What makes a museum?

In conversation at the Neues Museum, Berlin

Earlier this year museum visiting the acclaimed Museum Insel in Berlin, I ducked in at the Alte Nationalgalerie. To browse at leisure through it’s rich collection of  Romantic and Impressionist paintings and sculptures.

In the entrance hall, “STOP!!”, commanded a staff member. “All coats MUST be deposited at the cloakroom.”

This essential cloakroom turned out to be a little hole in a wall tucked into one side of the lobby. It’s entrance like the narrow one-man-only corridors in medieval forts. A hassled lady stood behind the desk while groups of excited schoolkids meleed around for their coats and bags.
Feeling from this moment on that this was not the right place to soak in art, I ventured in further nevertheless.

Inside the museum continued in a similar vein. Poorly planned, badly lit, over heated and rudely staffed. Its  Constables and unparalleled collections of German Impressionist painters made it a treasure trove, yet barely half an hour later, I was standing outside.

History and art had lost to the quality of the experience.


Part of me thinking it might just be pleasanter to find a nice Coffee Shop, I walked over next to the Neues Museum. The Neues Museum is located on the same plaza. Standing physically at 90 degrees to the Alte Nationalgalerie. As an experience it proved to be a full 180 degrees different.


“Hallo!” smiled the man at the entrance as he let me into the large foyer.

There I was free to meander and explore.


I joined a stream of happy visitors, engrossed in the Art. Surrounded by priceless statues and objects from ancient Egypt, some of the earliest human creations. Including the exquisite statue of Nefertiti. In terms of importance in art, just this one statue could have perhaps competed with a whole floor of art in the previous Museum.


A couple of hours later, mentally saturated, I still didn’t want to leave. And next time in Berlin I’ll be back there.

So what makes a museum?

Is it the quality of its collections or the quality of the experience?

What is the purpose of a museum?

Is it only to collect and save or is it also to interest and involve?

Does art stored in vaults serve a purpose or is art valuable only when it is viewed, interacted with? When it is loved and appreciated.






3 Comments Add yours

  1. I do like the British Museum but my favourite in London is the V&A. Have you been? My favourite part in the Islamic middle east gallery’s Ardibil Carpet (in case you’ve not been http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/a/ardabil-carpet/) They have very comfortable sofas all around it and there is a lovely atmosphere there.
    The cafes and Restaurants there are great too!


    1. I did spend a morning at V&A as well. Not possible to do justice to either museum in the limited time I was in London for.
      And I do so appreciate plenty of comfortable seating in museums & galleries! 🙂 Will keep an eye out for the Ardibil Carpet next time I’m there.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Vismita says:

    Art comes alive when we interact with it and a special relationship is formed between us and the art in that moment. Museums must nurture this relationship by providing the right ambience. I have always loved visiting the National Museum in New Delhi – such a great collection. But I always left feeling that so much more could be done to make it a richer experience. Thanks for this article.

    Liked by 1 person

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