Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Phil, Fit, Mambo: So Museum would, were it not Museum call'd

Things discussed: Acronyms; Dismay; Cultural Habits; Institutional Obsessions; Italian Cats; the Importance of Branding.

written by f

I'm not an expertbut are there experts on this field? Is this even a field? Experience says that, when there are so many examples of a thing to put on a list, it must be a field. 

Anyway: I'm no expert, but I have the strong feeling that many new Italian museums may have been opened only because someone thought of a pretty name.

Let me drift away for a moment with a very strategic swerve. Let's talk about acronyms.

The English language and the English speakers love acronyms. That's a fact. Who wants to waste time with polysyllabic words? This stated, it's also a factmuch to my dismay when I found outthat in many cases English speakers simply pronounce the letters separately. M.I.T. Em Eye Tee, C.I.A. See Eye Ay, D.E.A. Dee Ee Ay, and so on.

Italians aren't necessarily that fond of acronyms. Unless they become themselves names. Best if with a twist. Before delving into the new Italian phenomenon of sprouting of new museum names, let's see what examples can we give of American or English cases.

I think it all started with the MoMA in New York, that begot MOCA and the like. 
Other famous American institutions are called with a name that is not the extended one, while the British had it pretty easy there, because Tate is already short. And catchy.

Back to the U.S.: Met is not an acronym: it's a nickname, short for Metropolitan Museum of Art or Metropolitan Opera.
In the music world, LA Phil is an interesting second level acronym plus a short form. It stands for LA (or L.A.) Philharmonic. Why second level acronym? Because LA (or L.A.) is short for Los Angeles, but it is also an alternative name for Los Angeles. By Americans, L.A. is likely more used than the long form to refer to the city. 

Back to art, this is not the case with the rather ugly SFMOMA, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Nobody calls San Francisco "S.F." in real life. But this isn't my problem with the acronym. My problem is that it's mixed between letters spelled out and an acronym read as a name, with a wink at the more famous Manhattan one: ES EF Moma. Ugly.

Anyway, none of these cases is necessarily meant to mean anything. Moma is not a word of the English language - unless you think of “Momma” when you pronounce it. And even when it is, it's not felt as such. Met is not perceived as the past tense of meet, although it's definitely a place where you can meet people. 

The case of Manhattan's FITFashion Institute of Technologyis an exception, because their research hasobviouslyto do with stuff that fits. Another exception is the new Manhattan museum MAD, but we'll see that later. 

In Italy, in recent years, new and old museums and institutions are actively looking for pronounceable acronyms. One reason is what I said before: Italians don't particularly like acronyms. The other is that Italians start to like acronyms when they become words in their own right. In many cases, we are here deep into the backronym game.

Keep in mind FIT: Italians like stuff like that. Or at least the museum boards think that Italians like them. And not only museums: an example in Venice are the new University Libraries. Among others: the BAUM, Biblioteca Area Umanistica (Library of Humanities) and BALI, Biblioteca Area Linguistica (Library of Linguistics and Language Studies). 

One may argue that between the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and the historical Opificio delle pietre dure, some trimming here and there would have been healthy. 
It is true now that the habit of trimming, or the viceor the game, is spreading like a virus. 

What's next is a very partial survey of names of museums and art institutions opened across the peninsula in the recent past. Sometimes the places were already there, but the names were changed to adjust to the current trend.

Manifattura di Arti, Sperimentazione e Tecnologia
Arts, Experimentation and Technology Factory
Bologna, opened in 2013.

Made Expo

Milano Architettura Design Edilizia
Milan Architecture Design Building
Milan, started in 2013.


Fabbrica d'Arte di Rimini
(Modern and Contemporary) Art Factory - Rimini
Rimini, opened in 2013.
FAR is the English far, but it's also a poetic or traditional form of Italian fare: to make.


Museo d'arte contemporanea di Roma
Rome Museum of Contemporary Art
Rome, opened 1999 in an ex brewery. Amazing space.


Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo
National Museum of the Arts of the XXI Century
Rome, opened in 2009

Museo d'arte moderna di Bologna
Bologna Museum of Modern Art
Bologna, opened in 2007

Museo d'arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto
Rovereto (Trento province), opened in 2002 in its current location. 
This is not even an acronym any longer. It was when they opened it in Palazzo delle Albere, its previous headquarters. It then stood for Museo d'Arte di Trento.
You can read about my visit to the Mart here.

Museo delle scienze di Trento
Trento Science Museum
Trento, opened in 2013
Designed by Renzo Piano, who had immense success with his previous Natural Science enterprise, his beautiful California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. 

Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia "Leonardo da Vinci"
National Museum of Science and Technology "Leonardo da Vinci"
Milan, opened in 1953.
The Museum is almost never referred to as "MUST", but the museum shop is - rather cleverly - called MUST SHOP.

Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche in Faenza
International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza
Faenza (Province of Ravenna), founded in 1908. 
I haven't been able to check, but it's safe to assume that they wouldn't have called it "MIC" in 1908.

Museo delle Arti di Catanzaro
Catanzaro Museum of the Arts
Catanzaro, opened in 2008

Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia
Venice Civic Museums Foundation
Venice, founded in 2008.
This is not a museum, but the institution in charge of the 11 Venetian public museums.
Among them: the Doge's Palace, the Museo Correr, Carlo Goldoni's House, Ca' Pesaro, the Glass Museum and Palazzo Fortuny. 


Museo d'arte contemporanea Donnaregina
Donnaregina Museum of Contemporary Art
Naples, opened in 2004.

Museo d'Arte della Provincia di Nuoro
Province of Nuoro Art Museum
Nuoro (Sardinia), opened in 1999.

Second to last, a non-italian example: 

The Museum of Art and Design
Manhattan, New York, opened in 2008 with this name and venue. 
Before moving to Columbus Circle, it was known as Museum of Contemporary Craft (MCC?) and had already changed address twice since its foundation in 1956.

And last, a stroke of genius, and my personal favourite:


Museo d'Arte Orientale
Oriental Art Museum or Museum of Oriental Art
Turin, opened in 2008.
You'll have to agree that this one would be difficult to pull off in English. 
OAM? MOA, anyone?

As the matter stands to this day, it's very surprising that no one has yet thought of MORE as a museum acronym. Although, to be fair, there's a website with this nameBut it's not a physical place. It is not, strictly speaking, a museum. 

No one has yet opened a museum called MUCCA (Italian for coweither, or MULE, o MARE(*) (Italian for the sea), or MINT, or MIX. Or MAP. Or MIAO (Italian cats do that. A lot.) (They also purr.)

Sooner or later someone will pay to open an actual place with one, or all, of those acronyms, then think of an extended name that adapts to it, and finally fill it with stuff that, in turn, fits the extended name freshly made up.

This is exactly how it works, isn't it?


(*) My blog co-author suggests "MARE" as the acronym of Musée d'Art de Renoir.
A museum that, very likely, neither of us would visit.
And this may explain why the perfectly legitimate example of Turin's GAM Galleria d'Arte Moderna wasn't included in the list. 


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