Discover the Museum on your own

Thoughts. Practices

I was assigned, and maybe God gave me this gift, to make a museum about something old.
To make a museum in the sense of intuiting it, imagining it, giving it spirit.


We have placed the “icon” of the peasant at the centre of our museum and the word peasant in its title. I am dominated by a strong belief in the values of peasant art, its validity and respect for these people who did not know how to defend themselves.


When you have to design a museum that has existed before, in a building that exists and with a heritage mostly collected by its ancestors… You see objects, and objects, and books, and books for a long time and you think of a museum that you would like to see, composed of these things, then you think of the building, its place in Bucharest, its rooms… You begin to propose possible themes, themes that could live in such a space “sung” by the objects hidden in the warehouse. The objects have a multitude of possible connections, you have to eliminate a lot, to come up with two or three viable hypotheses that chain them all together; then you review the heritage, review photographs, listen to music and start eliminating by thinking of a theme.


You keep thinking about all that has been destroyed in this country, what it needs, what you can do, what answers an essential need of today’s man (willingly or unwillingly). You review objects and a vast but unambiguous theme takes shape: The cross. We thought it would be a good idea to inaugurate the museum rooms in the new museum, “the peasant’s museum”, with a serene exhibition, broad in message and balanced in style. After decades of enormous destruction caused to peasantry by communism, it would have seemed necessary to have a “political” and harsh exhibition, an assessment of the horrors that befell the Romanian village. We did not take this road, justified but full of verdicts, a road fraught with tensions and adversity. Nor was the new museum’s vengeful response very Christian! We would begin our new life with a sad sign and under the black light of revenge. The cross was the most appropriate, most lively theme we could find. Why demonstrate the omnipresence of the cross? So that people would conclude that they cannot live without the cross…


We are making a public gesture here, we feel the need to affirm THE CROSS at a time like the present. Opting for this theme is, as I said, a confession. It means reaffirming the omnipresence of the cross, its importance and its power today, in a world that is often misguided, secularised and diabolized. It is a militant act. In our case it is a
militant act.


How does an act of confession turn into a confessional museography? By creating a museography that speaks first and foremost to the heart. It appeals much more to an intelligent affect, let’s say, than to dry reason.
An organic museography pursues practices, not order.


What we have done and want to continue to do in the Peasant Museum has nothing to do with free play, with certain “borderline” phenomena in the contemporary world such as “installations”, montages, etc., even if there are common external elements. What categorically differentiates them is the given element, the heritage, which is tyrannical in its action, but which with love and knowledge we “tame”, giving the sensation of a light and graceful movement, with all the tension that appears during the discourse.


A museum in a perpetual state of birth with a disposition that allows a perpetual beginning. Experimental character. Not experiment in the sense of play, but a desire to deepen without the sufficiency of the known. A fresh look at the phenomenon. The burden of tradition, not the burden of pontifications.


A parallel can be drawn between the way scientific experiment is conceived in modern science and the museum. The same isolation in a neutral environment, the same falsification imposed by the discipline of experiment…


I said before that I am afraid of a rigorous plan, as I am afraid of plans when I paint. Too precise a formalisation impoverishes. A rigorous plan, in the museography I seek, is useless.


Yes, I, reading labels in a museum I’ve never seen before, will use few labels here. Objects will be tied together by relationships that labels would confuse.


For such museography, the concepts of ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ articulation seem essential. A loom, for example, is a strong object, impressive in its materiality and formal coherence, in the clear expression of its function. It can therefore be classified in the area of “strong” articulations, of generally perceived evidences and will be used when we need to articulate a complex of sub-assemblies: various auxiliary tools linked to the weaving, fabrics of all kinds. It can articulate two seemingly causally or utilitarian unrelated spaces.
The “weak” articulation may, for example, be a component of the loom, such as the spathe. Such an object becomes active when we want to evoke more subtle registers. It could be used when we organise a space around the idea of construction or hierarchy. Weak articulation better links two or more units by its very discretion and weakness.


The system of relationships that is created between objects is closer to the musical area than I suspected. The exhibition must sing. The objects must interact harmonically. It takes good ears to hear what the object is saying. To understand the language of the object you must have had a long experience of the visual, but also of the history and spirituality of the man who has been in relation to the object you want to evoke. If you have such an ear, and if you have the courage to listen to your ear, then it is the objects that dictate the solutions of exposure. But you have to learn to listen.


A subset can be more important than the whole and a gesture more important than a demonstration.


The mode of presentation means an attitude towards the object. It is, after all, what you ask of the object that counts.
In a museum, after the object, I think the gesture is important. If I roll a towel on a cardboard roll and present it in a box, that’s one thing, and if I pin it to the wall so that it looks nailed down, that’s another. And I think there must be a key gesture that sums them all up, the gesture by which we give value to objects, by which we declare them heritage.
The exclusion of the obvious, the explicit, the excessive; the denial of the usual approach, of commonplaces.


Tact without precise formulations. Put into formula, things lose their latent energy. An excess of formalisation in museum discourse can lead to the destruction of the object. Simplicity, and not the pride of aspiring to perfection. Much naturalness and submission to the object. What does major and minor really mean?


Museology operates with rules based on the constants of perception and fashions. It could become a mode of general understanding. Then museology would cease to be a method, an annihilating mechanism, a recipe.


Apophatic, negative museology is, at the same time, “concrete museology”; in the sense that discourse must act “weak”, subtle, fragile, in favour of things, which are “emotional symbols” and risk, through the process of musealization, to wither away… In order to convey all its charge, an “emotional symbol”, such as the things made by traditional man, needs to be left quite free, little incorporated into an abstract discourse. The uneducated man did not “produce”, he created objects, so everything he made could be an emotional symbol for us.


It’s not irrational at all what they do. It’s part of a poetics of museography, possibly. There is a poetics of architecture; why shouldn’t there be a poetics of museography?


(excerpts from “A few thoughts on quantities, mentality and crossing”, Horia Bernea, CRUCEA (THE CROSS) Catalogue, Romanian Peasant Museum, 1993)