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Art museums have emerged in recent decades as the most vibrant and popular of all cultural institutions. Though art museums have never been more popular, their direction and values are now being contested as never before - both in the media and in the art world itself. This engaging thematic history of the art museum from its inception in the eighteenth century to the present offers an essential framework for understanding contemporary debates as they have evolved in Europe and the United States. From the visionary museums of Boullee in the eighteenth century to the new Guggenheim in Bilbao and beyond, it explores key aspects of museum theory and practice: ideals and mission; architecture; collecting, classification, and display; the public; commercialism; and restitution and repatriation. The only single volume to give a comprehensive account of the issues critical to museums, the book also highlights the challenges they will face in the future.