Luke Loves Museums?

For things he deems so important to contemporary American culture, Luke certainly doesn’t seem to find many strong points in the museums he cites as examples in this book. I have no trouble agreeing with his basic premises of the book that he reinforces in his conclusion–essentially, that museums are educational (and re-educational) tools that depict biased or politically influenced narratives of history, culture, etc. I do, however, have some issues with the hyperbolic criticisms that he inflicts on the museums he has chosen to examine.

I do not believe that the purpose of the Holocaust Museum, as Luke defines it, is to stand “forthrightly against all of the far-right or neofascist attempts to deny that the Holocaust even happened.” I think the museum’s purpose is simply to educate the public regarding the facts of what happened, and I don’t think there are truly enough Holocaust deniers in the world to warrant that statement. I also do not agree that the museum is too entertaining; it is shockingly compelling, but not over the top in its efforts to inform. Luke’s criticism of the images displayed there as being too horrific and shown too often so as to make them taken for granted contrasts with his previous criticism of the detractors of the Enola Gay/American West exhibits who wanted the exhibits to be overly politically correct. Luke neglects to suggest what type of balance he believes should be instated for museums exhibiting controversial subjects such as these.

On the other hand, his depictions of how the Museum of Natural History and the Missouri Botanical Garden define discourse and cultural realities seems quite exaggerated. I have no doubt that, upon its establishment, the Museum of Natural History provided an unprecedented and influential glimpse into “the disorder of beings, ordinarily known as ‘life.'” (Make it stop!) However, his implication that “people probably learn much more about art, culture, history, nature, and science from museums” than they do elsewhere is entirely unfounded.

Finally, I found it hard to understand why Luke seemed to be able to accept the Missouri Botanical Garden’s “florapower” narrative while rejecting that of the Sonora Desert Museum. Surely the Botanical Garden must not be completely accurate in its representations either. However, since it seems that Foucault would have absolutely loved the Missouri Botanical Garden, I guess his self-appointed apotheosizer is obligated to do so as well.

5 thoughts on “Luke Loves Museums?”

  1. I agree. Luke makes some interesting arguments about museums that I think are valid. However, his critiques are far from helpful because he rarely provides any solutions or even bothers to make them sound constructive.

  2. Yes, so true to both of you. While Luke seems to be always on a negative rant….he does not provide feedback that would help the museum and put in place a system that would reach out and educate each patron. Maybe he needs to go to Sweden? And then he might be able to write a book that gives a thumbs up to museums and applaud their efforts.

  3. I agree with all of you. Luke’s grandiose claims about the ineffectiveness of one museum, and the positives about another really similar museum (such as the case with the Sonoran Desert museum and the Botanical Garden), make it difficult to believe or defend some of his claims that might be truly insightful. I think he had a very interesting premise, but he lost me several times when he started to go over the top with some of his criticisms.

  4. Giggling about this: “However, since it seems that Foucault would have absolutely loved the Missouri Botanical Garden, I guess his self-appointed apotheosizer is obligated to do so as well.” Thanks!

  5. While I whole heartily agree that Luke’s book is extremely pessimistic toward museums. I think he makes a valid point that certain aspects are missing from the museum displays. I do not think he had to go as far as to say such things like “forthrightly against all of the far-right or neofascist attempts to deny that the Holocaust even happened.” to get his point across. I do think he favors natural history over cultural history. In the end, I have to agree that his criticisms are full of contradictions.

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