The event I wrote about took place over two decades ago, when Picasso's Guernica was still housed in the Casón del Buen Retiro at the Prado Museum in Madrid. (It is now in the Reina Sofia, in a larger but - in my opinion - far inferior room. You can learn a bit about that here.)
|New Acropolis Museum, Athens|
As an undergraduate I knew very little about art. Part of this was my disposition: I liked representational art that was easy to look at quickly. Part of it was a matter of my worldview, and the suspicion that some modern artists who eschewed representational art were trying to undermine something good, obscurantists clouding clear vision.
Time spent in museums has changed me a good deal, as has making the acquaintance of Scott Parsons and Daniel Siedell, who have helped me quite a lot through their patient conversation and what they have written. (Scott and I wrote a chapter on teaching students about visual culture and the sacred in Ronald Bernier's short but illuminating book Beyond Belief, in which Dan also has a chapter.) Some of Makoto Fujimura's short writings, James Elkins's book On the Strange Place of Religion in Modern Art, and Gregory Wolfe's work at Image have also provided me with clear and helpful education about art that I resisted when I was younger.
Museums are certainly controversial. Curators make decisions that both expand and limit what we see, and this can be exploited to achieve sordid political ends. Some ideas and cultures are given preferential treatment while others are made less known by their omission. They tend to be located in large, wealthy cities, which means that poor people, rural people, and foreigners have limited or no access to them. But if the alternative is no museums, or all of the world's artifacts in private collections, I will take the museums we have, coupled with ever striving to make them better.
Because museums are a tangible way we can commit to remembering our history together. Museums are not safe deposit boxes where we lock away our treasures; they are Wunderkammers and classrooms where we may think and learn together.
I have come to love museums, especially the British Museum and the beautiful New Acropolis Museum in Athens (and I'm aware of the irony of that pairing) but I also love the little museums I find in small towns the world over.