Logo Folgwang

Music on Display

Studies on the Presentation and Reception of Musical Topics in Museums

Funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation)



The questions which constitute the core of this research project have been sourced in existing studies and theories in the field of Museum Studies as well as in the problems which are specific to musical presentations. Indeed, there is doubtless a considerable difference between the modes of communication and reception with respect to each museum’s particular thematic focus. This project is therefore devoted to musical exhibitions in all their variety and heterogeneity.

The following questions constitute the core of the research:

1. What kinds of concepts and contents lend themselves to museum-based analysis?

Particular attention is paid here – from the perspective of the researchers – to the arrangement of three-dimensional exhibits, audio files, video recordings and information boards, together with the significance of single artifacts in a broader overall context. In positioning these items together, consideration should be paid to the ways in which these elements might interact and accrue multiple, ambiguous meanings. The spatial aspect, the degree to which the architecture of the exhibition structures the sequencing of events, should not be overlooked in these considerations. Attention should also be paid to how recommended routes around the museum and the availability and inclusion of audio guides and guided tours determine how people access the exhibits, and whether they are at liberty to apprehend the exhibition as they see fit and therefore relate individually to the exhibits. One point of critical importance is the use of sounds. This is as important for music being played on instruments as it is for the use of sound systems and electronic media in interactive stations, which not only allow people to discover and learn for themselves but which also make the exhibition more entertaining. Our research targets the various ways of integrating these into the exhibition.

2. What are the underlying curatorial intentions and how can they be implemented?

This section deals primarily with the contents and concepts of the exhibition from the perspective of the organisers. In this context, the question arises regarding the degree to which any analytical interpretations in the museum actually correspond with the intentions of the curators. Also, any concepts underlying the exhibition should be examined regarding their reasoning and potential outcomes and the ways in which they might be implemented, including the selection and rejection of objects, pictures, media events and the specific characteristics of presentations depending on individual considerations. The potential role of sponsors and/or local interest groups should also be included here. In addition, effort should be invested in establishing how important the role of the public is in shaping an exhibition’s underlying concept, whether any particular target group is to be addressed, whether any target groups should be involved in the concept phase, and what role is played by any “ideal visitors”.

3. What receptive factors influence visitors’ experience of an exhibition?

Finally, research should be undertaken on the degree to which intended content is actually imparted and whether visitors to a museum draw their own conclusions, and the role played by people’s own personal interests, experience and prior knowledge. Here, one focus should be on establishing people’s motivation for visiting a museum. Furthermore, the way in which any receptive factors function should also be studied. These include processes such as communication among groups of visitors, the amount of time people spend examining the museum's exhibits, which explanatory texts are read and which are ignored, and the degree to which visitors make use of interactive stations. Here, the spatial aspect is again of importance in determining whether proposed routes through the exhibition are followed or ignored. It is certainly possible that visitors’ own routes through an exhibition and consequent individual acts of synthesis lead to the constitution of new experiential spaces in the museum.