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.


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…

Francisco Matto: The Modern and the Mythic

Posted in Curatorial, Exhibitions by adevereux on November 24, 2009

Composition on Black Background, 1958The Blanton Museum at the University of Texas at Austin recently ended their exhibit on painter Francisco Matto of Uruguay.  Overall, I found the exhibition disappointing.  The exhibit text emphasized Matto’s involvement with the school of Joaquín Torres-Garcia and his commitment to live and work in Uruguay, rather than follow his contemporaries to Europe.  However, the objects and the layout of the exhibit did little to illuminate the message of the text panels.  Divided into major themes seen in his work, including geometric forms, landscapes, and cityscapes, the exhibit fails to make an encapsulating, cohesive statement on the works of Francisco Matto.  Especially confusing, if not out of place, was the gallery section of Pre-Columbian artifacts “similar” to those collected by Matto, but not actually his own.  The section felt inauthentic.

Despite this harsh evaluation of the Matto exhibit, his works alone were worth the visit to the museum.  Unfortunately, the exhibit is no longer up.  Nonetheless, I recommend looking up Matto and reading about his life and work.

How do you Exhibit the Bauhaus?

Posted in Exhibitions by adevereux on November 24, 2009

How do you exhibit the Bauhaus?  The MoMA’s new Bauhaus exhibit “Workshops for Modernity,” on display till January 25, 2001, attempts to do just that by dividing the movement into three phases: Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin.  Many paintings by artists who contributed to the period are included in the show: Moholy-Nagy, Schlemmer, Kandinsky, Klee, and Feininger name just a few.

The title of the exhibition, “Workshops for Modernity,” is unspecific.  Does it refer to the Bauhaus’ painterly “canvass” pieces, or their applied art style? The Bauhaus was hugely influenced by new trends and innovations in architecture – how can an exhibition in a museum gallery space teach us about the architectural movement: blueprints? building models? construction photos? or does the exhibit ignore this element of the Bauhaus movement?

Have you been to the exhibit? Thoughts?