It's a happening time for museums. The Louvre, the world's most-visited, drew 9.3 million people in 2013. American museums get more visitors than theme parks and major league ball games combined. In a world of ubiquitous electronic screens, this puts the lie to the notion that we're growing divorced from the physical world—or so it would seem. In fact, the appeal of museums goes beyond the objects they hold. Their popularity has a lot to do with the way they're merging the digital and the physical—and shifting their focus from object to experience in the process.
Case in point: New York's Cooper Hewitt, a branch of the Smithsonian devoted to design, which reopened last November after three years of reinvention. I talked to the key people there for an article in the current issue of The Magazine Antiques, and what I found was a place that had completely rejected the idea of the museum as time capsule. Instead, this new Cooper Hewitt sees itself as something quite different: