Interpretive Voice: A Review of Permanent Exhibition Interpretation at the Rijksmuseum

There has been an international movement that seems to be re-defining modes of display in many art museums. Traditionally, institutions would segregate their collections by discipline, e.g., European paintings in one wing and sculpture in another; the trend is now towards breaking down these categories to tell a more inclusive story of art.

I’ve been observing this trend for the past few years, and it seems that art museums are now merging historical narratives with the history of fine and decorative arts, bringing together objects from collections that were traditionally cared for by different departments, displayed in different sections of the museum, and interpreted in very different ways. By far the most dramatic example of this trend is happening at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which reopened in 2013 after a ten-year redevelopment effort.      – Jennifer Locke

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  1. BYO

    I was struck by the headline: “The definition of interpretation is a highly contested area within the museum world.” What is so contested? The fact that the Rijksmuseum chose to move away from a chronological, synoptic approach or that they offered up a multiplicity of perspectives? I think one of their greatest achievements was to telegraph that artistic expression is influenced by a variety of factors and can be interpreted through many lenses. It does not seem that their approach stood in the way of anyone who brought-their-own interpretative (BYO) framework, even those who approach art through a classical art history lens.

  2. Jane Barnes says

    I don’t believe the author is suggesting that the Rijksmuseum’s approach is contested – the concept or definition of ‘interpretation’ is one that is contested and debated among museum professionals. For example, how much interpretation to include, whether text labels should be lengthy, short, absent, etc….The Rijksmuseum’s approach is not contested – in fact, they have been quite open and inclusive in their approach and have really done a lot of work to bring lots of different viewpoints into the galleries without using a lot of digital media.

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