Peter van Mensch
Towards a methodology of museology
(PhD thesis, University of Zagreb 1992)

The functional identity of artefacts

The change of meaning as result of musealisation is a complex phenomenon that only can be understood in connection with the complete range of meanings that objects can have in a given society. Within each context a specific range of roles is played, which is socially and culturally recognised. Objects have no inherent value. Their worth depends entirely on their fulfilling of some functions. Even worse, objects often have negative value: they take op space, time, energy and money that could be devoted to other matters (Lowenthal in Wright ed. 1991: 13).

In De Saussure's semiotics distinction is made between 'signifier' (or 'sign-vehicle') and 'signified' (or 'referent'). Sign-vehicle refers to the material, sensory form; signified refers to the meaning. Meaning depends on the interpreter. Without an interpreter there is no sign. 'We see things not as they are, but as we are' (Weil 1990). Meanings are in human minds, not in things themselves. In this respect is it useful to distinguish between the conceived object and the perceived object. The conceived object relates to the factual identity, it is the set of meanings as intended and experience by the maker. This meaning is not necessarily the same set of meanings as experienced by later users (the perceived object). The perceived object relates to the actual identity.

Roles [note1] and their relations change according to the nature of the context and, of course, the perspective of the beholder. Biographies of objects can be written from a physical, technical, economic or social point of view. What matters here is, what Kopytoff calls a culturally informed biography (Kopytoff 1986). What would make a biography cultural is not what it deals with, but how and from what perspective. Such biography should focus on the object 'as a culturally constructed entity, endowed with culturally specific meanings, and classified and reclassified into culturally constituted categories' (Kopytoff 1986: 68).

Categories of meaning

The culturally specific meanings of an object can be grouped according to the following four aspects: practical, aesthetic, symbolical, and metaphysical [note 2]. Practical meaning refers to the physical use of the object and is related to the main physical characteristics. Usually the maker has added some aesthetic dimension to the object. In some occasions the object has a meaning that refers to something outside its own reality: a happening, an abstract idea, etc. This has been called symbolical meaning. The metaphysical meaning goes one step further. This meaning refers to a possible relation to a supernatural world [note 3].

In the polarity between conceived and perceived object a hierarchy of meanings exists, related to intention. 'Functional identity' refers to the sum total of all meanings; 'function' refers to the hierarchy of meanings. In Chapter 12 two categories of artefacts are mentioned: artefacts with a primarily utilitarian purpose and communicative artefacts created according to aesthetic, conceptual, or symbolic principles. As to the first category the practical aspect is the most decisive meaning to denote the functional identity of the individual object (i.e. its function). The other meanings are additional. As to communicative artefacts either the aesthetic, the symbolic or the metaphysical aspect is the most decisive.

Functional degradation

The use value of objects varies with the perceived quality of its structural and functional properties. In general there is a gradual functional degradation caused by physical, technological and psychological obsolescence (Schiffer 1976: 46-47; Van IJzeren 1985). Degradation usually leads to elimination from the primary context. Until a century or so ago, obsolescence was a purely physical phenomenon. The physical process of ageing literally determined the useful life of the artefact. Current concepts of technological obsolescence are a direct result of the industrial revolution, since an increasing number of objects is becoming economically useless without reference to any residual physical utility, because they could be replaced by new, more effective or more fashionable models (Thompson 1979). In addition mention could be made of psychological obsolescence, when objects become visually unpleasant (Nijhof 1991: 91). Several authors have pointed at the increasing speed of the functional degradation in our contemporary Western societies. This 'ageing-rate' is for example very high in consumer goods like clothing and cars, but also in art. Hermann Lübbe uses the term 'Veraltensrate': 'Je mehr moderne Kunst auf den Markt kommt, um so mehr veraltete Kunst bleibt übrig' (Lübbe 1991: 230). Almost everything made is increasingly short-lived. Built-in obsolescence has become an universal principle of manufacture and marketing (Lowenthal in Wright et al. 1991: 11). Every kind of object has a briefer life-span than its precursors, often by whole order of magnitude.

Eventually, the object moves into the sphere of the singularly worthless to that of the expensive singular, or, in terms of Thompson from transient to durable (see Chapter 15) [note 4]. In this respect Pomian divides the material world into two categories of objects (Pomian 1990). The first category is formed by the objects in use, i.e. objects in the primary context with a predominantly economic (practical) value. For the second category he introduced the term semiophore. These objects are withdrawn from their economic use and attributed with some cultural, symbolic value. Gluzinski makes a parallel distinction between 'thing' (the actual real state of being of an object) and 'symbol' (referring to a 'para-onto' situation, i.e. a situation 'outside our actual temporal-spatial co-ordinates') (Gluzinski 1985). This dualism of the meaning of the object in its primary context and a specific meaning which expresses a higher value category is also reflected in Treiner's distinction between 'systembezogene Symboldeutungen der primären Sozialzusammenhang' and 'die Bedeutung in einen universalen Rahmen" (Treinen 1973).

'Tournament of value'

The transformation from thing into symbol, from object into semiophore, involves the disappearance of the practical meaning and the confrontation of the individually perceived value with the socially perceived value. This confrontation takes place in the market of art and antiquities, which functions as a 'tournament of value' (Appadurai 1986: 21) [note 5]. Singularity is confirmed not by the object's structural position in an exchange system, but by intermittent forays into the commodity sphere, quickly followed by re-entries into the closed sphere of singular "art" (Kopytoff 1986: 82; see also Treinen 1973: 337-338). The process of signification in relation to musealisation is often demonstrated with help of Marcel Duchamps' Urinoir (1917). The signification of the object does not so much depend on the object itself as on the (museum) context, or rather the traditions and conventions that constitute the art museum as context. Many artists who consciously bring this mechanism to the attention in their work, add a critical and inspiring contribution to the discussion. For example, such diverse artists as Daniel Buren, Edward Kienholz, Joseph Kosuth, and Marcel Broodthaers have raised the issue of the mechanism of signification in a museum context in their work since the late sixties.

As has been mentioned in the preceding chapter, the definition of semiophores (i.e. the process of singularisation), is very often controlled by the dominating social groups within society. The objects concerned are converted 'upwards' to a higher sphere of exchange, exclusively dealing with 'symbols'. This process starts with a form of private singularisation, and usually leads via the acceptance of this value by a small group to a general socially perceived value. The latter is formalised by 'public institutions of singularisation', like historical commissions, panels deciding on public monuments, neighbourhood organisations concerned with 'beautification' and museums.

For many museologists the institutionalisation of the perceived social value is the main focus point of museological theory and/or museum theory. 'Museum's essence (...) is not based on technical or institutional aspects and certainly not on spatial ones (building) but is in the first place a matter of meanings which in a system of culture represent all things that make up a museum,...' (Gluzinski 1983: 32).

'Museum dilemma'

The traditional PM transform (see Chapter 15) is accompanied by a process of singularisation, either as cause or as effect. In museological literature emphasis is on singularisation as effect rather than cause of musealisation. As such this process is usually referred to as 'secularisation' or 'alienation'. According to this view the object is isolated from its original meaningful context and alienated from its original meaning. This has been described as the basic 'museum dilemma' (J. Pope-Hennessy, quoted in Hall 1987: 11). 'The process of decontextualising exhibits in museums is just a misdeed against the object as the abduction into slavery is a crime against people. It is a form of destruction', writes Tomislav Sola (1985: 82). For museologists from the Third World, alienation is characteristic for European colonialism and imperialism (Araujo & Bruno 1988). For museologists from the German Democratic Republic alienation was characteristic for bourgeois museology: it 'fördert die Theorien des Skeptizismus, der Vereinsamung, des Ausgeliefertseins an technische Entwicklungen und unerklärliche Schicksalsmachte. In den Kunstmuseen spiegelt die Isolierung des einzelnen Kunstwerkes die Entfremdung der Menschen im Kapitalismus, die Abstraktion des Menschlichen von Gesellschaftlichen, die Isolierung des Einzelnen ... von der Umwelt und fördert sie bewusst oder unbewusst' (Huhns 1973: 292). In this respect Shanks and Tilley speak about 'the erotics of the museum': 'Artifacts are promoted to virginal purity (the aesthetic artifact) or prostituted as objects for possession and consumption (the past is subject to immediate consumption in voyeuristic detail' (Shanks & Tilley 1987: 83). The past is revealed, exposed and uncovered; the voyeur enjoys its nudity and virginity. 'Just as in pornography women are all equivalent as sexual commodities - reduced to sameness in relation to their display and possession in stylized, sterile sex, endlessly repeatable, so too the period room (as museological artefact) is endlessly repeatable. History is ultimately all the same, abstract temporal sequence, object of display and possession. It is a homogeneous history' (idem). In other words 'die Musealisierung ist nicht anderes als die Entzeitlichung' (Haslinger 1991: 205), i.e. the 'dehistoricisation' of objects. Objects never intended to commemorate anything are transformed into monuments of mythical meaning. There is a shift from primary meaning to symbolical meaning. In the context of a museum 'history is abstracted from the historical and becomes an object of generalised social attention' (Shanks & Tilley 1987: 84). In fact, preservation does not mean the safeguarding of the object, but rather adds to the degradation of the original object: the object is transformed into something else.

The most common shifts in the meaning concern the increasing importance of the aesthetic meaning and the change on the level of symbolic meaning. In this respect Brachert speaks of the 'Prozess der Umdeutung zum musealen Objekt' (Brachert 1985: 23). Especially non-art objects loose their original functional significance to become treated as works of art. This is what he calls 'Verwandlungs- oder Verfremdungsästhetik'. This process is frequently analysed in relation with history museums, especially in Germany. 'Das historische Objekt folgt einer eigenen Asthetik, die sich der Reproduktion einer vorgebenen Deutung entzieht' (Rüsen in Ernst ed. 1987: 91) Or, as Tomislav Sola writes in similar words: "Numerous museum objects in museums today are known only as beautiful objects. They have lost all traces of the real, inherent, meaning they used to have due to their function, and to the intent and ambition that created them" (Sola 1985: 82).

This provides museums with a choice. In his contribution to the Leiden 1984 symposium Sola posed that museums have the choice 'of many possibilities between the two extremes, that of a mortuary, a morgue for dead objects and that of a place of lively communication where objects continue to live, fulfilling some function' (Sola 1984: 60). Badura even speaks of vampirism in this respect. Musealised objects are 'historisch blutleer' (Badura in Ernst ed. 1987: 92).

One of the main aims of museum work/museology should be, writes Huchard, the battle against 'la denaturation et la mutilation des objets dans les musées' (Huchard 1986: 149). In fact, this battle is one of the cornerstones of new museology. But there is also room for another approach according to which not the battle against alienation, but alienation itself is a key concept. In this regard it is necessary to discuss 'the ambivalence of closeness and distance' (Korff 1984). As authentic document (see below) the (museum) object brings us the past closer, but at the same time the alienation process put a distance between us and the past. In this connection Walter Benjamin's concept of aura should be mentioned (Benjamin 1985). Aura can be seen physically ('patina') as well as psychologically. Through musealisation the aura does become a thick skin around the object resisting an objective look at it. To de-mystify and to de-sacralise objects, to avoid pathos and monumentality several authors advocated the rhetoric technique of the irony ('ironic montage') as form of intentional alienation.

For the same reason Bernard Deloche proposes to make use of copies: 'Ainsi traduite en image, l'oeuvre perd son aura au profit d'une neutralité homogene' (Deloche 1985: 38). According to Deloche the existence of large quantity of reproductions changes the meaning of the original object. The value of the object lies in being the prototype, the message of its image is available through the reproductions (see also Berger 1972: 21).

Sola's two options, however, are interconnected. Especially with regard to animals and plants musealisation is connected with death. In this case the museum as cemetery is an obvious metaphor. But the death of the animal and the alienation from its original context is precondition to become a document. In this respect Hainard speaks about 'une muséologie de la rupture': 'comment rompre la delectation du sublime de l'objet pour en provoquer une autre plus salutaire: la comprehension' (Hainard 1989: 25). This is in fact the basis of the traditional public museum: to withdraw the objects in which our accumulated human culture is expressed and invested from use and to return it to people for contemplation under particular conditions and circumstances. Indeed, objects are dead, but they can be re-actualised in a certain discourse. In a similar way, Davallon describes 'separation' and 'espace synthetique' as two critical phases in the process of musealisation. This 'esthetic space' is a necessary pre-requisite for the emancipation of the object as document [note 6]. "Es [the museum] muss die Gegenstände des Alltags in einem emanzipatorischen Sinne fremd und historisch machen" (Burckhardt 1991: 209). This is the other side of the 'museum dilemma': alienation as part of argumentation.

Significance of museological objects

The information character of the alienated object is very much dependent on the new, pre-existing structures in which it is included. In addition some scientific activity is involved to realise the documentary potential of the object. As such it is the intention rather than distance in time and culture that defines the actual change of meaning of an object during musealisation. The documentary aspect of the museological context is the result of the emergence of a 'documentary intention' coupled with an attempt of objectivation of the information needed to document a phenomenon. Any physical object becomes a document when these two conditions are fulfilled (Gluzinski 1980: 446). In this respect Gluzinski introduced the term 'M-factor' for the special meaning of objects in the museological context: "There are two intramuseum behaviours whose union is thoroughly impregnated with M-factor: symbolisational behaviour (which treats things as representations of values) and communicational behaviour (which transmits those values)" (Gluzinski 1983: 32). Russio introduced the term 'fait museal' ('museum fact') (Russio 1981) or 'fait muséologique' (Russio 1983). There is a close relationship between this concept and the concept of museality (see below) and Gluzinski's M-factor. "The museum is the place where the museum fact is located, but for it to take on the full strength of its meaning in reality, the objects must be museumized - that is to say, the material objects become object-concepts. (...) This museum processing concerns objects which have a value as a witness, as a document, and are authentic in relation to man and nature" (Russio 1983: 56).

There is a confusing diversity of terms connected with the significance of objects in the museological (museum) context. Mention has been made of: document, witness, testimony, authenticity, representativity, 'M-factor', 'fait museal'. Hofmann lists some additional terms that are frequently used in this context: "Dokumentationswert, Quellenwert, musealer Wert, Musealität, kulturhistorischer Wert, Aussagewert, Symbolwert, Memorialwert, emotionaler Gehalt, Attraktivität, Expressivität, Neuigkeitswert, Seltenheitswert, Informationswert" (Hofmann in Grampp et al. 1988: 49). In SAMDOK, the Swedish programme to document contemporary society, following list of values of objects in the museological context is applied: symbolic value, unicity, key value, reference value, component value, illustrative value, aesthetic value, and prototype value (Rosander 1980: 29-30) [note 7]. Kovac (1982) attempted to classify the value dimensions of (museum) objects based on the significance of a museological object as related to its function in the museological context. Kovac lists following functions: "die Referenzfunktion; die Denotationsfunktion; die Konotationsfunktion; die Interpretationsfunktion; die Kommunikationsfunktion". SAMDOK's list of values and Kovac' classification of functions are very similar. Kovac' referential function involves the relationship between the object and certain phenomena, which relationship could be summarised as pars pro toto. The denotative function is related to the evolutionary character of phenomena and refers to stages of development. The connotative function refers to the possibility to connect different interpretations as to the referential and denotative functions. The interpretative function is the general function as source for scientific research, while the communicative function denotes the general function as medium in the communication process. According to Kovac, all functions are related to following five value dimensions of the museological object: (1) Beweisstuck der Realität (the object as argument), (2) ursprungliches Denkmal des Auftretens (the object as memory), (3) Studienquelle der Erkenntniss (the object as source), (4) expositionelles Ausdruckszeichen (the object as exhibit), (5) einmaliges Objekt der Sammeltätigkeit (the object as collectible).

These five value dimensions may be reduced to two fundamental aspects: the object as (re)source and the object as medium (Hofmann 1979, Desvallées 1985, Razgon in Grampp et al. 1988). As primary museum material, the object can fulfil this double task, according to Stránský, from the fact that the object is an ontological category. It exists in time and space outside our consciousness (in a lecture for the International Summer School of Museology, 1990). In this respect Stránský quotes Comenius who has said: "Whatever be present to youth to acquire knowledge, be it things and not mere shadows of things; things, I say, real, true, and useful, properly acting upon senses and imagination. And they will act, if pushed nearer to strike the senses" (in Didactica, 1657) [note 8].

The object as document

The central value of an object in the museological context is the documentary value. According to Stránský "a thing acquires a documentary relation to the reality only when it is purposefully selected from original existential relations of the reality and put into new, artificial documentary relations" (Stránský 1974: 35). It becomes a document and, as such, a source of knowledge (primary source). This special character of the museological object is reflected in Stránský's definition of musealium as "object separated from its actual reality and transferred to a new, museum reality in order to document the reality from which it was separated" (Stránský 1970). Museum objects are "ontologically coincident with objects in general, but as to their semantic, they have a new function, i.e. the function of authentic witnesses, documents, and/or the testimony of natural and social facts" (Stransky 1985: 98). In this respect Stránský speaks about the degree of documentarity of a thing, which is "direct proportional to the degree of informational agreement between the phenomenon (that is documented) and the (preserved object as) document" (Stransky 1973: 36).

This brings him to the principle of gnoseological agreement. "This means that the museum documentation has to fulfil three basic moments of the documentary agreement:
(a) the agreement between the structure of a document and that of a phenomenon,
(b) the agreement between the modality of elements of a document and elements of a phenomenon,
(c) the correlation between the structure of a document and that of a phenomenon"
(Stransky 1974: 37).

Stránský considers the main aim of museum documentation (i.e. collecting) to curtail the subjectivity of the process of musealisation by introducing 'scientific methods'. The object represents the objective aspect of reality and the aim should be to understand the rules of the objective documentation of this reality (Stransky 1974: 32). The same approach can be found in the writings of Schreiner. He defines a museum object as "an authentic historical piece of evidence [which] is any object that enjoys a specific perceptible existence and therefore bears genuine, authenticated, undoubtable witness to, or [which] provides immediate testimony of, certain temporarily and locally defined state of being of a natural or social phenomenon, which it stems from" (Schreiner 1985: 63). Key notion is "the objective evaluation of the degree of documentarity of a selected thing" (Stransky 1974: 32). However, the degree of 'documentarity' is influenced by the processes involved in PP transforms and the process of musealisation itself. Being connected with persons rather than abstract phenomena, objects are no unambiguous evidence. They are, in terms of Korff, "die in Objektivationen subjektivierte Seite von Zeitgeschichte" (Korff 1990: 12). As such, a (museum) collection duplicates the axiological structure of reality rather than the ontological (Gluzinski 1980: 447). This is also expressed by Hudson in his famous one-liner: "A stuffed tiger in a museum is a stuffed tiger in a museum and not a tiger" (Hudson 1977: 7) [note 9].

Musealisation involves loss of data on all three levels of information (structural, functional and contextual). On the level of physical data (structural identity), the information content of the museological object is influenced by the physical consequences of the preparation of the object as document. Part of the information loss is compensated by documentation ('secondary documentation'). The scientific interpretation attempts to complete or even enrich the documentation level of information (Dunger 1984). Thus, the significance of an object as document depends on the balance between primary and secondary data and the degree of compensation of the lost physical data and contextual data by documentation. Summarising, Dunger mentions seven criteria for the degree of 'documentarity':

1. Objektgebundener Informationsgehalt (physical properties of the object);
2. Autentizität des Objektes (data concerning the date and place of collection, etc.);
3. Begeleitinformation (documentation about the primary context, including function and meaning);
4. Erschliessungsgrad (the degree of object oriented research that is already available);
5. Erhaltungsgrad (conservation condition and the degree of physical intervention during conservation);
6. Zugänglichkeit (technical prospects for research);
7. Periphere Kenntnis (general subject matter knowledge related to the significance of the object).

Witness vs testimony

Apart from museological/museum-document, throughout museological literature another term is used quite often in French and in German texts: 'objet témoin' or 'Sachzeuge'. The term 'objet témoin' goes back to Gabus, who himself borrowed the concept from Jean Cocteau (Gabus 1965: 14-15 and 41-42) [note 10]. Gabus explains his use of the term 'witness' by stating: "An object is never the product of pure chance; it speaks for something or someone" ("... il est le témoin de quelque chose ou de quelqu'un"). Discussing Russio's use of the term 'témoignalité', Stránský wishes to distinguish testimony (témoignage, Zeugnis) from witness (témoin, Zeuge). "Is not a museum object rather a witness and, for instance, the book a testimony?" (Stransky 1984, unpublished comment). This distinction agrees with the original intention of Gabus.

The same distinction (between testimony and witness) is also relevant in connection with the discussion about the term museale Sachzeuge in the German Democratic Republic. The use of this term is criticised by Schreiner (1980). Schreiner points out that there is no equivalent in other languages. Since it is synonymous with museum object he sees no reason to use this term. Besides, 'museum object' is the standard term used by ICOM. Throughout his publications Schreiner uses the terms Beweis, Belegstuck and Zeugnis. In doing so he emphasises the aspect of testimony. In response to Schreiner's article Hofmann (1980) explains the meaning of the term orginale historische Sachzeuge, which he thinks is more adequate than museum object. In his article Hofmann mentions the relevancy of the term Zeuge (witness), but he does not point at the theoretical difference between witness and testimony. However, in an earlier publication he states: "es [the museum] bewahrt primär Zeugen, nicht blosse Zeugnisse" (Hofmann 1979). This is also stated by Huchard (1986: 155): "Il suffit se savoir interroger les objets témoins pour qu'ils nous livrent leur témoignage: c'est le rôle de la recherche scientifique". In his dictionary Schreiner still rejects the term Sachzeuge: "In Museen werden keine Zeugen gesammelt, sondern unmittelbare Bestandteile des Geschehens selbst sowie Zeugnisse daruber" (Schreiner 1989).


The (potential) quality which the selected object acquires through the process of selection has been called museality. This term has been introduced by Stránský in the beginning of the 1970s and has met wide approval [note 11]. However, the concept of museality has not always been described univocally. Initially (1974) Stránský described museality as the "specific documentary value, conditioned by the quality of the bearer". Or, more precise, "Under the concept of authenticity and, thus, museality of the document we have to understand its concrete and perceivable properties, its informational value (as a source of original information), regardless to its nature or character" (Stransky 1974: 33 [emphasis mine, PvM]). This approach has been adopted by many authors, among which Maroevic. However, as has been shown in Chapter 4. Stránský's concept has changed. In a paper presented on occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Reinwardt Academie (Nov. 1986) Stránský explained his concept of museality as value category, as expression of the special relationship of man to reality connected with the wish to preserve and to use selected objects. Although the museum object is the carrier of museality, the term refers to an attitude of the observer rather than a quality of the artefact.

The 'old' concept of museality is followed by Schubertova. She considers as 'a certain specific aspect of reality': "Die Musealität kann als Qualität in der Realität nicht in ihrer abstrahierten Form existieren, sie ist stets an ihren Träger, an eine Realie bzw. an eine Sache gebunden. Die Erkenntnis der Musealität erfolgt stets als ein sinnlich-konkretes Kennenlehrnen einer Sache, eines Objekts" (Schubertova 1979, published in German in 1982). It 'emerges' in the process of musealisation. A few years later, following Stránský's new concept, Schubertova distinguished museality on two levels: potential museality and topical museality. Potential museality "is the valueableness of the sensorially concrete aspect of reality - museality as a possibility founded in objective properties of objects" (Schubertova 1986: 135). Topical museality "is the objectification of human adoption of the reality - museality realized in the form of musealies".

The 'old' concept of museality is also followed by Maroevic. In his view museality is a characteristic feature of an object which enables the object, separated from its original environment and placed in the museum environment, to become the document of that reality from which it is separated (Maroevic 1986: 182). By discovering new characteristics the museality of an objects increases. In terms of Schubertova this is potential museality. In one way or another museality refers to the cultural role of objects, especially the role of museological (museum) objects. It is confusing that the term 'museality' has been used for both the intention of the 'user' and the properties of the object. The distinction of Schubertova gives a good possibility to integrate both approaches, which are, in fact, two sides of the same phenomenon.


The concept of authenticity seems to be one of the basic concepts in museology. As we have seen, it is mentioned as one of the key values of a museological/museum object as document. However, the use of the term is often very confusing. Sometimes the term is used to describe a special property of an object as autonomous entity, but on other occasions the meaning of the term is applied to the dichotomy prototype-duplicate (see Chapter 13). In both instances 'authentic' is related to 'original' and 'genuine'.

Usually authentic refers to the degree to which the object can be seen as the genuine product of the genius of the original maker. Throughout Dutton's anthology on forgeries the term 'authenticity' is used as 'a historical norm concerned with the origin or genesis' of the object (Wreen in Dutton ed. 1983: 190). Authentic, original and genuine are used as synonyms. This approach coincides with the legal use of the term. Under Anglo-American law, a party may serve the adversary with a written request to corroborate the authenticity of any relevant document. Direct evidence of authenticity may be got through the testimony of persons who signed the original documents. This is often impossible, however, and in this case circumstantial evidence is permitted. In a similar way authenticity is an important aspect of the Christian cult veneration of relics. The Roman Catholic church laid down rules to assure the authenticity of relics (Council of Trent, 1563).

Speaking about prototypes and duplicates, Margolis distinguishes authentic from genuine. Authentic may signify "no more than accurate cum authorized or at least checked against the original by someone suitably informed" (Margolis in Dutton ed. 1983: 167). In this case 'authentic' refers to copies, while the original is the 'genuine' thing. The same use of the term authentic is found in archive administration [note 12]. The point here is the concept of authenticity as expression of an accurate or authorised relation between (part of) the information as evidence of a certain event or phenomenon. In a similar way, the concept of authenticity is used in music in relation to the reconstruction of the performance of ancient music (i.e. the reconstruction of its appearance).

Eco uses the term authentic in a similar way, but turns the argument upside down. A perfect copy possesses the same semiotic properties as the original. "Therefore the value accorded to the authenticity of the original statue has more relevance for a theory of commodities (...) The lust for authenticity is the ideological product of the art market's hidden persuaders" (Eco 1979: 179).

Dutton, Eco, and Margolis use the terms authentic, original and genuine in connection with object-object (or object-event) relationships. Other uses refer to the relationship between factual and actual identity. Writing about machines Monger uses the term originality for objects which were delivered straight from the factory to the museum (Monger 1988: 376, also Ware 1980). Originality is thus related to the factual identity of the object concerned, with strong emphasis on the appearance. In a similar way Van de Wetering speaks about the original state to which he refers as the object's authenticity, as opposed to the object's historicity which is connected with the actual identity (Van de Wetering & Van Wegen 1987). This is also reflected in Suler' remark: "in order to strengthen the authenticity, it would be useful to remove later applications of innovations and deformations" (Suler 1985: 145).

Following the same line of thought some authors have developed detailed lists in order to establish the degree of authenticity. The highest degree of authenticity is given to an object made by the artist alone, without help of others, which object has remained practically unchanged since. Savage's list of seven categories of authenticity of furniture combines the three concepts of authenticity as mentioned above: the relation between object and maker, the relation between original and copy, and the relation between factual and actual identity (Savage 1976: 42). The categories are:

1. completely genuine, in untouched condition, or with minor repairs;
2. repaired more or less extensively;
3. more replacement than original work;
4. faked by the addition of ornament of one kind or another;
5. an honest commercial reproduction;
6. a reproduction faked with the signs of age;
7. completely new work - a forgery made either from old wood or from wood given the signs of age artificially.

However, speaking about paintings, Savage gives five categories of authenticity which refer to the relationship between maker and object only (Savage 1976: 244). The degree of authenticity is related to authorship:

1. the untouched work of a master;
2. partly by his hand, the remainder the work of pupils or assistants;
3. studio-piece, painted in the style of a master by an assistant;
4. school-piece, painted by an independent artist of lesser stature influenced by the master;
5. contemporary replica, executed either as a studio-piece, or by another artist.

A similar, but more detailed, list is given by Marijnissen (1985: 20-35). He includes, for example, copies made by the master him/herself, works of art produced in series (multiples), and forgeries.

A completely different approach is found by Kühn. He refers to the actual appearance of an object as its authentic state, described as "a state which the object developed in the course of time from its original new state, through the natural ageing of its materials, ..." (Kühn 1989: 393; see also Swiecimski 1982: 40). This use of the term authentic might be compared with the concept of aura as introduced by Walter Benjamin (Benjamin 1985). It is the continuity of the structural and functional identity of the object, the history of the object which makes the object an unique expression of authenticity. "To be sure, at the time of its origin a medieval picture of the Madonna could not yet be said to be authentic. It became authentic only during the succeeding centuries and perhaps most strikingly so during the last one". In a similar way Gluzinski considers aura as a quality ('primary quality) linked with originality (Gluzinski 1985: 34).

Gluzinski does not use the term authenticity. "The term 'authentic'", he says, "does not belong to the object language, but is a semantic term of a metalanguage, and the term 'original' is not a physical predicate but a psychological phenomenalistic predicate of the language of psychology (it expresses someone's opinion on the evidential value of the sources of his knowledge about the determined properties of the given object" (Gluzinski 1980: 443). Stránský makes a clear distinction between authenticity and originality. Originality is a property that comes from the object itself, while authenticity has to be proved by scientific evaluation (Stransky 1986: 41). In fact, this use of the term authentic agrees with Gluzinski's use of the term originality. In a similar way, the term authentic is explained by Schreiner as "the degree of coincidence of the information included in the social- historic irrefutable evidences (objects) with the historic events. An object is always authentic only within a relational statement and in regard of determined conditions, that means it is always to consider what the authenticity refers to" (Schreiner 1984: 25-26). "This authenticity therefore is no immanent, permanent element and no property of the object itself, what determines its essence and structure, but only a special statement about the object" (Schreiner 1985: 63). It is this approach to authenticity that seems to be the key to the concept. The scientific authenticity of an object is established by its connections with other objects or statements which have not been proven false. As such authenticity is a relative statement reflecting the state of knowledge, but liable to verification. Within the museum context authentic is opposed to substitute (either false of genuine).



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1 Fleming speaks of use versus role (Fleming 1974). Use relates to the intended function (= conceived object), role relates to the un-intended function (= perceived object). >back<

2 In Van Mensch, Pouw & Schouten (1983) a different terminology was used: functional for practical, and expressive for esthetical. Both meanings were considered primary meanings as opposed to the symbolic and metaphysical meanings which wre taken together as secondary meanings. >back<

3 Fleming (1974) mentions three aspects: utility, delight and communication. Speaking about buildings Feilden (1979: 22 and also 1982: 6) distinguishes between three groups of value: cultural value, use value and emotional value. >back<

4 Pomian (1990) speaks of the paradox of the exchange value without use value. >back<

5 The same metaphore is used by Pomian (1990: 35). Historically seen the coming into being of public auctions during the 17th century was a main step towards the institutionalization of this confrontation. >back<

6 An interesting example is provides by the Te Maori exhibition in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, Sept. 1984). 'Maori art was transformed and in a sense "released" and "freed" from the history and intellectual context in which our artwork had been "imprisoned". I saw our taonga [heritage] become art by destination and become accepted by the international community of art historians, curators, admirers and journalists. It was a different definition from that of ethnological museums and of the discipline of anthropology. It was achieved by changing the context of our art from that of natural history ... onto the world stage of international art' (Mead 1985: 3). >back<

7 A similar list is given in Gluzinski 1985: 42-43, and in Feilden 1979: 22 as well as in Feilden 1982: 6. >back<

8 There is a close connection here between Stransky's approach and the theory of ostension of Ivo Osolsobe (see Osolsobe 1986). >back<

9 "...selbst die Gegenstände vermitteln kein repräsentatives Bild früherer materieller Kultur, da die Überlieferungslage objektieve Grenzen zieht und die davon ausgehende Auswahl zwangsläufig von theoretisch-weltanschaulichen Prämissen bestimmt wurde" (Hofmann 1979: 87). >back<

10 "... there are objects whose power is due not to their beauty alone but to the waves they emit, which give them a special place as witnesses" wrote Jean Cocteau in the Christmas 1960 issue of Plaisiers de France (quoted in Gabus 1965: 14). >back<

11 Maria de Lourdes Horta has suggested that the concept of museality could have been derived from the work of Tzvetan Todorov who proposed in 1966 to re-define the object of literary research as the study of 'literality' and not of 'literature' (Horta 1992). >back<

12 In the Vocabulaire de la documentation (Paris 1987) 'copie authentique' is translated as 'certified copy'. According to the Dictionary of archival terminology (München 1984) 'authentic copy' and 'certified copy' are not synonym as authentic in this connection refers to the similarity between original and copy, while certification concerns the official character of the document (and its copy). >back<