Re-collecting space: Pre- and post-lockdown encounters with the grand gallery of the National Museum of Scotland

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Abstract

As the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist has noted, ‘museums were supposed to be an objective archive of the past... but this does not mean the museum is simply a resting place.’01 The museum is a public space, but it also has its origins in the Wunderkammer of private collections. The tension between the two — public display and private appreciation — is still present in the museum. As the artist Remy Zaugg reflected in 1986 in relation to the places of encounters between artworks and people in the public spaces of the art museum: ‘The relationship between a singular work and a singular beholder is intimate almost private.’02 Internally, museums function at both macro and micro scales simultaneously, and at public and private levels of engagement.

This article investigates the tension between public display and private appreciation by examining one such museum interior that has, in recent months, oscillated between being a public institution and a private collection. The Grand Gallery of the National Museum of Scotland (1866) is one of the most popular public spaces in Edinburgh. On 17 March 2020, this interior changed when lockdown closed the doors of the museum to the public. However, the interior and its objects did not remain at rest during this time. Reflecting on two visits to the Grand Gallery, this article discusses this change in the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Through primary observations, historical and theoretical investigations, this article exemplifies how the experience of an ordinary public interior was reconceptualised during the COVID-19 pandemic by restating relations between objects, people, and the notion of being in the public sphere, both physically and in the digital realm.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-86
JournalIDEA Journal
Volume18
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2021

Keywords

  • interior design
  • museum
  • display

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