Millbank into Tate Britain and you leave the world of pedestrians and traffic behind, entering an eerie and deserted gallery space devoid of fellow visitors or even staff, where crude arrows take you from silent room to silent room. You are invited to respond by conducting a series of imaginary art heists to assemble your own fantasy art collection.

It’s a cliché that modernism privileges visuality, but start exploring the MoMA with Art Project and there are some paintings you literally cannot see; works that due to the exploitability of their image rights elsewhere have been rendered fat with pixels like innocent faces in a cop-stop-action show on Channel 5. They exist, and occupy their rightful space in the museum, that you can be sure of; you are merely not allowed to look at them.

It shouldn’t really be a surprise that this particular vision of the museum as a visually portable feast of pick’n’mix delights is more than eighty years old. In 1930 Frederick Kiesler imagined it like this:

The Telemuseum. Just as operas are now transmitted over the air, so picture galleries will be. From the Louvre to you, from the Prado to you, from everywhere to you. You will enjoy the prerogative of selecting pictures that are compatible with your mood or that meet the demands of any special occasion. Through the dials of your Teleset you will share in the ownership of the world’s greatest art treasures.

This dream of the Telemuseum is realised perfectly by Google Art Project: a device that negates the distance between the remote user and the museum and removes in the process everything but the flat, visual surface of gallery space. Modern painting, historically obsessed with the visual field, canonically displayed in the Modern museum, is teleported to the viewer to experience it in visual purity.

Kiesler’s fantasy is quoted (p59) in Calum Storrie’s The Delirious Museum, a book with a very different approach to the idea of the museum. Storrie begins with the contention that ‘museums should be a continuation of the street’ and that a museum should not only form an accessible part of the city, but also form a continuation of the city itself. In twelve chapters leading from the Louvre to Las Vegas, Storrie develops a history and theory of the ‘delirious museum’ that takes in theft of the Mona Lisa by an Italian nationalist; Benjamin’s Arcades; Marcel Duchamp’s museum-in-a-suitcase; Shwitters’ adventures in personal mythology and museology; Chris Burden’s Samson (a work in which a museum entrance turnstile ratchets timbers outwards, warping and potentially destroying the fabric of the museum itself); Daniel Libeskind’s totemic, increasingly self-referential architecture; and ends (nearly) with the Museum of Jurassic Technology, a Culver City storefront outfit that is at once both oddball Wunderkammer and critique of the idea of memory. This is an underground history of museums that, if you like, runs parallel to the second half of Karsten Schubert’s The Curator’s Egg.

The Delirious Museum is, in art and architecture, all that attempts to broach the classical facades of institutions of art and antiquity and inject something of lived life back into the museological space. Some of these sallies are nakedly political, like the Situationist assault on the spectacle; others are merely concerned with the artistic; once or twice we cross the dreary river of ‘institutional critique’, the gallery’s attempt to reify theory; and three chapters on museum architecture serve only to convince that the yolk of a museum remains infinitely more interesting than the shell. Impossible to realise, the Delirious Museum (like Malraux’s ‘Museum without walls’) is something that can only exist in a book; but it’s a guidebook that also offers us an idea of what we should be demanding from museums.

Storrie goes nowhere near the digital: his delirium remains grounded in the spatial and personal experience of the museum environment. But these tendencies to critique, and more importantly to the expansion of the museum into everyday life are not without their online manifestations. It’s true that net.art remains the great unrealised promise of the internet setting art free, a promise that over-sponsored pixel-pretty shows like Decode fail to redeem. But when with even modest technological means at their disposal museums are capable of opening up photographic archives to the public, teaching science through games, making curatorial processes transparent through blogs and asking the public to contribute to exhibitions years before they open, it seems odd that Google Art Project should feel so like a CD-ROM, the kind of representation of a gallery that those of us who work with museums online for a living had abandoned before the first dotcom bubble even burst. Why has the world’s leading technology company delivered us a ‘virtual museum’ that belongs to the 1930s?