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7AAICC57 The Art Museum: Past, Present, Future

Module convenor: Dr Ruth Adams, in partnership with Tate Public Programmes. Led by a guest tutor.
Teaching pattern: 

The module consists of ten three-hour sessions plus an optional trip during Reading Week. Sessions involve short lectures by the module tutor, group discussions, participant presentations, and talks by Tate staff and external artists and curators. Visits to exhibitions, collection displays and other facilities at Tate Modern and Tate Britain will be arranged. Participants are encouraged to engage with a variety of texts and visual material, to discuss their own interpretations in a warm, dynamic and supportive setting, and to collaborate on activities in small groups.

Module description:

This module examines the historical development, contemporary status and future priorities of the art museum. Over ten sessions, seven held at Tate Modern and three at Tate Britain, the module considers the major activities undertaken by museums, how their conception and execution have evolved over the last 200 years, and how they sit within a broader social, political and cultural landscape.

Organised around a series of presentations by Tate staff on emerging programmes and practices, the course introduces and analyses key themes concerning the past, present and future directions of the art museum. Topics of discussion include collection strategies, curatorial methods, learning programmes, the impact of digital technology, and how institutions engage with a diverse range of publics. Balancing critical reflection on past and existing institutional models with practical steps towards creating new approaches, the module pays particular attention to the transformation of Tate within a much broader international perspective.

As the module progresses, participants will be encouraged to develop alternative models and priorities for art museums. What will the museum of the future look like? How will its policies and programmes change? Who will be its audiences and how will they engage with the museum?

Draft teaching syllabus


Week 1: Mapping the Museum: Origins & Definitions

Week 2: Working with a Collection: Acquisition, Exhibition, Conservation

Week 3: The Politics of Space: Museum Architecture


Week 4: The Changing Role of Curators

Week 5: Experiments in Learning

[Reading Week: Optional Visit to Tate Stores]

Week 6: Funding the Museum: Dilemmas and Opportunities

Week 7: Artists & Institutions


Week 8: New Modes of Engagement: Content, Communication, Participation

Week 9: Reimaging Audiences: The Role of Digital Technology

Week 10: Manifesto for a Museum of the Future

Module aims

  • To offer a broad overview of the history of museum practices.
  • To provide deep insight into current programmes and emerging issues affecting art museums.
  • To explore the different activities undertaken by art museums and how they relate to specific institutional priorities.  
  • To provide an understanding of the economic, social and political developments that have significant impact on museums.
  • To consider how the many internal and external influences on art museums may be coherently conceptualised into a plan for future activities.
  • To establish skills and confidence in research, study and presentation, and in team-work, discussion and collaboration.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, participants will:

  • Have developed the skills and conceptual knowledge to critically assess different museum practices and policies, including an understanding of curating, learning, digital engagement and audience development.
  • Have developed a critical awareness of the wider social and political factors that shape art institutions.
  • Have developed an understanding of how art museums have historically evolved, and how existing and future practices might draw upon or challenge institutional models from the past.
  • Have participated in a mixed group of MA students and members of public, working together to explore key issues facing museums today, as well as developing alternative models for the future.

Core reading

  • Cristina Bechtler and Dora Imhof (eds.), Museum of the Future (Zurich: JRP|Ringier, 2014).
  • Tony Bennett, The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics (London: Routledge, 1995).
  • Claire Bishop, Radical Museology, or, What’s Contemporary in Museums of Contemporary Art? (London: Koenig Books, 2013).
  • Mathieu Copeland and Balthazar Lovay (eds.), The Anti-Museum: An Anthology (Cologne: Walther Koenig, 2016).
  • Douglas Crimp and Louise Lawler, On the Museum’s Ruins (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993).
  • Chris Dercon and Nicholas Serota (eds.), Tate Modern: Building a Museum for the 21st Century (London: Tate Publishing, 2016).
  • Hendrik Folkerts, Christoph Lindner and Margriet Schavemaker (eds.), Facing Forward: Art and Theory from a Future Perspective (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015).
  • Michaela Giebelhausen (ed.), The Architecture of the Museum: Symbolic Structures, Urban Contexts (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003).
  • Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook, Rethinking Curating: Art After New Media (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010).
  • Jenny Kidd, Museums in the New Mediascape: Transmedia, Participation, Ethics (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014).
  • Caroline Lang, John Reeve and Vicky Woollard (eds.), The Responsive Museum: Working with Audiences in the Twenty-First Century (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006).
  • Kynaston McShine (ed.), The Museum as Muse: Artists Reflect (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1999).
  • Coline Milliard et al (eds.), The New Curator: [Researcher] [Commissioner] [Keeper] [Interpreter] [Producer] [Collaborator] (London: Laurence King, 2016).
  • Paul O’Neill and Mick Wilson (eds.), Curating and the Educational Turn (London: Open Editions, 2010).
  • Ross Parry, Recoding the Museum: Digital Heritage and the Technologies of Change (London: Routledge, 2007).
  • Ross Parry (ed.), Museums in a Digital Age (New York: Routledge, 2010).
  • Griselda Pollock and Joyce Zemans (eds.), Museums After Modernism: Strategies of Engagement (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007).
  • Richard Sandell (ed.), Museums, Society, Inequality (New York: Routledge, 2002).
  • Shamita Sharmacharja (ed.), A Manual for the 21st Century Art Institution (London: Whitechapel and Koenig Books, 2009).


1 x 4,000 word essay (100%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Selection Process

If you who wish to be considered for this module, you will need to submit your CV and answer the questions on the online application form which can be found here. You must only complete this form once, and you will be notified of your place on the module during induction week.

Additional information

Open to MA ACM and MA CCI students from the Department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries. As part of Tate’s Public Programmes, the module will also be open to public participants.

 The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

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