Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

2. Categorization of museums: historical, technological, thematic

The museum landscape has become so varied, that it may not suffice to use merely three traditional categories, namely historical, technological and thematic museums to grasp the vast variety existing throughout the world.

The museums had long been considered as mere temples housing something of the past, but in today's highly competitive world, they point to an interesting future. Naturally it depends on how they adapt and whether or not they are staffed by professionals or rely mainly on volunteer workers? This provokes in turn the interesting question whether type of organisation, subject matter and linkage to what kind of audience are altogether factors which determine how contents and form will go together. Since that is definitely difficult to resolve, it matters what funding the museums strive for. That will decide also whether or not they shall enter the current trend linked to an 'experience economy'. The latter requires apparently ever more so of the museum to be a kind of performer. Rather than let the collected items speak for themselves, something else needs to be organized by museums, in order to make experience happen. If they wish to fill the event calendar in that way to be the talk of the town rather than letting like the Brooklyn museum as described by Carol Becker simply to experience other worlds when just entering as a child those wonderful worlds. [1]

In other words, categorization (or classification) changes as museums alter from showing only permanent collections to becoming modern entertainment centers which includes presentations of exciting temporary exhibitions as well as artistic and other performances. The National Gallery in Berlin West featured here a long tradition from discussion evenings with Josef Beuys to MOMA exhibition showing in Berlin 2004 exactly that art which was banned by the Nazis to the embarrassment of Germans in contact with culture.

Altogether under the influence of museum associations such as ICOM the policy with regards to cultural heritage changes into a complex field of different tasks (preservation, promotion but also lending and collecting etc.) while this push towards ‘sustainable museums’ under new managerial viewpoints make them into demonstration projects based on prestigious architecture, specific use of spaces e.g. Modern Tate to having controversial exhibitions such as ‘Sensation’ shown by Brooklyn museum in 1999.

As museums are pushed towards modern forms of presentations, they seem neither able to keep up with the creative process (Carol Becker) nor to retain a dialogue with the past. Rather in moving towards the present, museums do not merely ‘neutralize culture’ (Adorno / Carol Becker) but cause a disarray in the sense of time (from the philosophical distinction of subjective, objective and historical time – Kosselek – to becoming confusing political iconographic demonstrations e.g. Imperial War Museum in London hosting the Holocaust exhibition while showing as well how children survived the Blitzkrieg of Hitler in Second World War to coincide with 60 years after the end of that war. It became the basis of underlining British defiance then as now when under terrorist attack as the case on July 7th and July 21st 2005.

Today the left wing journal no longer excludes related cultural institutions from its definition of ‘museum’. In a call for papers to be published in 2008, they speak about: “The term "museum" will be interpreted to include not only a broad range of museum types, including natural history, anthropology, archaeology, fine art, history, medical, and science and technology, but also related cultural institutions, such as aquaria, zoos, botanical gardens, arboreta, historical societies and sites, architectural sites, archives, and planetariums.” [2]

Some original ideas about other museums

Andre Malraux: ‘the imaginary museum’ aside from the Louvre in Paris and in which artists will hang their own best painting amongst all their favorite ones (but Picasso was afraid of having Matisse in his atelier as he thought this painter was much better than he, or what galleries call ‘murder paintings’ such as those by Rembrandt because it is impossible to hang anything else besides Rembrandt’s master pieces. Still, the idea of creating your own museum in which collections of different kinds reflect the way recognition and memory intertwine if only we could give free expression to our imagination.

Herbert Distel: museum of drawers – collector an individual artist who won first prize for sculpture at the Biennale in St. Paulo and then proceeded to collect art works from famous artists of the sixties and seventies. The departure point was that “artists always ask for space to show their works, but they never say how large (or small) such a space should be”. The museum contains works by Picasso, Man Ray, Rothko, Beuys etc. It is now located permanently at the Museum of Modern Art in Zurich.

Maria Papadimitriou: the temporary museum of the Roma – www.tama.gr demonstrates how differently the Roma treat public versus private space, something planners can only dream of or what they consider to be ideal conditions when use of space becomes accessible from both departure points.

Other ways of approaching a possible classifications of museums: how they originated, who founded them? In many cases museums are built around a specific collection e.g. Jeu de Pommes: Impressionists; Basel: Museum of Modern Art; National Museums such as National Gallery or British Museum in London; Paul Klee museum in Bern; Bruecke Painters at the Starnbergsee museum;

With Sylvestre Verger reviving the museum at Jardin du Luxembourg e.g. Modigliani exhibition (see letter by Heinz J. Kuzdas about the reason of success: 3 Mill. Euro advertisement, 40 people working for the project, 10 Euro an entrance), it meant linking this space to an important collection and to outstanding exhibitions. It was no longer a museum but definitely not a typical art gallery.

Crucial is what art history and history teaches: to get to know a certain period, it is important to find a different access to the period itself, its individual figures and what eludes too often texts and other stories about that period; e.g. Napoleanic war and what he attempted after the French Revolution: the military exportation of the idea of the Republic and what this means in terms of a modern understanding of France’s aspiration within Europe? It can be linked to Tolstoi: war and peace, or to Kapuscinski’s narration about the cathedral build by the Czar to celebrate the victory over Napolean in Moscow only to be demolished by Stalin. If anything, the eradiction of ‘cultural heritage’ reflects a power struggle wishing to erase the memories of former times to assert its own legacy. In that way museums have to be careful in how they record developments and by displacing them (out of their contexts) risk perpetuating a kind of distortion akin to many peculiar and often ideological reinforced perceptions of reality.

Historical museums

Under historical can be understood various kinds of museums which high light a specific memory work. The schools of thoughts diverge. For instance, the British Museum advocates access to world heritage but then by this is meant civilisations with culture and historical episodes really sub-categories underneath the sublime of beauty of a statue representing a specific time period. Naturally the way things are dated and collected varies tremendously as contemporary museums can hardly keep up with the flood of information and richness in materials. At the same time, there is a poverty of experience incurred with regards to some specific topics which are almost misplaced or properly so in a specific context e.g. the Holocaust exhibition in the Imperial War Museum of London in 2005.


Archaeological museums

Two odd tendencies strike another chord. There is the famous archaeological museum in Athens but its true title is 'National Archaeological Museum' as if the classical heritage has to be appropriated by modern Greece and be claimed as an inherent component of the identity wished to be communicated to the outside world. Many such national museums propagate a narrative of not merely places and people but in terms of the nation a kind of heritary legacy.

Modern developments allow for the redesigning of museums so that they can fill in gaps existing till now in terms of historical knowledge e.g. did a period of Enlightenment exist in Greece or not with the Benaki museum showing in one collection how those Greeks living at that time in Paris tried to convey the influence of the Enlightenment to Greece.

Also the re-opening on August 1st, 2013 of



Άνοιξε της πύλες τις η νέα αίθουσα του Αρχαιολογικού Μουσείου Ηρακλείου

indicates a trend towards a new approach linking architecture and archaeology, so that the items are embraced while giving quite another, indeed better protected space. Huge technology developments have taken place in terms of vitrines which reflect the state of the art.

City museums

Lewis Mumford in 'The Story of the City' stated every city is so complex that it cannot be really tamed i.e. be organized. However, this requires a museum for the city so as to retain the memories people have of this city. This has made city museums into real memory cells. They do not always record what takes place in the city but when Dr. Rodekamp of the City museum in Leipzig wishing to show the history of the city, he asked citizens to contribute one item that would remind them of a specific time period e.g. 1914 - 18 or, then a Jewish man donated his suitcase for the period 1939-45. He had fled with that suitcase and went into exile in the United States. Some objects can tell a powerful story. But as striking as this example is, the greater the risk to distort other developments before and immediately after Hitler came into power in 1933.

A report on the museums in the UK published in 2005 two weeks after the bomb blasted on the underground and in a double decker pointed out a great weakness in British museums: they have if any too few items of contributions made by the diverse communities and if not any expert to interpret these items. Collecting is a way to preserve memory.

By implication this has serious draw backs for future generations when vital details or items are simply left out and in retrospect a world represented in the way it wants to be perceived and vice versa how people would like to perceive it. For museums it is really hard work to go further then these first impressions having become stigmas or stereotypical labels or even worse images so that entire Germany can be identified by a soldier marching in strict order to the command of his 'Führer' with moustache. The posters of Heartfield depict such an image but with some other connections made evident.

Technical / science museums



Science centers ανά τον κόσμο



Aberdeen, Scotland, Hands-on Dicovery Centre



Amsterdam, The Netherlands, science and technology center


Armagh Planetarium and Science Centre Armagh, Northern Ireland


At Bristol

Bristol, England


TechniQuest, Cardiff Bay, Wales, UK


The Experimentarium, Copenhagen, Denmark


Technopolis, Flanders, Belgium


History of Science Museum, Florence Italy


Glasgow Science Center Glasgow, Scotland


Israel National Museum of Science, Haifa, Israel


Eureka Children's Museum, Halifax, England


National Space Science Centre, Leicester, UK



The Science Museum (Natural History)London, England


Teknikens Hus (House of Technology),Luleå, Sweden


Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester, England


Munich, Germany - Deutsches Museum


Boras, Sweden - Navet


Inspire, Norwich, England


Tietomaa Science Center, Oulu, Finland


Musée des arts et métiers, Paris, France


Palais de la découverte, Paris, France


Cité de Sciences, Paris, France


Futurescope, Poitiers, France


Tom Tits Experiment, Södertälje, Sweden


Tekniska Museet – Museum of Science and Technology, Stockholm, Sweden


Vitensenteret, Trondheim, Norway


Heureka, Vantaa, Finland


Xperiment Huset, Vaxjo, Sweden


Technorama (German only), Winterthur, Switzerland


Munich, Germany - Deutsches Museum


Thematic museums

Insight and Outlook of these museums vary from places and places. They stand at important intersections in time and space. They remind of certain thematic developments that provide new perspectives e.g. ‘Man and his world’ was the theme of Expo 67, other Expo’s focus on water or architecture made out of wood. Through these various themes life of mankind becomes known as various activities can be correlated with these themes e.g. voyage, farming, survival. There are other themes that have become increasingly important e.g. sports museum.

From ‘memory as way to secure identity with the place to imaginative extrapolations of the local space in order to attract outside visitors’: do museums fulfill single purposes, if at all, and if so, what can be learned from other museums along this scale from the local to the universal?

Heimat Museum / Native museum – local / regional

Differs slightly or a great deal from local or regional museums (Manfred Jehle: Brandenburg) designed to uphold local and regional identity.

Heritage Museums

Heritage museum outside of Cardiff: collection of farm houses and rural buildings but also of coal miner settlements that existed before the nineteenth century and developed through the ages – a special preservation and promotion policy stands behind the creation of such an outdoor museum existing on a vast area where it is possible to see buildings that were rescued before demolition and brought to this place for preservation e.g. library that the miners financed out of their own pockets

The heritage museum in Ottawa, Canada with special emphasis upon Indians and how traders, settlers survived since the 16th century while allowing special interactive sections animate visitors to participating in the recreation of images and methods of work existing in those times.

Museum for Industrial Heritage

Industrial archaeologists – CIED: experience in Leipzig: tracing innovation in the printing press machinery as known during the industrial ages in Leipzig – other industrial heritage museums function at the same time as new spaces to be used for exhibitions e.g. former power plants of East Germany.

In many cities, converted industrial sites into art spaces and radio stations as the case with Technopolis in Athens has shown a way to re-use these structures. Ruhr 2010 lives off such a reputation of having made the former industrial sector of the Ruhr area into a creative hub.

In Volos, a prime example is Tsalapatas, a former brick factory now turned into a multi-functional cultural centre with one museum run by the Piraeus Bank (cultural branch) to remember how bricks were made.

Museum of the Future – multi media

There is born the ‘museum of the future’ such as Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria. However, it could also be the Argonout museum in Volos. With virtually no artefacts available to prove this myth, it is still powerful enough to let school children search the grounds just in case they might find the lost sandal left there by those who went with the Argo boat on this journey. At least, Vasilis Sgouris himself did search just in case he might find something.

Virtual museums


Any visitor can go to this side and begin collecting images at the end of which there is the possibility of making an own exhibition. The exercise will give the visitor / viewer a first experience of what selection of items to make up a collection really involves. Many kinds of collections can be created and thus the determining factors are matters of policy choices but also what is available. As Peter Higgins said, it is a matter of knowing how to unpack the archive. Crucial is that through such public participation the visitor is no longer passively viewing exhibitions but gets involved in the deeper implication of what items are shown, what not in order to begin questioning his or her concept of that particular time. Since every added or left out item can alter the overall concept of that specific period of time, it becomes interesting what kind of categories shall be used to designate certain items e.g. as belonging to the Renaissance compared to the Barock period of time. Dating and finding a precise location for the item is a part of any museum work but now that the virtual reality can be superseded, other research questions shall enter the discussion as to how museums can present their collections and with what aim in mind when showing only those and not the other items.

City guidelines and museum developments – example: Categories used for Museums in Budapest:

Here any visitor planning a trip to Budapest can review the number of museums according to distinct categories. It includes even one containing former Socialist sculptures (the heroic or monumental ones), including those who had celebrated Stalin in the past on some main square and was then pulled down as Hungary freed itself from this Communist past. (One is reminded of the sculpture of Saddam Hussein which was pulled down once American troops had entered Baghdad.)

Clearly the question here is whether or not these categories still hold or if they do not stem from an old order based on representation and the kind of knowledge the old academies would use when designing a system of taxonomy and epistemology. It might be the case that some museums belong themselves to a certain historical period and shall not develop further. There will be a new layer of museums which base their understanding on as much collections as entertainment and facilitation of other cultural events.

Naturally international museums like the British Museum, the Louvre in Paris or MoMa in New York will deal with the challenges of the Information Society in their own competent way while having the funds needed to secure data banks, web site experiences and a whole range of other things that will allow the museum to retain its prime purpose, namely to provide and to give access to its cultural artifacts. In the case of the Louvre, it is possible to compare that tremendous house of the arts with Centre Pompidou which wanted at the start of its existence become a binding element between technology, exhibition and library in an effort to progress in easy accessibility. But both the location (at the place of the former Les Halles) and the building (difficult to keep clean) presented within thirty years tremendous challenges not easy to overcome. The quick solution of the past driven by the desire to be completely new meant Centre Pompidou was outdated before it could evolve out of its original design to take on different and more substantial modalities of interaction with its audiences.

Outer space museums


                    Guggenheim museum


Bilbo – Guggenheim museum – appears as if an outer space ship has landed in an unknown area, yet this Basque region was till then known for its radical, even violent separatist movement. To underline that fact there was killed at the opening one guard killed but otherwise the museum has stayed since then out of the spotlight of any killing or violence. Rather it has managed to attract many more visitors due to the building having become itself a message. Naturally this resonated with the policy of the Guggenheim museum to expand and to create new centers for block buster types of exhibitions being circulated around the world.

It is important to understand such a ‘museum’ out of context for it will be crucial for the Argonaut museum in Volos to be considered just that: a legend is used to bring about an interesting idea but not one necessarily verifiable as if it really happened or existed. Once a museum is founded on such an assumption then it can be presumed that it is best to be out of context, very unusual and not linked at all with local elements but this would not be the case of the Argonaut museum in Volos since the city has decided to identify its image and profile with such a myth.

Interview of Prof. George Hein from Lesley University by Kathimerini:


"Many museums today attract visitors solely on the basis of the building they are housed in, like the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Is the message to be found in a museum’s exterior or interior?" [3]

Prof. George Hein:

"I don’t think we can distinguish between the exterior and the exhibits. The shell is a construction that helps shape the message. The first museum were founded in imperialist countries and were housed in buildings with Greek pillars. That is how they demonstrated their power. Over the past 20-30 years, museums that want to show a high sense of aesthetics hire famous architects to design their buildings. A building always makes a statement about a society’s value." [4]

Another opinion is being expressed by architect Harry Bougadelis (winner of the competition for the new Messara Museum):

“The traditional function of museums, based on categorization of exhibits and their viewing from a distance, is being replaced more and more by integrated presentations of thematic entities aimed at drawing the visitors into the atmosphere of the world from which the exhibited objects are derived. It is no longer enough simply to describe the exhibits.”

Subsequently the ‘shell of a building must represent its time, exude charm and fit into its surrounding environment’, for “a museum is not built in the air”. He takes as an example the Patras museum located along the highway so the aim was that the building would leave an impression even if people were speeding past the building in their cars at 70 km/hour or faster.

It means that “the exterior of a building should project an ethos. This means avoiding elements that create transient impressions in order to achieve a sense of permanency. Bobotis says this can only be done through simplicity.” [5]


[1] JUDITH H. DOBRZYNSKI High Culture Goes Hands-On, August 10, 2013


[2] From: Hugh Genoways hgenoway@unlserve.unl.edu Subject: Museum History Journal

Date: Wed, 15 Nov 2006 13:24:30 -0600 as issued by H-MUSEUM: H-Net Network for Museums and Museum Studies E-Mail: h-museum@h-net.msu.edu

WWW: http://www.h-museum.net

[3] A similar question has been raised by Ann Wilson Lloyd – see “If the Museum Itself Is an Artwork, What About the Art Inside?”  in an article published by NY Times, January 25, 2004

She sees a trend by which exhibition spaces of some post-Bilbao museums seem less in service to works of art than in service to the building itself as art.


[4] Margarita Pournara, “Museums: Houses of education – Lesley University Prof. George Hein talks to Kathimerini about the role of these institutions today”, Kathimerini, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2004, p.7

[5] Dimitris Rigopoulos, “New architectural idiom for new museums”, Kathimerini, Tues. August 23, 2005, p. 3

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