It is the beginning of the 19th century. Izabela Czartoryska proudly displays Lady
with an Ermine in the first Polish museum established in Puławy. The history of
Polish museology has just begun. Let’s pause for a moment, though. What if a
Tibetan thangka was hung next to Leonardo da Vinci’s canvas? Would Polish art
be different now? Would we see the world differently today?
The stories museums tell us are determined by objects: collections compiled by
individuals who had specific tastes, knowledge and experiences. Our vision of
reality is influenced by decisions of individual people. We get to know a section of
the world and develop an image of the whole based on it.
The temporary exhibition “Museum? What for?” inquires about the things that are
not there. Our historical narrative is governed by “lack”: the facts and people
that were left out of it. We can fill in these gaps and develop alternative histories.
What is missing from the museums we know? Traces of the histories of Asian and
Pacific cultures and their artefacts, which are not displayed alongside their
European counterparts. The first part of the exhibition explores the history of
modern museology in Europe. At this stage we also fill in the blanks in history.
We place exhibits hailing from Asia and the Pacific region into “classical”
museum displays. We rectify the “omissions”. In the Interaction Room we inspect
familiar everyday objects developed by Asian and Pacific cultures. In the
problem-based part of the show we ask ourselves the questions that museums
have to answer every day: What should we display? Should it come with a special
note? Finally, just like the Renaissance collectors, we can allow ourselves a
moment of quiet reflection in the Contemplation Room.
The exhibition encourages a change of perspective and seeing Europe as “the
rest of the world” for once. It prompts reflection on one’s own history and
attitude towards reality.
Museum? What for?
19 November 2021—11 September 2022
Asia and Pacific Museum in Warsaw, Poland