Let Us Now Praise Famous Guitars: Persona and the Material Displays of Popular Music Museums
Keywords:popular music museums, musial celebrity, popular music heritage
The study of popular music museums has expanded greatly in the past decade or so. The numerous studies produced so far have largely focused on issues to do with tourism, heritage, and curatorship. Most analysis has attempted to gauge the effectiveness and degree of success of the various methods of constructing and displaying collections of sounds, objects, and ideas. One area that can be of interest in moving beyond these analyses of museum practice is to examine how larger ideologies of artistry and artists that pervade the celebrity personas so assiduously built around famous musicians are an important foundation for these museums’ displays. There are two reasons for the value of this approach. First, it should be clear that most exhibits in popular music museums are built to enhance, not contest already-existing images, historical narratives, and genre-defining attributes that surround well-known musicians. Therefore, it is not possible to understand these institutions without some sense of how they work with musician personas that necessarily precede any presentation in museum exhibitions. Second, we can see this dynamic in extraordinarily concise forms when we examine some of the ‘famous objects’ these museums display. We can often see an entire complex of received ideas about an artist encapsulated in just a few well-known objects they once possessed. From this I will suggest that the personas of famous musicians that appear in most popular music museums do so through varied amalgams of symbolic and material forms meant to stabilise or enhance already-existing ideas about canonically-validated ‘great’ artists.
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