CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Peter Carpreau

Towards a Visual Museum
Peter Carpreau, Curator of Old Masters, M-Museum Leuven


Walter Benjamin’s thoughts on the aura of the artwork provide a reassuring framework for museums. His exposition clearly demonstrates the importance of the original artwork as an irreplaceable object, for which no true substitute is possible. That provides museums with a fundamental raison d’être, as the custodian of those original artworks.
Today’s world, however, has more in common with the concept of Musée Imaginaire as proposed by Théophile Thoré and developed by André Malraux. With the recognition of the key importance of photography to art-historical research (Thoré) and the idea of metamorphosis, in which an artwork is stripped of its function by the museum and is primarily visual (Malraux), this approach seems more in tune with today’s consumption of images through platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp.
This puts pressure on the object-centered approach. At the same time, however, it gives museums an opportunity to explore a different raison d’être. Museums are not only centers of art history, part of the entertainment industry, or vehicles for city marketing. They may also play a role in the educational or medical sectors. However, this calls for a different museological strategy: rather than focusing exclusively on the art object, we will need to widen our focus, as curators, to include the relationship between viewer and artwork, going from an object-oriented to a visually-oriented perspective. This vision involves a shift towards a museum that can familiarize its visitors with the visual, teach ways of interacting with images, and advance “image literacy” – a visual museum.

About Peter Carpreau

Peter Carpreau serves as Curator of the Old Masters and Collection department of the M-Museum, Leuven. At M, he was also responsible for the reinstallation of the collection presentation in 2017. Carpreau studied art history at the Catholic University of Leuven and the Sorbonne, Paris. His research focuses on perception, visual literacy, and the value of art. Recent exhibitions include Power and Beauty, the Arenbergs (2018), Crossing Borders: Medieval Sculpture from the Low Countries (2017), Edgard Tytgat, Memory of a much-loved window (2017), and Michiel Coxcie, The Flemish Raphael (2013).

Peter Carpreau has been a member of CODART since 2010.