Toronto Is Building a Museum Without Walls

Public Domain. Andre Malraux building a museum without walls

In 1952 French author and philosopher (and later Minister of Culture) André Malraux described the Musée Imaginaire, usually translated as the “museum without walls”. He suggested that the traditional museum was no longer relevant, as photography had become so good that it made art accessible to all. “ Great art, he wrote, made accessible to all through reproductions in books, is liberated from the time, place, and history in which they are usually confined by museum categories. Removed from historical context, they can be rearranged in the mind according to aesthetic or philosophical qualities.”

Even more so than photography, the Internet makes the traditional museum even more of an anachronism, a Cabinet of Curiosities. That’s why a new initiative in Toronto is so interesting. It is a proposal for a partially virtual, partially pop-up museum of Toronto called (I think dreadfully) the Myseum of Toronto. My spellchecker tried to fix that four times, which I think indicates a problem. But everything else about it is fascinating and makes so much sense today. They explain:

Our city is the exhibit, so it’s not one place, it’s every place. Instead of visiting a building to look at things, you engage with the Myseum the way you want. Online. At events around the GTA.[Greater Toronto Area] And the possibilities to connect are endless.

Torontonians have been trying to figure out how to build a city museum for decades but it hasn’t happened in a city where culture takes second place to fixing falling down elevated highways. This may have turned out to be a good thing, because they are getting hungry and clever. As board chair Diane Blake notes in an article by Jamie Bradburn in Torontoist,

“People just say, ‘this has been on the go for so long, like, just get out there and do something,’” Blake told the Globe and Mail earlier this year. “So that’s what we’re really trying to do.”

Museums everywhere are struggling these days, spending multi-millions on starchitects and turning into cultural theme parks, chasing the Bilbao effect and building monuments. Instead, The Myseum of Toronto is hungry and agile; it can go to where the action is with its pop-up model, and can pay serious attention to its online presence, which is often an afterthought with the bricks and mortar (or should I say stone and stainless steel) museums.

André Malraux would be proud.