Museum Networking

Whether at the Nobel Prize awards or at the opening of the new Getty center, the Smithsonian has a vital role

The Nobel Foundation, the organization set up in 1900 by the bequest of Alfred Nobel to manage the assets that support the prestigious Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace (the prize in economics was established in 1968 by the Bank of Sweden), is planning an international museum that explores the impact of the contributions and discoveries of Nobel Prize winners. The museum will be located in Stockholm and available worldwide on the Internet. The foundation invited a group of museum officials to attend a seminar in conjunction with the 1997 Nobel Prize ceremonies to review the museum plans. I was delighted to be invited along with Arthur Molella of our National Museum of American History, which is planning a joint exhibition with the Deutsches museums in Bonn and in Munich, presently entitled "Nobel! One Hundred Years of the Prize." The Nobel Foundation is collaborating with the three museums for the exhibition that is scheduled to open in Washington, D.C., Bonn, and Munich in October 2000.

This joint effort will celebrate the global nature of the prize by providing an "international forum for the history of the Nobel Prize and will highlight the interconnectedness of the scientific, cultural, and humanitarian pursuits" that the Nobel Prize suggests. A core exhibition will focus on Alfred Nobel and the history of the awards. The main exhibitions will honor the achievements of Nobel laureates from the countries of the participating museums and will be linked electronically around the world.

Since the 1940s Americans have won a high percentage of the science awards. One need only follow media headlines to note how every country takes special pride in awards to its recipients. In Stockholm, however, the national identity of recipients is rarely noted. Our exhibition will have a similar focus, but the accomplishments of American winners will, of course, be evident. An eventual permanent exhibition, much smaller in scope, will continue to honor American Nobelists.

The Nobel events were splendid. My wife and I, grateful to the Nobel Foundation for funding our visit, attended lectures by the winners and enjoyed festivities. This all culminated in a formal awards ceremony. Much has been written about the ceremony. I have found nothing more moving than observations by W. B. Yeats, that famous Irish poet, when he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923.

"In the body of the Hall every seat is full, and all there are in evening dress, and in the front row are the King, Princess Ingeborg, wife of the King's brother Prince Wilhelm, [and] Princess Margaretha. . . . The President of the Swedish Academy speaks in English, and I see from the way he stands, from his self-possession, and from his rhythmical utterance, that he is an experienced orator. . . . The [American] Ambassador [accepting for a scientist unable to attend] goes towards the King, descends from the platform by some five or six steps, which end a yard from the King's feet, and having received the diploma and medal, ascends those five or six steps walking backward. . . . There is music, and a man of science repeats the movement, imitating the Ambassador exactly and easily, for he is young and agile. . . . Then more music and my turn comes. When the King has given me my diploma and medal and said, 'I thank you for coming yourself', and I have bowed my thanks, I glance for a moment at the face of the Princess Margaretha, and move backward towards the stair. . . . [Then] all is over, and I am able to examine my medal, its charming, decorative, academic design, French in manner, a work of the 'nineties. It shows a young man listening to a Muse, who stands young and beautiful with a great lyre in her hand, and I think as I examine it, 'I was good-looking once like that young man, but my unpractised verse was full of infirmity, my Muse old as it were; and now I am old and rheumatic, and nothing to look at, but my Muse is young.'"

The Nobel visit, which furthered the interrelations of the forthcoming Nobel Museum and the Smithsonian, was followed immediately by ur attendance at the opening of the new Getty Center in Los Angeles. The new Getty is a colossal place--a 110-acre arts and cultural campus featuring a new museum and five other buildings devoted to research, education and conservation. I look forward to many hours there in the near future. As with the proposed Nobel Museum, meaningful cooperation between the Smithsonian and the Getty is useful especially in education programs, strategies and standards for digitization of collections, classification of artifacts, electronic networking, conservation, and research in the history of art and the humanities. Both institutions look forward to a deepening relationship that spans the coasts.

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