mmuseum - A building where objects of interest or value are collected, conserved, exhibited, and interpreted.

The discipline of designing, organizing (curating and preparing exhibits), and directing museums is called museology.

The term "museum" harks back to the Greek origin of the institution as the abode of the muses, a place of learning and inspiration. Museums are important cultural institutions, symbols of power, stature, and sophistication. In the United States alone there are more than 1,250 art museums, half of which are less than 25 years old. Many of these are devoted to modern and contemporary art and are among the most important buildings in their communities. Once seen as elitist, these institutions enjoy broad popular appeal, diverse audiences and a substantial amount of private as well as public support. Museums are seen to be educational instruments for the systematic organization and presentation of artistic and natural phenomena. Museums are really the creation of the 18th century period known as the Enlightenment. The museum stands in contrast to the Kunstkabinette and Kunstkammer, or cabinet and chamber of curiosities, of the Renaissance, where odd and wondrous rarities were brought together for private contemplation and pleasure. Although the museum's role is more educational, looking at art in either the Kunstkammer or the museum remains both a sensory as well as a pedagogical activity.

Today's art museums range in size and type from large, publicly financed institutions, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to small, privately supported rural ones like the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, CN. Some, like Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, have encyclopedic collections; others, like the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, have highly specialized ones. Along with the monies they raise through entrance fees, museums are supported by a broad range of activities from elaborate fundraising programs, to running or managing restaurants, gift and book shops, and publishing brochures and catalogues. Their collections grow by a number of means, chief among which are through gifts from donors and from purchases.

Museums operate under the leadership of a board of trustees, who oversee the activities of a director, a person who in turn supervises the work of curators, preparators, registrars, librarians, security guards, and others. Museums also rely upon the labors of volunteers, many of whom act as docents, receptionists, and clerks.

Here is a list of selected museums (click here for much longer lists):


Here are some images of museums, and related subjects:



see thumbnail to leftCharles Willson Peale (American, 1741-1827), The Artist in His Museum, 1822, oil on canvas, 103 2/4 x 79 7/8 inches, Museum of American Art of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Peale's was the first museum in the United States, a curious mixture of fine arts and natural history.


see thumbnail to rightPeale's The Long Room, Interior of the Front Room in Peale's Museum, 1822.






see thumbnail to leftThe Orsay Museum (Musée d'Orsay) was originally built as the Gare d'Orsay — a railway station — in 1900. In 1986 it reopened as the French nation's museum of late nineteenth century art. The choice of this building to house the collection seemed inevitable, because of its location right across the Seine from the Louvre, and because it was originally conceived as a cathedral for the worship of all that was modern.




see thumbnail to rightFrank Lloyd Wright (American, 1867-1959), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.


see thumbnail to leftStanding beside a model of the museum, to the right of the architect and Mrs. Guggenheim, Solomon R. Guggenheim, a patron of the arts, commissioned this project in 1943, and approved the plans before his death in 1949. Construction began in 1957, and was completed in 1959. A branch of the museum opened in Bilbao, Spain in 1997, in a building designed by Frank Gehry — a design which is proving to be just as important as Wright's.


see thumbnail to rightThe quarter-mile interior ramp, although unbroken in its circular descent, is honeycombed with 74 bay areas used for display purposes. This is a view from the ramp across the atrium to the exhibition spaces on the other side of the building.


see thumbnail to leftThe ramp surrounding the atrium rises from the ground to a dome 95 feet above. See architecture, dome, and another page about the building's design.






see thumbnail to rightRichard Rogers (Italian, 1933-) and Renzo Piano (Italian, 1937-), Pompidou Center (Centre Pompidou), 1972-1976, high-tech steel and glass museum, with a passive cast exoskeleton, and a staircase in a transparent tube.




see thumbnail to leftIeoh Ming Pei (American, 1917-), Louvre Museum's expansion which was mostly underground: the glazed pyramid entry, contains a spiral staircase below it, 1983, Paris.




Richard Meier (American, 1934-) and Michael Palladino (American, contemporary), J. Paul Getty Center includes the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, opened to the public in 1997. see thumbnail to rightThis is an aerial view of the Getty Center one of the largest privately funded architectural complexes ever designed and constructed in a single architectural campaign. See Charles S. Rhyne's excellent photographic survey of exterior views of the buildings. An adjacent, though separately designed and commissioned element of the center is Robert Irwin's (American, 1928-) Central Garden. See aerial view.



see thumbnail to leftFrank O. Gehry (American, 1929-), Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, 1997, Bilboa, Spain. "The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a collection of interconnected blocks housing galleries, an auditorium, a restaurant, a museum store and administrative offices. These buildings have as their central focus a single architectural composition. With its towering roof, which is reminiscent of a metallic flower, the museum will enliven the riverfront and serve as a spectacular gateway to the city."





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Also see accession, advocacy, architecture, art careers, arts center, catalogue, collection, deaccession, docent, donation, gallery, International Council of Museums (ICOM), Kunstkabinette, Kunstkammer, new media, theater, UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, Wunderkabinette, and Wunderkammern.







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