ISAIAH BERLIN LECTURE
Palace or Power Station? Museums today
Mr Duncan Robinson, FSA
Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum and Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge
Wednesday, 2 May 2007
5.30pm - 6.30pm
The British Academy, 10 Carlton House Terrace,London, SW1Y 5AH
In 1965 Isaiah Berlin delivered the AW Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. With his inimitably rich blend of philosophy and intellectual history he sketched for his audience not only 'Some Sources of Romanticism', but also the mixed blessings that movement, born of the European Enlightenment, bestowed upon the world in the twentieth century. Careful though he was to maintain his distance from contemporary politics and ideologies, Berlin nonetheless implicated the museum, as the site of his discourse, in a wider discussion of art and society.
This lecture outlines the development of the art museum in the later twentieth century, using recent architectural interventions to illustrate some of the changes that have taken place in attitudes and expectations. The lecturer will discuss both the opportunities and challenges which face cultural institutions in Britain today. As Berlin recognised, they are both intellectual and political: rendered all the more pressing in a multicultural society which is unsure about identity and values. Foolhardy though it would be to exaggerate the extent to which museums can transform society, it is equally unwise to ignore their social and economic impact. At the same time they have a duty of care for the objects they contain, the tangible evidence surviving from the past of that creativity which belongs, in Berlin's phrase, to 'common humanity'. The lecturer will argue that the curator's task is to rise to these challenges to ensure that the museum operates as both a palace and a power station, preserving the past and generating new ideas.
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British Academy Lectures are freely open to the general public and everyone is welcome; there is no charge for admission, no tickets will be issued, and seats cannot be reserved. The Lecture Room is opened at 5.00pm, and the first 100 audience members arriving at the Academy will be offered a seat in the Lecture Room; the next 50 people to arrive will be offered a seat in the Overflow Room, which has a video and audio link to the Lecture Room. Lectures are followed by a reception at 6.30pm, to which members of the audience are invited.
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