Museums & Society Newsfeed
Among the many museum events and exhibits opening this week in conjunction with the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks is "Sites of Passage" at the Mattress Factory Museum in Pittsburgh (September 9, 2011 through January 8, 2012). M&S alumn Corey Sattler has been heavily involved with the Firefly Tunnel Project that led to the show, which is curated by Pittsburgh-based performance artist Tavia La Follette. Firefly Tunnels is a collaboration between Egyptian and American artists that has taken place in large part online, and has faced numerous challenges, from the effects of January's mass protests and revolution in Egypt to current difficulties obtaining visas for the featured Egyptian artists. Corey's participation in the project dates back to its first artists' workshop in 2010 and he not only developed the system needed to allow these artists to produce performance and installation art in collaboration across continents, serving as webmaster for http://www.fireflytunnels.net/, but also helped at the start of the american-conceived project by acting as a kind of cultural liason in Cairo, sharing the knowledge and understanding of the city he developed while working at the American University there.
It has become something of a cliché to say that in the world of Wikipedia and the sheer mass of information available on the Web, the role of the individual expert is being supplanted by the amateur/expert collective. Yet consider how these structural shifts change museums, especially with the increasing pressure to go digital. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York recently added a Digital Media Department. Its first project "Connections" aims to bring multiple voices to the visitor's experience. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, founded in 2005 without objects or a building, is opening its doors on the Web before the physical construction of the museum begins. It is also using the web to gather both a virtual and physical collection. The goal is to make "a museum for its visitors and by its visitors". At the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the show "Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects" came out of a visitors' blog (Alexandra Cheney "At MoMA, A Blog Becomes a Show" Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog at http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/, July 23, 2011). (more)
Nina Simon, Executive Director of the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz, and author of the blog Museum 2.0 argues that going digital "removes authority from the content provider [museum/curator] and places it in the hands of the user [audience/visitor]." Motivating these choices is the desire for greater interactivity - a buzzword circulating equally in museums and the ivory tower in the context of digital projects assumed to be, by their nature, more engaging than traditional methods of presenting information. "Connections" is a suggestive choice for the title of the Met project and the NMAAHC is in many ways a collaboration between the museum and its many audiences (Kate Taylor, "The Thorny Path to a National Black Museum" NYTimes, January 22, 2011) while the MoMA show aims to embody a 21st-century culture that it explicitly defines as interaction-centered. Digital media's models of interaction also inform the new BMW Guggenheim Lab project, open in New York City through October 16. The Lab stages a group game called Urbanology, which can be played live or online, and smacks of web-based worlds like Second Life. In Urbanology visitors role-play scenarios that invoke the challenges facing modern urban life and have the opportunity to build an imagined city that matches their specific needs.
The assumption that the digital museum breaks down barriers by enabling audiences to drive museum narratives spurs the development of ever more sophisticated technology (Zoe Fox, "5 Ways Museums Are Reaching Digital Audiences" @mashable.com, August 11, 2011), such as the QR "quick response" codes now present in many an exhibit, or the app launched last year by the Museum of Natural History in New York, which "allows you to chart your own course" with a type of in-museum GPS. Yet some critics argue these experiences turn out to be both more directive and more distancing than conventional models of reaching visitors (Edward Rothstein "From Picassos to Sarcophagi, Guided by Phone Apps" NYTimes, October 1, 2010; although cf the response by Shelley Bernstein, Manager of Information Systems at the Brooklyn Museum, posted on the Museum's community blog).
In August Emily Sneff returned to Baltimore after a museum-packed summer in London. While in England, she took a course that went behind the scenes of the Museum of London, and was able to catch the British Museum's installation of the exhibit "Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in Medieval Europe" (the third for the show that started at the Cleveland Museum of Art and was at the Walters Art Museum this Spring). In Fall 2010 Emily was among the students in the M&S course "Walking with Reliquaries" who had the chance to work with Associate Curator Martina Bagnoli on an audio tour for the Walters' installation of the exhibit. [more]
She is currently reasearching 17th-19th century books for Earle Havens at the Peabody Library and will be returning to the Walters as a Robert and Nancy Hall intern to work with Martina Bagnoli this Fall.
As the Barnes Foundation closes its doors to relocate to downtown Philadelphia, the NYTimes has prepared a virtual tour of the museum's original idiosyncratic displays of historical metalwork together with impressionist and early modernist paintings and sculpture. A 2004 Pennsylvania court ruling paved the way for the current move, and sparked a controversy that has played out in headlines, books, a documentary, a blog and two websites run by the Friends of the Barnes Foundation, who oppose the move. An article in March of this year makes the provocative suggestion that the Barnes relocation is only the latest in a series of shifts by museums to adopt a more mainstream identity (Nicolai Ouroussoff "Eccentricity Gives Way to Uniformity in Museums," NYTimes, March 26, 2011).
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