Museums are where we put our best stuff. An item might belong in a museum if it’s rare, expensive, irreplaceable, or so ordinary and beloved it becomes extraordinary. A self-portrait by Vincent Van Gogh, a can of SPAM, a Romanian mud hut, a narwhal horn, a discarded red stiletto: They can all be found in a museum somewhere in the world.
But exhibitions in museums are more than mere collections of striking items. Museums are vital institutions that take on the tasks of collecting, interpreting, and caring for artifacts — both precious and charmingly ordinary — so they can be experienced by the general public.
The Ancient Greek word mouseion means ‘seat of Muses.’ In classical antiquity, a museum was a place for contemplation and philosophical debate. When art moved from the open air, larger-than-life statuary of the Greco-Roman era to more intimate, human-scale paintings and objects, the definition of museum changed, too. It became a place to visit to see art — and anything placed in a museum became art.
In this episode, we romp through the delightful hoarding behavior behind Renaissance Wunderkammers, learn about the first museum curator (spoiler: It was a woman!), and celebrate the majesty of the Louvre. Then we recommend books that transported us to museums around the world, including two nonfiction books devoted to art appreciation, a historical novel about 17th-century Amsterdam, coffee table books that celebrate cabinets of curiosities, and a fantastical story that goes behind the scenes of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. (show notes / transcript)
Top image courtesy of rafaellsilveira/Shutterstock.
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