Glenn Lowry addresses Museums of the 21st Century in Melbourne. (click to watch video)

If earlier this year, we were all distraught that the chief curator of an institution calling itself the New Museum didn’t know much about the online art world, today we can all breathe a little sigh of relief as the director of the world’s foremost modern art museum, MoMA, has given what amounts to an endorsement of the Internet.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported about MoMA Director Glenn Lowry’s keynote address for Museums of the 21st Century, a panel discussion that was held at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne.

Some things of interest in his speech:

  • The idea of a center, Paris in the 20s, New York in the 60s, is simply a untenable idea today … Every museum of modern art is going to have to develop a strategy for dealing with this problem, how to know about what you don’t know, how to cover the world … in the kind of depth that’s appropriate … There is no periphery;
  • ”[But] virtual space can’t exist without real space; the two are locked in a relationship, and the communities that establish themselves online are real communities, with real interests and real experiences.”; and
  • Art museums must learn to deal with the fact that their audiences are going to increasingly come from the World Wide Web and may never actually set foot in their physical space. MoMA in fiscal year 2010 will have 3 million visitors who actually come in our door and 18 million discrete visitors who connect to us on our website … You need to have literally a parallel space on the web. It’s no longer simply a means of providing information about what’s taking place inside the museum. The web itself has become a central space for any museum that takes its mission seriously.

His first point is an intriguing idea but simply because there is no one center doesn’t mean there aren’t margins or peripheries. Multiple centers simply create an axis or sphere, while ensuring that a periphery continues to exist. Sure, there are more opportunities than ever for the periphery to enter the “centers,” but for proof that a periphery exists just ask any street artist if PS1 considered them for the Greater New York show or if the Whitney Museum was trying to figure out which one of them to include in the 2010 Biennial.

In terms of the second point about virtual space’s dependence on real space. That’s currently true but as anyone who has spent enough time online or in virtual worlds can tell you, that may not be true for much longer.

And regarding the last point, WOW … the New Museum better get its shit together. A good place to start would be their own Rhizome.

You can watch the video of Lowry’s speech here.

Hat tip Art History Newsletter

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.