Of all of the museums of popular music that I have ever visited, Ragnarock, the museum for pop, rock and youth culture in Roskilde, Denmark, is for sure the one I have enjoyed the most so far, not just from the aesthetical point of view but also because it is the one whose narrative best conveys contemporary knowledge about popular music, knowledge gained from both popular music studies and ethnomusicology.
The permanent exhibition displays are of an unusual contemporaneity and remarkable design, thereby creating a very attractive and bold environment. Nevertheless, for museums to rely on innovative technology to convey their narratives is becoming more and more common sense. It is therefore the narrative itself that merits my highest praise, in that it completely departs from the approaches of conventional museums as regards music. More to the point, Ragnarock’s narrative reflects the current perspectives of music studies as an endeavour that approaches music as a cultural and social practice, i.e, a practice created not only by music and musicians but also by people using it to develop themselves as individuals with an identity, to build communities, and to produce and challenge societies. Furthermore, in conceptually placing a great emphasis on audiences as consumers of popular music throughout the whole narrative, the museum is ultimately conveying the idea that people do not need to be musicians to engage with and thereby participate in the production of popular music.
ABBA THE MUSEUM is part of a major project called Pop House, set up with the aim of celebrating live music, which comprises three facilities, a hotel, a restaurant and the Abba museum. After a period of resistance, Abba’s members ended up agreeing with the idea of the museum, but on the condition that it would proceed to focus on Abba not in isolation but rather positioned within the larger context of Swedish music. As such, the museum comprises not only a gallery for the permanent exhibition on Abba, but also two rooms for temporary exhibitions on topics from the broader Swedish popular musical scene.
Rockheim is the Norwegian national museum for popular music, which alone is already very singular: despite the growing trend towards celebrating and exhibiting popular music in museums, few are the countries which are given a national museum specifically to take care of and address the country’s popular music. The idea for the museum emerged during a conference in 1998 focusing on the discussion of musical and sound archives, during which the delegates recognised the need to preserve Norwegian popular music as heritage. There then followed a long development process until the museum’s opening in Trondheim in 2010.
The V&A is currently staging Their Mortal Remains, a remarkable exhibition that pays tribute to the band Pink Floyd. The narrative is typically historical, although it does provide here and there a zoom in on some thematic areas; while it offers a retrospective of the band’s 50 years, it then focuses in on their 14 albums, chronologically, one at a time. In short, in terms of displays, this extensive retrospective boasts some overwhelming installations featuring some album sleeves, and over 350 artefacts, some of which have never been seen before, including hand-written lyrics, musical instruments, letters, original artwork and stage props, spanning well over half a century. (more…)
At the cutting-edge of museum practices
MOMENT NYC (Museum of Music & Entertainment in New York/ http://www.momentnyc.org) stands out as a project that aims to endow New York City with a museum to safeguard, celebrate and cherish its popular music. Founded in 2014 by Genji Siraisi – a native New Yorker, professional musician, composer, and music producer -, the institution has been awarded a provisional museum charter from the New York State Board of Regents and 501c3 non-profit status and is currently concentrating its efforts on advancing the museum’s structure and establishing a physical site. At the same time, its team of scholars has been applying to research councils and other funding bodies (NEH, National Endowment for the Humanities, and New York Council for the Humanities) to support ethnographic research on New York’s popular music and thereby build up its exhibitive narrative. The museum is also highly committed towards community building not only to create awareness of its initiative but also and especially to reach out and begin building an archive of collective experiences and memorabilia able to ensure detail and context to the larger exhibitive narrative. Its educational program is already on the move and represents a distinctive feature of the museum’s already ongoing activities. Performative sessions conducted by highly seasoned professional are held at public schools and designed to enable students to delve deeper into their thinking about music in general, music in their lives, and the very meaning of music both to humans and to New York City. By visiting its site http://www.momentnyc.org/blog/donate/, anyone can get involved with supporting, sponsoring and/or funding MOMENT NYC.
The museum and popular music: spectacle or dialogue?
Exhibitionism is a travelling exhibition that pays tribute to a long-lasting band followed by many devoted fans: The Rolling Stones. It is going to be on display worldwide for four years and was first displayed at the Saatchi Gallery in London from 29th April to 4th September 2016.
The exhibition left me with the belief that it is no longer possible to maintain that museums have long been avoiding dealing with popular music themes, nor even that heritagising them is an innovative and untested museum practice. On the contrary, I would say that organising an exhibition about popular music by calling upon, at some point, the exhibition of sound and/or music has clearly proved a successful practice with great impact. Even more, I would say it has become an approach every museum seeks to profit from, if it has assertive marketing and if it in some way pays attention to, if not innovative, at least the latest opportunities. Accordingly, plenty of museums have been jumping on this bandwagon with the aim of making an extraordinary critically acclaimed show, without carefully exploring the opportunities that museums’ curators can be provided with, in order to deliver truly dialogic narratives about the theme.