ABSTRACT

This book presents an argument to museology, but is not of itself museological. It draws upon sociological theory and method, but is not a sociology. It discusses art and aesthetics, but is not framed by art history or philosophy. It is an account of a research project but is also a theoretical speculation. In its use of theory it is eclectic, drawing upon sociology, art history, visual cultures, social geography, and science and technology studies. In its empirical research, it uses a mixture of ethnographic qualitative methods for gathering and recording people’s experiences and ideas. As a result this book has strayed across many discipline boundaries and, in line with its characterization of the hybridity of the museum, is itself a hybrid. The book aims at transdisciplinarity and is written out of the uncomfortable position of ‘general theory’,1 which the ‘baggy monster’2 of cultural and media studies is the familiar academic default. The book addresses the operations of the art museum, but cannot easily be operationalized. The book wants to argue constructively with those who practically make and manage the art museum, and those who make knowledge and teach about museums. In this sense the book, like many books, is an argument with itself since the authors are those very same people who, among other things, practice and teach in and about the art museum. This book is a very contrary thing as it now appears to its authors who have spent

most of their professional lives immersed in one or other aspect of the production, management, or, interpretation of the visual arts and in their personal lives could be euphemistically described as ‘art lovers’. The authors are therefore avid supporters of museums in general and Tate in particular, upon whose hospitality and trust they depended and yet for all that have produced a ‘critical’ analysis of Tate’s practices of audiences. Further, not content to rest upon the academic credentials of ‘critical analysis’, which, in the museological case, the book sees as the theoretical side of the ‘same coin’, on which practice misrecognizes audience in the museum, it also attempts to develop a position of the Post-critical Museology of its title. The

production of the book and the research it was based upon relied upon the support of academia and government funding in equal measure to the generosity of Tate Britain, which offered itself as a site of practice-based research. In mitigating the circumstances of appearing to bite the hand that supported the view elaborated by the book, arriving at a position of post-criticality entailed a larger criticism of the instrumentalized culture of audit, which has held British cultural and educational institutions in such a tight grip over the period under discussion. The position of the post-critical is intended not to find the museum wanting from the remote position of analytical critique, but on the contrary, to develop a position which brings together academics, museum professionals and others in productive ways in order to open up new avenues of meaning and purpose through the agency of audiences. Having located a certain contrariness as a response to the institutional organization

and separation of the practices of the museum and academia, another source of discontent may well spring from more embodied and ingrained responses, which, differentially for the authors, are those of occupying institutional positions uneasily, of being acceptable insiders but intellectual outsiders, of being cultural migrants and internal exiles, or from occupying, as Stuart Hall once defined it, the tricky territory of ambivalent mainstreaming.3