Kunstkammer vs. Community Space - Then and Now

Here are some views into museum galleries that were so amazing it’s crazy that they’re gone


Almost everyone is our industry widely accepts the origins of the “museum” – wealthy men with an interest in the “New Worlds” and other foreign lands would endeavor to collect as many artifacts and specimens as possible, and show them off in their personal “Kunstkammer” (“Cabinet of Curiosity”). They would invite friends over, begging them to dote over their wealth, adventure, and intelligence. These Kunstkammern were a status symbol in Europe. Check out these pictures of some of the world’s top museums back in the day. No millennials, when we say 90s, we don’t mean the 1990s – we mean back in the 1890s!

A few things stand out to me. 

1- The only people photographed are white. 

2- The artifacts are in very sterile looking glass cases, emulating the early Kunstkammer

3- The only women and children visible are illustrations (and even they are dressed to the nine’s showing wealth!)

4- Little to no signage can be seen – a couple very small placards, of what I assume to be species/artists names are apparent, but where is the story?

5- I don’t see any smiling faces, not even in the illustrated/painted visitors!

So my question to the author is: “Why is it crazy that these galleries are gone?” 

The incredible architecture of these institutions still exist, and these artifacts still exist as well; so what is missing? 

This archaic identity of museums is best left in the past, in my opinion. I am sure plenty of you reading could agree. These galleries still stand today as a testament to the shifting mission, identity, and inclusion of a modern cultural institution. Today, if you were to photograph these same galleries, you would see women, families, people of color, all sorts of economic backgrounds from the wealthy to the less so. Each individual would (hopefully) be engaged with each other, given tools to encourage engagement like technology, and be speaking with personnel whom would welcome anyone with a smile; it would resemble more of a community space, and less a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ accessible only by the elite. 

I prefer the former. A community space where I am welcomed for who I am, and provided an experience to spark my own curiosity – not show off someone else’s. 

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