The essay The Museum as a Way of Seeing by Svetlana Alpers proposes that museums establish their own way of seeing an object, dubbed the 'Museum Effect.' When an object is placed in a museum and put up for the display and contemplation of others, that object becomes estranged from its place of origin and its original cultural context. In this way, even mundane objects, such as a crab shell, become exotic objects that provoke the interest of its viewers. In her article, Svetlana Alpers believes this added interest, by which objects placed in a museum possess an importance and power that they might not have otherwise had outside of its display case, is what makes museums so special. Museums use this way of seeing to capture the interest of visitors viewing the objects in their collections.
Objects on display in a museum are carefully selected from their collections because they are of artistic or intellectual value to the public. When items are placed on display for the enjoyment of the community, all objects in a collection essentially become works of art. And, like art, some things placed in a museum can be strange or even controversial. The museum effect is perhaps strongest in the most unusual of objects of a collection. The strangest thing that ever caught my attention in a museum was a small replica of Stonehenge on display at the Experience the Music Project in Seattle. The object was a prop used in the movie This is Spinal Tap during one of its funniest scenes. By itself, the statue is a hunk of Styrofoam that is nearly worthless, but to those who have seen and enjoyed the film, the statue is elevated from a mere prop to an object of cultural value. When this little Styrofoam Stonehenge was placed in a glass case, the museum "encouraged one to look at it in this way" (Alpers 25).