The exhibitionary complex

Spring 1988

Bennett follows Douglas Crimp in applying Foucault’s theories about prisons to museums. He considers the relationship between spectacle and surveillance, and the move from exemplary public discipline (a model of the former) to incarceration (the latter) as described by Foucault. But he points out that public spectacle did survive the institutionalisation of art in museums, for example in the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace and in fairs, which, as a counterpart to educative exhibitions, were considered as places designed for pure entertainment. Bennett notes the dual surveillance-spectacle effect of the Eiffel Tower and many department stores, which encouraged visitors to view each other from different perspectives. He considers different systems for organising museums, from a chronological regime of progress to a taxonomic, categorical order, and also the ways in which people were divided and ordered by, for example, social class - such that different classes were allowed to the same exhibition on different days. He also looks at the strategies for exhibiting less developed countries and non-white peoples in Victorian exhibitions.

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