Interpretive Practices in the Museum

Monday, 16 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Karolina KORSAK, University of Waterloo, Canada
One of the ongoing challenges of museums and galleries is how to make the interpretive repertoires of exhibits accessible and intelligible to the public. Museums spend billions of dollars on exhibits, but too often such display leads to little more than the perpetuation of constructivist learning models – or what Menszaros (2007) has called the production of a “whatever” interpretation from the perspective of visitor experience. It emerges by focusing on the visible and literal object of display. This approach relies on freeing the individual from the tyranny of received ideas by emphasizing a highly individualistic experience. Ironically, this individualistic approach undermines the visitor’s ability to reflect about the very tradition from which such understanding came from (Menszaros 2007). Moreover, it is not clear whether the display became any more accessible or intelligible during such a visitor experience.

This paper will examine hermeneutics as a more meaningful theoretical alternative for the modeling of ethical interpretive practices in museums, particularly art museums. Hermeneutics posits that interpretation is not an individualized, private, or personal act, since interpretation is always an act of participation from within a particular tradition (Gadamer 1989). Similarly, what is seen on display in an exhibition is understood, valuable and meaningful only because of the access it offers to a realm of significance that cannot itself be seen (Pomian 1990). This paper will further examine the ethical implication of making display more intelligible and accessible to the public – beyond the visible and literal – within the hermeneutic means of interpreting museum collections.