Who says Instagram isn’t a marketing machine? On one of my many endless scrolls, the book The Museum Is Not Enough popped up on my feed from the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA). The title was so intriguing. If the museum is not enough, then what would make it sufficient? This completely played into my ongoing quest into how we can modernize this aging institution in the digital era. Needless to say, I contacted the CCA and had the book delivered to my doorstep, asap.
In recent years, the museum as an institution has been going through an identity crisis. Questions surrounding its programming offer, as well as the audience it is servicing have been at the helm of discussion. Are they here to engage, educate and create experiences? Are they here to serve artists, academics and the greater community? The answer is yes to all. Yet, the only real institution that has been able to do this consistently is the shopping mall, which is also in need of reinvention in the age of the digital economy.
So where does this leave an architecture museum and its future when historically its content can only be represented through models, sketches, drawings, and photography, since showcasing its real subject matter is quite difficult? The Museum Is Not Enough beings to tackle this question by looking inward and outward.
The book is a collection of reflections on architecture, contemporary social concerns, institutions, and the public. Founded by Phyllis Lambert, the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) is an international research institution and museum premised on the belief that architecture is a public concern. Building on years of thematic investigations the book puts forward the CCA’s own positions on the matter through nine volumes:
No. 1 Hello, this is me
No. 2 I look for grey areas
No. 3 I see content in display
No. 4 And I keep revisiting archives
No. 5 This is me, online
No. 6 Education worries me
No. 7 And I’m wary of the present
No. 8 So I need a plan
No. 9 Or I could reinvent myself
The structure of the book consists of a mix of interviews, essays, and imagery from the CCA archive. But the most unique aspect of the book is the narrative voice of the CCA written in the first person singular. This personification of the institution could suggest a subtle role reversal from a place that houses items, to a person that presents and contemplates them. “What I am for is questioning what is going on around me – and uncaring alternatives,” is one of the many questions presented by this pensive centre.
In an interview with curator, writer, and educator, Maria Lind, an art institution is about mediation and access. For Lind, mediation is about putting art as the central subject. She explains that “mediation is an activity that facilitates contact between artworks and people, and those people are people working in the institution in question, the artist, and the visitors – groups or individuals, young or old, initiated or not yet initiated.” When questioned about knowledge and the institution’s responsibility in this role, Lind approaches it in a more neutral expression that it’s more about access than education. “Access doesn’t prescribe that somebody should learn something, but it provides. I think that the institution should provide the possibility of access, and with living human beings.” This new agency for a museum as a facilitator is an interesting concept and is further supported by Bernd Scherer, director of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin. Scherer sees the institution more than facilitating the object and people but inviting people into the overall process. “If the role of cultural institutions is not only to criticize, but also to provide a forum on how to address these power asymmetries, we have to ask ourselves, How can we create spaces that are no longer still just the object of these processes, but where other people can develop agency in these processes?”
Well, if you must know, twelve curators, editors, and writers bet on 36 exhibitions from the last five years that help identify how architecture can be relevant in this future context. Themes of rethinking of boundaries, viewer centered relationships, creation, oppositional, non-didactic, non-hierarchical, renegotiating relationships, unheard voices, inclusivity, and precision all help to map out and aid in the transformation of contemporary architecture.
Yet, after all this contemplation, discussion, interviews, and investigations, the CCA says it best in its own words, “I’m not sure I’m ready to be something else yet, but I’m trying to think that way.” Fear is a common human trait that even can be felt by the top institutions in the world. Like the famous Michael Korda states: “If you don’t believe in yourself, then who will believe in you?”