Magnólia Costa

Magnolia Costa, Brazil.jpg
Considering universal museums generate knowledge that subsidizes narratives of many different peoples – South Americans included – I propose a discussion about the relationships between those and Brazilian museums. If “museum is the world,” it reflects the manners in which cultures are understood and presented among themselves.

Doctor Magnólia Costa is a philosopher, translator and art critic specialized in  17th Century Franco-Italian Art. She received her PhD in Philosophy from University of São Paulo. She is a lecturer on Contemporary Art History and Brazilian Culture at MAM, Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo, where she also acts as Head of Institutional Affairs.

Museum Is the World

Abstract:

 In 1966, Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica wrote: “Museum is the world.” This phrase could be part of the definition of “universal museum,” a place where cultural assets produced in every area of the planet are preserved, studied and exhibited, in a wide temporal arch.  

Considering universal museums generate knowledge that subsidizes narratives of many different peoples – South Americans included – I propose a discussion about the relationships between those and Brazilian museums. If “museum is the world,” it reflects the manners in which cultures are understood and presented among themselves. 

The concept of universal museum is being debated since 2002, with the publication of “Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums.” This document was signed by eighteen different museums; among them the “big five,” three of which are located within the European Community: the Louvre, the Berlin State Museums and the British Museum, this last one responsible for composing the text. 

The main criticism to the declaration comes from the museum industry in Europe. They question the self-nomination of these museums as legitimate keepers of humanity’s cultural heritage, denouncing their presumptuous superiority in regards to nations that request repatriation of pieces, considered incapable of preserving their own heritage. 

For Brazilian museologists, both universal museums and their European critics are concerned with the issue of past acts that originated their collections. This concern does not affect the present or the future. Evidently, universal museums will never give back to Brazil the gold and jewels that ornate their artworks’ frames – as well as the interior of palaces and the heads of officials. 

In the European discourse, silence is noticeable in regards to current treatment of this heritage formed on bases that today would hardly be considered legal. In the present, universal museums generate direct or indirect revenue that is not shared with those who have produced the pieces they preserve. Quite the contrary: a considerable part of these incomes comes from visits and sales of by-products of these same pieces to descendants of those who have produced them. 

The policy of universal museums regarding Brazilian museums is based, therefore, on values from the past, particularly when they suppose themselves as superior. It reflects a certain imaginary that is still inhabited by a predatory relationship with the Others: those who are non-white, non-Christian, uncivilized. From the Others, natural, cultural and spiritual wealth are extracted so that they can be exhibited in a scientific and supposedly neutral manner in universal museums. 

Considering universal museums generate knowledge that subsidizes narratives of many different peoples – South Americans included – I propose a discussion about the relationships between those and Brazilian museums. If “museum is the world,” it reflects the manners in which cultures are understood and presented among themselves. 

The concept of universal museum is being debated since 2002, with the publication of “Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums.” This document was signed by eighteen different museums; among them the “big five,” three of which are located within the European Community: the Louvre, the Berlin State Museums and the British Museum, this last one responsible for composing the text. 

The main criticism to the declaration comes from the museum industry in Europe. They question the self-nomination of these museums as legitimate keepers of humanity’s cultural heritage, denouncing their presumptuous superiority in regards to nations that request repatriation of pieces, considered incapable of preserving their own heritage. 

For Brazilian museologists, both universal museums and their European critics are concerned with the issue of past acts that originated their collections. This concern does not affect the present or the future. Evidently, universal museums will never give back to Brazil the gold and jewels that ornate their artworks’ frames – as well as the interior of palaces and the heads of officials. 

In the European discourse, silence is noticeable in regards to current treatment of this heritage formed on bases that today would hardly be considered legal. In the present, 
universal museums generate direct or indirect revenue that is not shared with those who have produced the pieces they preserve. Quite the contrary: a considerable part of these incomes comes from visits and sales of by-products of these same pieces to descendants of those who have produced them. 

The policy of universal museums regarding Brazilian museums is based, therefore, on values from the past, particularly when they suppose themselves as superior. It reflects a certain imaginary that is still inhabited by a predatory relationship with the Others: those who are non-white, non-Christian, uncivilized. From the Others, natural, cultural and spiritual wealth are extracted so that they can be exhibited in a scientific and supposedly neutral manner in universal museums.