Smoke and Mirrors
When the museum I work at—the great concrete behemoth on Madison Avenue designed by Marcel Breuer—opened in 1966, Jacqueline Kennedy attended the private ribbon-cutting ceremony held in the museum’s lobby. This, at the time, was news.
Fifty-odd years later, thousands gathered in Amsterdam to witness yesterday’s opening of the Rijksmuseum, a spectacle presided over by Queen Beatrix and marked with a multi-hued fireworks display. (Which I found myself speculatively attributing to Cai Guo-Qiang for a moment, incidentally.) This image, featured here on the Rijksmuseum’s website, is now circulating widely in the international press as a 10-year, 375 Euro ($480 million) renovation is indeed news.
Seeking redress of historical claims that cast museums as temples for the wealthy and the privileged, modern institutions work hard to demonstrate inclusiveness toward their audiences—the ‘general pubic.’ The Rijksmuseum’s new website, for instance, was designed to be accessed on a tablet device, a decision that gestures as much toward people—what they do, what they like—as it does technical prowess. It is incredibly easy and pleasant to use.
Power reveals itself everywhere: Invisibly, in the case of the private ceremonies held to mark institutional milestones, attended by a scant invited few. Swathed in smoke for all to see—or digitized, for all to swipe. Monuments take many forms.