MUSEOGRAPHY (MUSEUM PRACTICE)
n. (derived from Latin museographia) – French equivalent: muséographie, Spanish: museografía; German: Museographie; Italian: museografia; Portuguese: museografia.
The term museography first appeared in the 18th century (Neikel, 1727) and is older than the word museology. It has three specific meanings:
1. Currently museography is essentially defined as the practical or applied aspect of museology, that is to say the techniques which have been developed to fulfil museal operations, in particular with regard to the planning and fitting out of the museum premises, conservation, restoration, security and exhibition. In contrast to museology, the word museography has long been used to identify the practical activities associated with museums. The term is regularly used in the French-speaking world, but rarely in the English-speaking one, where museum practice is preferred. Many museologists from Central and Eastern Europe have used the term applied museology, that is to say, the practical application of techniques resulting from the study of museology, a science undergoing development.
2. In French the use of the term museography identifies the art (or the techniques) of exhibitions. For some years the term expography (exhibit design) has been proposed for the techniques involved in exhibitions, whether they be in a museum or in a non-museal space. Generally speaking, what we call the ‘museographical programme’ covers definition of the contents of the exhibition and its requirements, as well as the functional links between the exhibition spaces and the other museum areas. This definition does not mean that museography (museum practice) is defined only by that part of the museum which is seen by the visitor. Museographers (museum designers or exhibit designers), like other museum professionals, take into account the scientific programme and collection management, and aim to display the objects selected by the curator in a suitable manner. They must know methods of conservation and how to inventorize museum objects. They create the scenario for the contents and propose a form of language which includes additional media to aid understanding. They are concerned with the needs of the public and employ the communication methods most suitable for putting across the message of the exhibition. Their role, often as the head of a project, is to coordinate all the scientific and technical specialists working within a museum: organising them, sometimes clashing with them and arbitrating. Other specific posts have been created to fulfill these tasks: the management of the art works or objects is left to the registrars, the head of security is responsible for surveillance and the tasks carried out by this department, the conservator is a specialist in preventive conservation and in remedial conservation measures, and even restoration. It is in this context, and in interrelation with the different departments, that museographers concern themselves with the exhibition tasks. Museography is distinct from scenography (exhibition or stage design), which is understood to mean all the techniques required for installing and fitting out display spaces, just as it is different from interior design. Certainly stage design and museum interior design are a part of museography, which brings museums closer to other methods of visualisation, but other elements must also be taken into account such as the public, its understanding of the message, and the preservation of heritage. These aspects make museographers (or exhibition spe- cialists) the intermediary between the collections curator, the architect and the public. Their role varies, however, depending whether or not the museum or the exhibition site has a curator to lead the project. The further development of the role of some specialists within museums (architects, artists, exhibition curators, etc.) has led to a constant fine tuning of the museogapher’s role as intermediary.
3. Formerly and through its etymology, museography referred to the description of the contents of a museum. Just as a bibliography is one of the fundamental stages of scientific research, museography was devised as a way to facilitate the search for documentary sources of objects in order to develop their sys- tematic study. This meaning endured throughout the 19th century and still continues today in some languages, in particular Russian.
Resources: André Desvallées and François Mairesse
And the assistance of the ICOM International Committee for Museology
Main image and for social networks: German Film Museum (Frankfurt am Main)
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