The New York Times’s Holland Cotter offers an interesting, if idiosyncratic, argument for the importance of academic museums that may lake the firepower of bigger cultural institutions:
University museums are unlike other museums. They are not intended to be powerhouse displays of masterworks, though some have their share of these. They are, before all else, teaching instruments intended for hands-on use by students and scholars. As such, they often house objects that are considered of second- and third-tier value at auction but that fill out a deep and detailed account of cultural history.
One of the most moving shows of ancient Chinese art I’ve ever seen was put together in 1993 from just such material by students in a graduate seminar at Columbia University. The Han-period funerary objects from Columbia’s holdings were time worn and unrefined. But imaginatively arranged and meticulously annotated, they evoked a picture of a soul adjusting to the pleasures and perils of the afterlife with an immediacy barely hinted at in exhibitions with superior examples of the same objects at the Met.
The august public museum gave us fabulousness. The tucked-away university gallery gave us life: organic, intimate and as fresh as news.
Why University Museums Matter (New York Times)