The research explores the theoretical possibility of a semiotic approach to the Museum phenomenon, seen as a process of communication and signification, and the consequences on the determination of the social function of museums, in its semantic and pragmatic levels. It proposes a new discipline for the field – that of ‘Museum Semiotics’, as a theoretical background and tool for the understanding of museums as ‘semiotic spaces’, acting in the cultural process through their ‘communicative actions’. PARTS I and II propose the basic assumptions and premises for the study of the specific Museum Language, defining its terms and concepts, and considering museum objects as bearing a ‘sign-function’, as ‘signifying units’ used under the construction of messages and ‘discourses’, manifested or hidden in museum exhibitions. The mechanisms of the process of sign production and of sign interpretation in the Museum context, the concept of ‘museality’, the Museum ‘mythological speech’, the interplay in the museum communication process, are explored here. PARTS III and IV propose and develop a preliminary model of exhibition ‘texts’ and of their specific ‘rhetorics’, applied in a particular case study, the exhibition on ‘Buddhism, Art and Faith’, held at the British Museum (1985), in order to detect the multiple ways in which the public ‘reads’ a Museum message, and all the elements working in this process. PART V presents the conclusions and insights on Museum Communication, on exhibition production and evaluation, on Museum Education, and on new fields of research opened up through the approach of Museum Semiotics, proposing a strategy for changing the conditions of communication, through open and aesthetic texts, which may encourage the visitors to recover their freedom of decoding
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