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Museums come in various types and serve different purposes, but they are generally defined as buildings or institutions that exhibit, store, preserve, interpret, and research artifacts or objects of artistic, cultural, or historical interest. While the specific missions or focuses of museums can vary including exhibition, education, archive, conservation, restoration, and research, museums generally aim to share a common goal of engaging and sharing their knowledge and collection with a wider general public.

Historically, museums have been regarded as byproducts of European and Western imperialism during the 17th and early 20th centuries. At that time, artifacts from colonized countries were displayed in museums to educate the elite public about various global cultures. These types of museums were known as encyclopedic or universal museums, with major examples including the British Museum and The Louvre.

Since the 20th century, museums have evolved from this conception and have devoted themselves to welcoming the general public through various programs of engagement, aiming to break down barriers between "high" and "low" culture. Today, museums offer a range of public programs that cater to diverse audiences, from children to the elderly, and from local communities to international visitors.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is widely regarded as the first museum to collect and exhibit modern and contemporary art. It was founded in 1929 by a group of philanthropists, including Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Lillie P. Bliss, and Mary Quinn Sullivan, who were passionate about promoting modern art and providing a space for its display and study. MoMA's first director, Alfred H. Barr Jr., played a key role in shaping the museum's collections and exhibitions and helped to establish it as a leading institution for modern and contemporary art.

Museum of Modern Art, New York

The main difference between art museums and other types of art institutions, including art galleries, is that museums have a focus on collection, preservation, and education. Art museums typically have permanent collections of artworks that they own and care for, as well as temporary exhibitions that they organize and curate. In addition to exhibiting and interpreting art, museums often offer educational programs and events designed to promote a deeper understanding of art and its history.

Art galleries, on the other hand, are primarily focused on the sale and promotion of artworks. They may represent individual artists or groups of artists, and their main goal is to showcase and sell their works to collectors, institutions, and other buyers. Unlike museums, galleries generally do not have permanent collections, and their exhibitions are often short-term and geared toward generating sales. Another key difference between museums and galleries is that museums are typically not-for-profit institutions, while galleries operate as commercial enterprises. Museums may be supported by public or private funding, while galleries rely on sales to generate revenue.

Here are some art museum-related terminologies to help you better understand its function and system.

1. Acquisition / (Permanent) Collection: An acquisition refers to assets that are artworks or other objects for a museum's collection, typically through purchase, gift, or donation. Permanent collections are made up of works from various artistic styles, periods, and media, and are considered a central part of a museum's identity and cultural significance.

2. Archive: An archive is a collection of historical records and documents related to the museum’s activities, as well as materials about the artists and artworks in its collection. It includes items such as correspondence, exhibition catalogs, photographs, and other documents that provide insight into the museum's history and its role in the art world.

3. Conservation / Restoration: Conservation demands the continuous care and maintenance of artworks in the collection to prevent damage and deterioration and ensure their stability and accessibility for future generations. Restoration generally incorporates more substantial efforts to repair or renew artworks that have undergone damage or degradation over time. Both conservation and restoration are critical practices that help to guarantee that artworks and related materials remain accessible for study and appreciation.

4. Curator: A professional who specializes in organizing and managing exhibitions and other cultural events, usually in a museum or gallery setting, although some may work independently. Curators are responsible for developing the theme or concept of the exhibition, coordinating the installation of the event, promoting it, and managing collections.

5. Education / Public Program: Education and public programs refer to initiatives and activities designed to engage and educate visitors of all ages and backgrounds, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of art. Particularly focusing on the museum’s exhibitions and collections, the programs can take many forms, including tours, lectures, workshops, classes, and interactive exhibitions for different participants such as families, school groups, or adult learners.

6. Membership: Museum membership refers to the status of being a member of the museum and usually involves paying an annual fee in exchange for benefits such as free admission, invitations to members-only events, discounts on merchandise and programs, and access to exclusive exhibitions.

7. Private / Public Museum: A private museum is an institution that is owned and operated by an individual, family, or corporation. Typically, the artworks displayed within a private museum are the property of the owner or organization that manages the museum. In contrast, a public museum is owned and operated by a government or public institution, such as a university or a non-profit organization. Public museums are generally supported by public funds, grants, and individual and corporate donations.

8. Research: Research involves studying artworks and related materials to enhance knowledge and understanding of art history and theory, particularly with a focus on a museum's collections or unique features.

9. Trustee: A trustee is a board member of a museum who oversees the operations of a museum, including finances, governance, and strategic planning. They are appointed based on their expertise, connections, and dedication to the museum's mission.

Related categories

(Inspired by) Old Masters

Participatory Art

Artist Studio


Solo Exhibitions

Two Person Exhibitions

Museum Collection

Curated By

Private/Family Collection