In this paper I argue for a shift in conceptualising exhibitions: from products to be presented to processes to be revealed. I will explore how museum theory and practice are inextricably intertwined and can be brought into fruitful dialogue within an exhibition setting. By revealing the processes leading to the definition of categories and the interpretation of identities, and by giving ‘faces’ to decisions made, the ‘reflexive museum’ can become an embodiment of democracy, which does not silence controversies but gives diversity public voices. The ‘reflexive museum’ as I envisage it, by referring to Beck and Bonss’ ‘reflexive modernity’ (2001) is not only self-aware, but confronts, critiques, questions and ultimately transforms itself and invites the visitor to democratically participate in this process.
First, I sketch out recent academic musings on museological approaches. Then I present some examples of exhibitions in Germany in which these theories have been put into practice. I conclude by arguing for a symbiotic relationship between museum theory and practice, enabling the museum to realise its unique potential as a dynamic ‘playground’ located between scholarly thinking and the public.
This paper was also presented at Museums Aotearoa Annual Conference (2009 : Gisborne, New Zealand) on 15-17 April 2009.
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