Museums in film – a perfect location

Text by Federica Lusiardi, Inexhibit
Images: see captions

museum in film

“I expect an art institution of the 21st century to be flexible, sincere, democratic, multicultural, contradictory and bold. Splendid when it is rich, heroic when it has no money. It must have its head in the clouds, function in an exemplary manner, have team spirit, its feet on the ground and a heart as big as may be. I expect it to love artists, take care of the public, tolerate smoke and remain open until late”
David Thorp, The Henry Moore Foundation, extrait du TokyoBook n 1, Palais de Tokyo, 2001.


Museum are not only places where we go to watch a collection, they have also made way in our imagination conveyed by very different media: cinema, TV, figurative arts and literature.Thus, we had fun investigating how some directors had used museum as a location for their films.


Allan: That’s quite a lovely Jackson Pollock, isn’t it?
girl: Yes, it is.
Allan: What does it say to you?
girl: It restates the negativeness of the universe. The hideous lonely emptiness of existence. Nothingness. The predicament of Man forced to live in a barren, Godless eternity like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void with nothing but waste, horror and degradation, forming a useless bleak straitjacket in a black absurd cosmos.
Allan: What are you doing Saturday night?
girl: Committing suicide.
Allan: What about Friday night?

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Dialogue from “Play it again Sam”

For Woody Allen, the museum space is an ideal stage for human relations. In his work, a room in a museum or an art gallery may be the background for a never-ending conversation between Woody and his counterpart, such as in Manhattan, where Isaac and the neurotic Mary, played by Diane Keaton, wander around the artworks in the MoMA, while arguing excitedly. Or that a museum in San Francisco is the witness of clumsy proposals like in Play it Again Sam, or that the London’s Tate Modern becomes the location for furtive lovers’ encounters as in Match Point.

woody allen museums

Pictures from:
Manhattan, Woody Allen, 1979

Play it again Sam, Herbert Ross, screenplay by Woody Allen,1972
Match Point, Woody Allen, 2006


The large rooms of a Museum have always been the perfect location for mystery stories and psychological thrillers. When the only audible sound comes from the tapping of our hero’s steps or is that of an unlucky, watchful guard, the artworks that at night come alive, the portraits of scary ancestors or the spectres hidden in the dark become characters which populate the plots of films that kept generations of spectators awake at night. The museum depicted is usually a traditional one, the archetype of the museum: a space where large portraits on the walls look like they are subtly watching our hero or an archaeological museum, full of glass cases enclosing ancient findings, remnant of an obscure yet intriguing past.

museum in movies 2

Pictures from:
Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock,1958
The Stendhal Syndrome, Dario Argento, 1996
Belphegor, TV series from the novel of Arthur Bernéde, 1925


In the episode Le vacanze intelligenti (Intelligent Vacation), from the Italian comedy Dove vai in vacanza? (Where Are You Going on Holiday?), Alberto Sordi and Anna Longhi depict Remo and Augusta, a humble working-class couple visiting the Venice Biennale of Art, following the insistence of their snobbish children.
For Remo and Augusta, the visit at the Biennale quickly becomes a surreal experience, in a foreign and incomprehensible place, where avant-garde art is perceived by the ordinary people as stranger and unintelligible.
In other comedies, such as in the ones played by Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, the museum is portrayed as a “treasure casket”, desecrated by the clumsiness of the main character; a similar logic can also be found, performed by Rowan Atkinson as a London National Gallery’s fake curator, in the Bean film.

Museum in film 3

Pictures from:
Dove vai in Vacanza? Mauro Bolognini, Luciano Salce, Alberto Sordi,1978
The Return of the Pink Panther, Blake Edwards, 1975

04 – MUSEUM AS A DEMYTHOLOGIZED SPACE – A run across the Louvre

In one of the best-known scenes from Bande à part (Band of Outsiders) by Jean Luc Godard, the three main-characters are running as hell across the Louvre, laughing hand in hand and dodging visitors and guards. Museum thus becomes a place to be desecrated and demythologised, nothing more than a racetrack for setting an athletic record. Forty years later the same iconic and powerful scene is replicated by Bernardo Bertolucci in The Dreamers, as a homage to Godard.

museum in film 4

Stills from:
Bande à part, Jan Luc Godard , 1964
The Dreamers, Bernardo Bertolucci, 2003

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