The Company Museum

In the Centre-North of Italy many corporate museums have been opened over the last two decades, according to the postmodern idea of memory that favours the consecration of the product as unique and isolated from the productive life. Their low appeal, with relatively few visitors, when compared to those of other Italian museums (See: Dossier Musei 2007edited by Centro Studi TCI), comes from the lack of clarity when defining the purposes and functions of company museums. They have become the “best living-rooms” of the companies where the family trophies are kept because their reference model is the museum per se, i.e., «[…] a permanent, non-profit, serving society and its development [that] carries out research relating to the tangible and intangible evidence of people and their environment; acquiring, conserving, communicating and, above all, displaying it for study, education and pleasure» (International Council of Museums – ICOM).
Is it right to conserve and communicate the tangible and intangible assets of a company and expose them for study? How can the needs of a company to promote itself be ignored and why not through its museum?

This open question, thanks to the project Officiamuseumed, has led to corporate museums being considered as an area of scientific interest – usually not explored in academia – and recently introduced as an ad-hoc course (Company Museums) at the Faculty of Architecture of the Seconda Università degli Studi di Napoli, the first in Italian academia. Through the research and course (with a large number of dissertations), it has been understood that there is a need to give life to a new type of free architectural principles of traditional museum design, that are more appropriate to the profound changes of the economy and markets. The company museum is, in fact, a “museum of time”, reflecting the history of the company, but at the same time registering the brand of which it is the expansion, promoting its image through a flexible design, interpreting the processes, errors, and attempts that the finished product has within its “body” covering up the invisible “fingerprints” of those invisible involved in its creation (the designer, entrepreneur, marketing expert, the advertiser, the workforce). A museum that does not display products, but illustrates the processes according to the principles of a specific “museography of business”.

It may even anticipate the actions of the company becoming a place of experimentation in which to develop and submit new proposals and “expose” not so much what already exists, but what is yet to be produced. In this sense, the museum becomes the “thinking head” of the company, the driver of its strategies and place of “training” of the consumer: a consumer responsible for businesses built on quality. Finally, the company museum can become a “circular museum” that takes into account the experience from the final recipient, not just guinea pigs in the hands of marketing, but the thinking and creative subjects. The temporary business museum in Pompeii wants to express such ideas through its confrontation with the historical museums of Officiamuseumed.