A study on the public interest of the art museum under the changing cultural situations
This essay suggests a way of understanding the concept of the public interest of the art museum under the changing cultural situations. The concept of art museum as public institution, tracing back to the inauguration of the Louvre where the nationalized collection from aristocrats and royal family was opened to the public without entry fee, has diverse meanings, such as the preservation of art works for the future generations, the reinforcement of public accessibility, the educational effort for the visitors to learn about the value of high art, and etc. With the changing cultural situations for recent thirty years, new rules of the art museum and new meanings of its public interest have been emerging. Nowadays, the art museum is no longer regarded as the institution for collecting and researching art works, but as the place for entertainment where visitors enjoy diverse cultural programs. And the meaning of the public interest of the art museum is largely focused on popularity. While Western art museums have already undergone many variations, Korean counterparts just begin to change. Facing different requirements to be fulfilled in one breath, art museums in Korea have experienced errors and difficulties.
This essay seeks a way to define the public interest of the art museum by relying on two theories. One is cultural economics, and the other is politics. These theories ask on what ground supporting art by the government could be justified, and present the answers. First, according to cultural economists, art has non-user benefit, that is, the value which has some effects on those who don't participate in artistic activities directly and causes the reluctance of the private investment. In result, demand always exceeds supply in the supposed free market. So supporting art by the government could be justified. Second, according to the theory of the liberalist perfectionism, the government should make efforts to help its people develop their autonomy. Art is one of the effective means to meet the task because it doesn't force people but invite them to enhance the quality of their lives. The public values of art explained by these theories could be identified as the contents of the public interest which the art museum should support. Based on these theories, the public interest of the art museum could be understood as the intersected field of popularity and professionalism. The former without the latter leads to populism, and the latter without the former leads to elitism.
After criticizing the blockbuster exhibitions which are recently all the fashion in Korea by the same principle, this essay wants to designate the conditions of the successful museum exhibition in the light of the public interest by presenting two examples from MoMA. The first sample is the exhibition "Manet and the execution of Maximilian"(2006-2007), and the second one is "Machine Art"(1934). By linking the inner issues of art to the outer ones, and by making the museum the place for social discussions. two exhibitions increase the public values of the art museum.