The Museologist

Judging Exhibitions

Posted in Exhibitions, Texts by adevereux on December 23, 2009

I’ve recently been introduced to an exhibition interpretation/evaluation method called the Judging Exhibitions Framework tool.  It comes from Beverly Serrell’s book “Judging Exhibitions: A Framework for Assessing Excellence.”  In her book, she offers 4 criteria that are necessary for an “excellent” exhibition: it must be 1) Comfortable, 2) Engaging, 3) Reinforcing, and 4) Meaningful.  Ideally, the broad goal for educational museum exhibitions is free-choice learning on the part of the visitors.  The exhibition should get visitors to pay attention, spend time, become engaged, and be changed by the experience.

This peer review tool encourages professional museum practitioners to stand in a visitor’s shoes and evaluate a given exhibition.  The point of this tool is “to identify important characteristics of educational museum exhibitions and to assess the degree to which those traits are present in a given exhibition in a way that encourages and increase in those characteristics in future exhibitions.”

I question whether museum practitioners should be the ones conducting these evaluations.  Clearly, a museum professional does not represent the same mindset or knowledge of museum practices that a regular visitor to a museum would possess.  Also, I think the criteria are a bit obvious.  Is it comfortable: well does the gallery have benches to sit on? Is it engaging: does the material have any relevance to the everyday person? Is it reinforcing: does the exhibition make clear it’s message/narrative? Is it meaningful: see engaging.

Nonetheless, I think that these criteria are often missed in exhibitions.  It is not to say that curators should dumb down their shows, but too often an exhibit has no narrative, message, or relevance to an everyday audience.  I’d be interested in anyone’s comments on exhibitions that have met these criteria, or completely ignored them. Were these shows “excellent” under either circumstance or less than satisfying?


Turner Prize 2009

Posted in Architecture, Exhibitions by adevereux on December 18, 2009

Richard Wright won the 2009 Turner Prize on December 7th.  Other artists on the shortlist included Enrico David, Roger Hiorns, and Lucy Skaer.  This prize recognizes cutting edge contemporary art “with the intention of stimulating a lively exchange of opinions.”  Wright’s work incorporates the architecture for which the art is specifically made to create unique spaces and inspire unconventional perspectives.  Let’s see if these images stimulate “a lively exchange of opinions” in comments…

Museum Employment Opportunities

Posted in General by adevereux on December 16, 2009

Is there any hope of a career in the museum industry?  Already a field with limited job opportunities, the current economy has caused museums to cut jobs and reduce pay.  This became somewhat big news with strikes by employees at the Louvre and other museums in France undergoing job cuts.  There are some groups, such as one I recently found online called Museos Unite, for people who work in the museum industry to come together on a quasi-union platform.  But still, it is not a promising career path without graduate level education in either Museum Studies or Art History.  And even with those degrees, there are very few opportunities.  What I have noticed are many job postings for fundraising and capital campaigns.   Not much in the curatorial or administrative departments.  It seems that in the current economy, profit takes precedence over public programs.  And that reduces career opportunities in museums to a very small sector.

Collection Exhibit at MOCA

Posted in General by adevereux on December 16, 2009

What is the point of a major exhibition of a museum’s own permanent collection? I’m not saying it’s either good or bad, but I do wonder what reasons might be behind the current exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.  Typically, a museum dedicates a percentage of its gallery space to its permanent collection and then puts on special exhibits based on some artist, theme, or narrative.  What is the narrative of this exhibit?  According to MOCA, the exhibit “reflects the museum’s early and ongoing commitment to bringing art of major historical significance and distinction to the public.”  So it’s a self-promoting exhibit.  I guess that’s interesting… I would probably go see the show.  But I don’t really know what I would get out of it.  I think I would take away a reaffirmation of the artist canon, but I’m not sure I would learn anything new or thought-provoking.

Museums and Economy: Pompidou Strikes

Posted in General by adevereux on December 4, 2009

Museums around the world, as anyone might guess, have taken at hit from “la crisis” that is our economy.  In Paris, the Pompidou Center and the Musee d’ Orsay have both shut down due to workers’ strikes over proposed museum job cuts.  If two of the must popular museums in the world, in one of the most visited tourist sites on the planet, in one of the least economically affected countries, are having this much trouble, I can only imagine the struggle for other museums around the world to make any profit whatsoever.

I suppose this might be more of a commentary on the tourist industry.  Or maybe it’s pretty obvious – most everyone has cut back on leisure activities, including museum visits (which often have pretty steep admission rates).  For this reason, museums are losing money from the general public, and surely also from private donors.  But the situation raises some bigger questions about where museums stand in the commercial world.

Should museums be free for all the public to view their collections and learn from their exhibits? Or, other than the most highly funded and supported museums which can offer virtually free admission (such as the MET), is this even plausible? Should museums be run like corporations or as non-profits?

From Out That Shadow: Edgar Allen Poe Exhibit

Posted in General by adevereux on December 1, 2009

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin currently has on exhibit items from their Edgar Allen Poe collection.  This exhibit takes more of a lens on history than on artistic interpretation.  Based on my interest in the subjectivity of museums and exhibit display, I am wondering if exhibits of this nature, ie history and literature, are more objective and less subject to personal interpretation than, say, contemporary art.  Or is our interpretation of Poe and his works no less subjective than someone like Frida Kahlo or Picasso?  Is it just as easy project our own meanings on manuscripts, literary texts, and book reviews than it is on a piece of abstract art, or some other less textual work in a museum?

Outside of my own questions, the exhibit at the HRC has received very positive reviews. USA Today recommends it as one of the must-see exhibits to visit before its closing.  Poe has also received attention from the New York Times in honor of his 2009 bicentennial, and this article mentions the Ransom Center’s exhibit.

Why does an exhibit of this nature gain more of an educational and commercial edge than an art exhibit?