Museums as sacred spaces series

I have had in mind for a while to write a series of articles exploring ideas, quite freeform, of museums and galleries as sacred spaces. This concept has interested me for a number of years, since I started working in the sector and remember seeing outside a provincial art gallery a sign which went something along the lines of ‘come in for quiet contemplation and meditation’. I found that both alluring and inviting in an otherwise smelly, noisy and raucous city.

We surround ourselves with noise these days, either to mask out other people’s uninvited noise or because we find the silence too difficult to deal with. I use ‘we’ in the loosest sense here. I want civic spaces which are deliberately quiet, still and, I suppose temple-like or at least sanctuary-like.

Another way in which I have thought about museums as sacred spaces is related to the debate about the display of human remains. Entire volumes can be written about all the arguments about what we should do with archaeologically-recovered human remains, some of which I will go through in time in subsequent posts, but I want to offer a new framework. Can we ever perceive the museum to be a new temple of the deceased? Isn’t this where we go to learn about the past? And haven’t humans for all time looked to their ancestors for knowledge and wisdom? Whether you have a spirituality or not, there is no doubting that we can and do learn a lot from the remains of our (the broad humanity ‘our’) ancestors.