The Imaginary Museum
Amy Gahyun Lee
Jun 19, 2018
‘Le Musee Imaginaire is our imaginary collection of all the works, both inside and outside art museum, that we today regard as important works of art’
- André Malraux
In working with Eazel to virtualize art exhibitions one of the most common questions I get from art world insiders is if making the virtualization of a given exhibition space available online actually motivates people to visit it in person. What do you think?
Well, if you consider the myriad ways in which technologies have fostered human laziness you may be sceptical. However if you’re aware of the discourse in art history regarding the concepts of ‘reappearance’ and ‘presence’ your answer may be more affirmative.
Le Musée Imaginaire ('The Imaginary Museum) is a term coined by the French art theorist André Malraux deconstructing not just the conventional function of museums, but to some extent, our understanding of art itself. In the early twentieth century Malraux collected photographic reproductions of art from around the world so as to establish a museum without walls, moving further away from the intellectualization of his day.
In discussing art in the digital era it’s common for us to describe our interaction with digital images as taking place in virtual space. The notions of ‘reappearance’—or reproduction in the digital era—and ‘presence’—their basis in reality—are just as relevant as they were in Malraux’s time.
It’s worth mentioning that Malraux also clarified that photographic reproductions are ‘important instruments’ of the imaginary museum—but that we shouldn’t mistake the reproductions for that which they are meant to represent. Here we should focus on what Malraux likely meant when he used the term ‘reproduction’ and not make superficial arguments about the fall of artworks’ auras. With his museum, Malraux aimed to expand the opportunities for others to appreciate a given artwork so as to share its limited value with more people.
It’s easy to share your favorite music with your friend by sharing a digital recording with her. If she likes it, she can call herself a fan and go to the concert to appreciate the singer’s genuine voice. In this case we’re not worried about the digital reproduction taking away the singer’s right of creation. Maybe it’s the stories of two different industries and two different mediums, but it’s clear that what they have in common is the extension of the experience of art to those who prior to the advent of this technology remained outside.