How have art museums changed in the past century? Where are they headed in the future? Charles Saumarez Smith is uniquely qualified to answer these questions, having been at the helm of three major British institutions over the course of his career.
His story starts with the Museum of Modern Art in New York, one of the first to focus squarely on the art of the present. When it opened in 1939, MoMA’s boldly modernist building represented a stark riposte to the neoclassicism of most earlier museums. From there, Saumarez Smith embarks on an odyssey to explore forty-one other museums across the globe, including Tate Modern in London, the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the Benesse House Museum on the Japanese island of Naoshima, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris – as well as the Pompidou’s new Shanghai branch, which opened in 2019.
In each case, Saumarez Smith casts an acute eye on the ways in which the experience of art is shaped by the nature of the buildings that house it and the organizing principles by which it is displayed. He traces a radical shift from a belief that museums can and should instruct and educate, to the idea that museums should be more about contemplation, spectacle and individual experience.
A compelling examination of the art museum from a renowned director, this sweeping book explores how the architecture, vision, funding, and public role of art museums across the world have transformed – and considers their future in a new era of pandemic and uncertainty.
'An original book, and so beautifully written and constructed'
Professor Sir David Cannadine, Dodge Professor of History, Princeton University and President of the British Academy
'A wise and insightful tour of our most successful art museums. One couldn’t ask for a better informed or more congenial guide. Highly recommended'
Professor Andrew McClellan, Professor of History of Art and Museum Studies, Tufts University
'There are few people as perfectly suited to give an overview of the pre-COVID museum landscape than Charles Saumarez Smith. Respected by the entire museum field, he has directed three major institutions, each with notable success ... Insightful, witty, playful and ironic, who better to guide a reader through the confusing terrain of the past several decades of the ‘museum boom’?'
James Bradburne, Director General, Pinacoteca di Brera and the Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, and Editor-in-Chief, Museum Management and Curatorship
'I love the style, tone and perspective, the personal experience present along the way, and the open mode of thinking and reflecting on what is seen. That is rare in museum literature and gives a special authority and also a thrill to the text'
Professor Mari Lending, Professor of Architectural History and Theory, Oslo School of Architecture and Design