Art Gallery At The Powerhouse Museum And The First Emperor Of New South Wales

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The 21st century has seen a dramatic increase in the challenges facing cultural institutions, particularly museums. One of the most pressing issues currently facing museums worldwide is the diminishing level of government support. Despite reductions in government funding, the sustained maintenance of museum collections and facilities continues to require substantial resources. In the face of such difficulties, a growing number of museums have turned to innovative programming, specifically exhibitions, as a way to ensure financial viability through increased attendance. Given the growing competition for consumer leisure time in today’s society, attention has shifted away from traditional scholarly collection based exhibitions, towards the populist exhibition format offered by blockbuster exhibitions. Through a discussion of Harry Potter™: The Exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum and the First Emperor: China’s Entombed Warriors at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, this essay will examine the two approaches museums are taking to the blockbuster model. It will be argued that although exhibitions reflecting popular culture are becoming increasingly more common, there are institutions that manage to reflect popular taste in ways that continue to advance scholarship and create opportunities for lifelong learning.
Museological literature offers many definitions of the ‘blockbuster’ exhibition. According to Elsen, a blockbuster is “a large-scale loan exhibition which people who

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