The return of Ulysses

Museums and a Metaphysical Crisis

Mark Walhimer About Museums Leave a Comment

The return of Ulysses by Giorgio de Chirico, 1968, 59.5×80 cm, The Foundation Giorgio and ISA de Chirico, Rome

Museums have a role in showing people the value of their existence, human dignity, and free will. At the core, this is the battle of museums.

Today the world faces a crisis. I believe museums have an essential role in times of crisis by providing leadership to audiences. I am in the minority in this view; most people believe that museums should stay out of politics or maintain a neutral point of view.

We are watching as a sovereign country is being attacked by an aggressor who claims to be “peacekeeping” and stopping genocide. When, in fact, the aggressor is the one committing genocide. Ukraine, the country being attacked, is on a path toward democracy and joining NATO, creating a threat to Russia. Museums must support artists, audiences, and communities in supporting democracy and the sovereign rights of countries against authoritarian aggressors like Putin. We must stand firm against a possible alliance of China and Russia in defending the sovereign rights of nations, artists, and journalists.

The attack on Ukraine is more than authoritarian aggression; this is a battle for the future. We must speak out publicly against Putin and countries that support this egregious attack against a sovereign nation and the future of democracy. Museums must stand in support of democracy and free speech.


Mark Walhimer is managing partner of Museum Planning, LLC, a museum planning and exhibition design studio, the author of Museums 101 (2015) and Designing Museum Experiences (2021), and the founder of the Museum Planner resources website.

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