The Museologist

Alternative Exhibitions

Posted in General by adevereux on March 4, 2010

I was thinking about how boring traditional tombstone exhibition labels can be.  Not always, but often.  But labels hold all the narrative power.  As easy as they are to skim or skip over, labels are the voice of an exhibition.  So I was thinking about some alternative label concepts, which would inevitably transform an exhibition.

1) WHY IS THIS BAD? Even the most renowned master painters produce(d) “bad” work.  They say late Renoir is bad Renoir, and Picasso’s Etreinte is definitely not one of his best.  Artists, art historians, and curators might be able to spot them, but probably not the casual museum visitor (ignoring the fact that they probably wouldn’t be on display in the first place).  So I want to see an exhibition of “bad” works, and I want the labels to tell my why they’re bad, whether it be the artistic technique, the subject matter, or some other factor.

2) WHAT’S IT WORTH? How about labels with nothing but the dollar value? It’d be an interesting commentary on the art market and blockbuster artist values.

I’ll think of some more.


“Attendance up, income down”

Posted in General by adevereux on February 27, 2010

Not to focus too, too  much on the intersection of museums and economy, but here is an interesting article from the Culture Monster section of the LA Times.

Art + Industry

Posted in General by adevereux on February 11, 2010

The words “art” and “museum” today are virtually inseparable from two others – “market” and “industry”, respectively.  Two facets of what we consider our cultural environment are, in fact, unabashedly pervasive in socio-economic spheres.

Case(s) in point: The Economist recently published  a special report on the art market entitled “Suspended Animation,” providing an in-debth analysis of collections values, auction house sales, and the soundness of arts investments; the MoCA in LA recently appointed as its new director the highly successful New York gallerist Jeffrey Deitch, ostensibly in hopes that his success in the business of art sales will translate to a more lucrative museum business; the museum director (typically the top-most authority of any museum) at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles must answer to the CEO and President of the J. Paul Getty Trust (now Barry Munitz).

This all became even more glaringly obvious with the recent record-breaking sale at Sotheby’s of Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture L’Homme Qui Marche, selling for just over $104 million.

In light of these recent events in the art world that have made it into the news, I’ve started to think more about the marriage of these terms “industry” and “market” to cultural institutions.  In theory it doesn’t seem like they should fit, but they do, and quite successfully.  And in fact, I’m glad when news from the art world is deemed “newsworthy” by those “outside” of it.  As long as we can maintain educational and “cultural” benefits (for lack of more concrete terms), I hope the art world stays as fashionable as it has become.  But is that possible? Is the educational component sacrificed by the prevalence of the big-name-game?

What’s your personal (museum) economy?

Posted in General by adevereux on February 2, 2010

In the most recent issue of the Austin-based contemporary art e-jounal … might be good, the letter from the editor asks readers: what is your personal economy? Geared towards artists, the question yielded answers that revealed how artists make ends meet and the (extra) measures they take to keep art a part of their lives, as a career or otherwise.

This inspired me to ask a similar question of museum-goers: what is your personal museum economy?  In other words, how, and to what degree, do museums make their way into the economies of your everyday lives?  More specifically, how much would you spend on admission to an exhibition? If admission is optional or you can choose your own price (ie the MET), what do you pay? How far would you travel to see an exhibition?  Do you save a portion of your spending money for visits to museums, galleries, or art shows?

Part of the motivation in asking this is to question how much the overlap of museum-going and personal economies shapes our image of museums and how we see ourselves in them.  A museum today might be considered by some a center of learning, but to others a major player in the tourist industry.  Visitors to museums may feel enlightened and stimulated by the materials on display, or perhaps they gain a sense of cultural consumerism.  Of course, these are all the most extreme possibilities, but where does the average museum-goer fall within the spectrum?

…might be good link:

Museums and Social Media

Posted in General by adevereux on January 22, 2010

In general, there are two schools of thought concerning the cultural and scholarly authority of museums.  The first argues that museums are empowered to tell stories that hold truth and that visitors will undergo a learning process made possible by the museum and its curators.  In essence, curators are the “holders of truth” and are to be trusted to tell the stories.  The second school of thought argues that curators hold one part of the truth, and that visiting a museum is not just a learning process but an experience.  A museum-goer adds to and expands the interpretation of the story.

The rising trend in museums, and the one I tend to agree with, is the second school of thought.  How to make a visit to a museum an experiential learning process, and one that gives credit and weight to the ideas and interpretations of the visitor, is difficult to determine.  However, after reading a recent article in the NY Times, I’ve been convinced that the web is one venue that allows the public to contribute to the curating process and to the discussion on issues raised by museums in their exhibitions in a way that does not undermine the role or expertise of the museum curator.

The way museums can use the web to forge successful collaborations with the public is to look at their websites not as virtual exhibition spaces, but as a form of social media.  The article writes, “While only a handful of museums have successfully harnessed Web users to develop their collections, social-media platforms are starting to foster new kinds of interactions between Web audiences and museum curators long accustomed to working only with other experts.”  In this way, the public is able to contribute new thoughts, ideas, interpretations, and responses to collection material in a way that is meaningful.  It also allows curators to gauge what material is relevant and important to their audiences.

Nevertheless, the curator gets the final word on what materials are included in an exhibition and the accompanying narrative.  But the sources available to a curator will expand beyond what has already been said by scholars, or the curator’s own interpretations, to those offered by the public:  “new-media advocates argue that Web participation can actually enhance the value of curatorial judgment. ‘Curators are starting to realize that they can be challenged by the audience’”.

A museum’s use of the web as social media in order to let the public to contribute to cultural and historical dialogue re-distributes the authority traditionally granted solely to the curator, but in a way that doesn’t compromise his/her skills, expertise, and judgement.

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?

Eero Saarinen at the Museum of the City of New York

Posted in General by adevereux on November 23, 2009

The New York times recentely came out with its review of the Eero Saarinen exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York.  Having recently met the exhibit’s curator, Donald Albrecht, I was curious to see how the NYT review might reflect on my first impressions of the curator at work.  This didn’t end up happening, as the article has very little say about the design of the exhibit itself.  Nonetheless, this is an interesting article about Eero Saarinen and his work.

Has anyone made it to the exhibit? Not being from New York, I have not been able to visit.  I’d love to read some first-hand reviews and impressions of the show.