Author of Ashgate classic title The Museums of Contemporary Art, J Pedro Lorente, spoke at the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies at Newcastle University on Wednesday 17th June, giving a seminar on Open-air museums: a designation in vogue for public art in urban districts.
Art collections permanently exhibited in public spaces are sometimes called ‘open air museums”. This notion has been constructed over time, building on historical precedents and in dialectic interaction with other related concepts like ‘sculpture gardens’. The result is not a clear-cut definition, but a changing perception, carrying diverse connotations according to different languages and cultural contexts. The modern paradigm was set by Middelheim Open Lucht Museum created in 1950 by the municipality of Antwerp in a suburban park, emulated in the French-speaking University of Liège, since the creation in 1977 of a Musée en Plein Air in the campus of Sart Tilman; some features were slighly different in another famous instance, the Musée de sculpture à plein air de la Ville de Paris, inaugurated in 1980 on a riverbank between Île Saint-Louis and the Gare d’Austerlitz. But the triumph of a post-modern return to the city centre was heralded by the founding in 1972-79 of the polemical Museo de Escultura al Aire Libre in Madrid. Its influence has been enormous in Spain and other Latin countries, where many collections of public art gathered as part of urban regeneration processes have been proudly labeled as museums. Are they?
Where, how, by whom and for what were the first museums of contemporary art created? These are the key questions addressed by Pedro Lorente in this new and expanded edition of his groundbreaking 1998 study, Cathedrals of Urban Modernity. In it he explores the concept and history of museums of contemporary art, and the shifting ways in which they have been imagined and presented. The first part of the book examines the paradigm of the Musée des Artistes Vivants in Paris and its equivalents in the rest of Europe during the nineteenth century. The second part, consisting of entirely new material, takes the story from 1930 to the present. An epilogue reviews recent museum developments in the last decades.