Neue Museen is a 16mm film about the radical, modernist exhibition designs of Italian post-war architect Franco Albini and his collaboration with museum director Caterina Marcenaro in the early 1950s. The film is shot in the galleries of the Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Rosso, and the Museo di Sant’Agostino, in Genoa.
Albini and Marcenaro’s desire was to literally ‘float’ art in the museum, and the film reconstructs Albini’s unprecedented and extraordinary hydraulic lifting and rotating support for Giovanni Pisano’s ‘Fragment from the Tomb of Margaret Of Brabant’ (1313). This device, which now looks utterly eccentric, can be seen as one of the first examples of interactive museum sculpture display.
The film focuses on Albini and Marcenaro’s stated desire to “emphasise the atmosphere of purity and tranquillity that surrounds a real masterpiece” as a particularly explicit example of the modernist ideology of the museum to radically decontextualise art from its surroundings. As Catherine Marcerano suggests in an article from 1954 (Museum vol. 7 no. 4, 1954): “In the interests of education, the Palace concept was abandoned and the museum criterion strictly adhered to. In other words, the works of art were treated not as the decorative part of a given setting, but as a world in themselves, sufficient to absorb the visitor’s full attention”. It’s this idea of a ‘museum criterion’ that is central to Albini’s designs and exhibition display. In effect his designs propose a certain kind of looking and it’s this form of absorption that the film draws the viewer into.