Guido Guerzoni, Fondazione ERGA (Università Bocconi Milano e Scuola Normale Superiore Pisa)
1. Abstract: is over the age of mega museums?
Over the last twenty years, since the beginning of the nineties until the crisis of 2008, museum studies and museography were forced to struggle with hyper museums: cultural institutions of gigantic scale, associated with new global architecture, symbols of a troubled post-modernity.
These spaces were called upon to defend the tradition, to understand the meaning of change, to support collective identities, to translate memories, to help displaced communities, to provide comprehensible views of the world, without failing to be guided by the economic aspects and by the requests of sponsors and philanthropists.
However the hyper museums, prompted by millions of visitors, have accepted the comparison, opening a debate on their new missions, functions and identity.
The Metropolitan in New York, which spends nearly 180 million dollars for current expenses, has assets worth of more than two billion euro (excluding works) and in 2008 closed a fundraising plan for a billion dollars, a modest figure compared to the 950 million dollars that the Carolyn Wiess Law has given to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston few years earlier.
But the research of the gigantism influences also the European institutions: the Louvre, concerned by the slow growth of visitors (only 8.6 million in 2008), in September 2005 has officially started the project of the Louvre Lens (a place of 5,000 square meters, which will cost 117 million euro, which since 2011 will host in Nord-Pas de Calais 500-600 masterpieces) and in October 2006 launched the three-year plan Louvre Atlanta, thanks to which the High Museum will pay 10 million euro a year for exhibitions, talks , conferences and educational programs.
These experiments were the basis for further agreements: the agreement of the Louvre with Abu Dhabi, March 6, 2007, will bring into the coffers of the French Ministry of Culture 1 billion euro. Other four museums will be realised, including the largest Guggenheim in the world, always by F. O.Gehry.
The excuse is always economic: according to the study conducted by KPMG in 1998, the Guggenheim Bilbao in the first three years of life would have increased the local GDP of 0.47% (impact of 140 million euro against 85 invested), creating 3,816 jobs and 54% of increase in tourist numbers of the Basque country. Similarly the London School of Economics in 2004 said that the economic impact of the British national museums was “in the range £ 1.83 to £ 2.07 billion billion” in 2005 and claimed that Tate Modern has created in five years “between 2.000 and 4.000 new jobs”, about half of which are located in the Southwark area, while according to the impact analysis survey commissioned in 2006, MOMA between 2005 and 2007 generated an economic impact in the city of New York of 2 billion dollars.
2. The role of museum architecture.
The above situation has found its basis in the 2008 crisis, which has reduced models based on large volumes, on huge financial resources, and on glam architectures: similar museums, made in different parts of the world, that wish to host a representation of post-modernity: a lot of money, without limit, without any concern for the financial viability in the medium-long term.
Neverless the nineties were scored by two opposing trends: if art museums have become the new temples of luxury, other institutions have carried out projects more intelligent and responsible from a social point of view.
The debate of the last thirty years has addressed two key questions: how is it possible to represent the phenomena of mass that involved millions of people, without leaving a tangible record?
How do you realize museums to describe issues such as civil rights, environmental policies, information and freedom of speech, the health, etc..? Looking at the compelling outcomes for museums dedicated to women, migration, slavery, war, labor, colonization, the popular culture.
There are, schematically, two different models of museum architecture: on the one hand, the large practises, often with hundreds of employees and owned by investment funds, based on totem or huge whitecubes devoted to modern or contemporary art collections, franchised branches of museums (Guggenheim, Tate, Imperial, Louvre, Pompidou, etc,) or new, sometimes surreal, national museums (see former Soviet republics), realizing in the last twenty years, tens of sites.
The motto “Fuck the Contest”, theorized in the early nineties, has found wide application in the architecture of the museum, against the new theories of museology, who want to maintain links with local communities.
The watchwords of the studies about museums over the past decade are well known: respect for diversity and social responsibility, attention to social issues, inclusion of local communities, research for sustainability, but also the radical transformation of structures devoted to the conservation, production, direction, vision and content, which was the central theme of the relationship between specific place and specific nature of the collections.
3. The research program.
To compare the two different models, hyper museums vs. site-specific, we analyzed 250 museums built in Europe from 1995 to 2008: in addition to the data (location, status, location, designer, etc…) have been collected relevant information to understand the standards of project, the intended use of space, the average cost and construction time.
We have then examined 70 budgets, the costs and the earnings, in order to understand whether and to what extent the costs of management and of operation (maintenance, repair, cleaning, etc…) impact on the balance management.
Finally were examined 65 files about mission, services and content to analyze the activities, target audience and services, to measure the impact of architectural structures on the management.

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