The Museum w/o Walls – “Transparency = Universality”

Douglas Crimp, in radically critiquing the institutional form and general program of the modern Museum, mentions French art historian, novelist and statesman André Malraux.

In particular, I am thinking of Malraux’s concept of the “Museum without Walls”. Taking the form of an enormous book, Voices of Silence, this museum was more properly to be understood as a strictly ideal space in which art works from multiple cultures and historical periods would be reduced to weightless and isolated photographic images, thus allowing for a free-association and comparison of a vast catalog of works in various media. My suggestion is that Literature anthologies, as well as History and Science textbooks, are engaged in a quite similar attempt to reduce all objects to pure data, disembodied words and images.


Photography, which reduces all of life and culture to mere documents, presents itself as the most anonymous, intentionless and affectless medium – that medium which, more even than language did for Shelley, functions no medium at all, and consequently becomes the very best medium to serve as the “universal” medium through which to convert a host of culturally specific works of art into a large-scale exhibition of “Global” culture.

André Malraux with his “Museum Without Walls,” 1950

One of Malraux’s very first texts, a 1922 preface to an exhibition catalogue, already presents this notion of art as a vast semiotic system, a multiple chorus of meaning. In it Malraux had written: “We can feel only by comparison. He who knows Andromaque or Phedre will gain a better idea of the French genius by reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream than by reading all the other tragedies by Racine.

– Rosalind E. Krauss

Douglas Crimp
“On The Museum’s Ruins”

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