The Museologist


Posted in Curatorial, Exhibitions by adevereux on January 16, 2010

It’s been some time since the last entry, but since then I made a trip to Los Angeles and visited the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA.  The exhibition displays works from the permanent collection dated from 1980 to present and goes in conjunction with MOCA Grand Avenue’s exhibition of their permanent collection from 1940-80.

At the Geffen exhibit, I noticed how much the label texts for each work made me more confused about the art than I would have been otherwise.  The labels texts were quotes pulled from the artist him/herself about the work or his/her wider philosophy.  Making sense of, or finding meaning in, a piece of wire sticking out of the wall is not always easy, and reading the artist’s thoughts on the work can make our own thoughts even more convoluted.

While the label format used in this Geffen exhibition isn’t the norm, it was a welcome alternative to the standard curator-written label text.  I definitely don’t believe the point in going to an art museum, or any museum for that matter, is to make sense of things, or to have a label tell you the meaning of a work of art.  I think confusion is a good thing if it means we come up with our own responses to art.  So, even though I didn’t gain much clarity of thought about all the pieces on display at the Geffen, I was happy to see a museum offer an alternative label format.

This visit to MOCA-Geffen made me think about other label formats I’ve seen or heard about that might be effective in promoting original ideas and thought in museums.  At many university museums, a curator might lay out questions or problems related to objects in the exhibit and have students do research and studies to answer those questions and generate a label.  For a Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, a wide variety of scholars from different backgrounds and areas of expertise wrote articles on the different works by Kahlo for the exhibition catalogue.  Then, instead of one or two curators writing the labels for the entire exhibit, quotations were pulled directly from the catalogue and used for the label text.

I’d like to hear about other ways museums have moved away from the standard label format, and what kind of effect these alternative methods have had on museum visitors.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: