It seems there is a very real danger of losing touch with the real objects and artefacts that are the essence of the museum. With the rise of digital media and the increasing investment in the online and interactive presence of museums, people becoming less inclined to interact with the real objects. As referred to in the ‘Themes and Threads’ of this course the status of the object is under threat. I would suggest that we need to reconnect with the objects around us whether in a museum or not in order to develop an awareness of their value and meaning. The book How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum by Keri Smith presents a playful way to do this. It contains a series of ‘explorations’ or assignments that challenge the reader to interact with and collect the objects in their environment and create personal museum.
The answer to Stephen Conn’s book title and provocative question: Do Museums Still Need Objects? has to be YES, right?
Illustration: Brett Affrunti
I don’t know how many people saw this Tino Seghal exhibition last spring at the Guggenheim. I think it’s a good example (based on my humble understanding) of where [Art] museums and exhibitions are/could be headed. I was able to attend, and able to be a part of the performance, but what was most funny was the look on tourists’ faces as they entered the museum looking around for art objects. It was pretty clear they had little to no idea that they were a part of the exhibition.
An interesting aspect of the changing face of the museum is the re-purposing of spaces outside of the museum to increase visitor interest. In particular, I’m thinking of a really unique permanent installation in one of Munich’s subway stations on the U2 line. The Königsplatz station is located in the Kunstareal (museum quarter) of the city and situated directly in the vicinity of two of the world’s most important antiquity collections, the Glyptothek and Antikensammlung. The installation within the station includes large-scale glass vitrines which display selected Greek and Roman sculptures in the round, all chosen from the two museums’ collections. These displays serve as a sort of tantalizing appetizer to the incredible museums which lie directly above ground.
I had the privilege of walking through and using this station every day for a year while attending university classes. At the time, my reaction was somewhat nonchalant. (Munich is famous for its innovative and dazzling subway station designs. For example, the newly renovated Münchener Freiheit station which incorporates displays of contemporary art work into its walls.) But in comparison to many a dingy and dilapidated subway station in Philly and New York, the uniqueness of Königsplatz is really something noticeable. It is at once an advertisement for the Kunstareal museums, an entertainment piece for commuters, and an integral part of the fabric of the station’s architecture.
In the same vein, this subway station also hosts the Kunstbau, which is an art gallery suspended underground and above the subway station itself. Train riders can see into the gallery as they descend the escalators to the platform, providing another sort of “real time” advertisement for the gallery’s current exhibition. Associated with the Lenbachhaus Gallery, it was designed by Uwe Kiessler, built in 1994, and is also equipped with auditorium facilities for films and presentations. A huge 2009 exhibition of Wassily Kandinsky’s work was especially successful for the gallery, and often the clear glass windows revealed an absolutely packed gallery floor to the subway passers by.
These clever incorporations of museum collections into the everyday world can make even the numbing mundanity of a subway ride both a learning and cultural experience. Not to mention, they are quite successful ways to pique a prospective visitor’s interest. For more on the Kunstbau.
I recently found this article about the Guggenheim’s attempts to reach a wider, more diverse audience and I felt it really speaks to the discussions we have been having about museum transparency and community interaction.
YouTube- one of the most visited sites on the Web has joined forces with the Museum to allow participants a chance to be included in an exhibition… “It’s all motivated by the same thing, to make what is on the walls here more compelling,” said Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
The initiative is such a great way to not only reach out to communities, but act as a dialogue-starter to spark change. It’s very refreshing to see an institution as highly regarded and world-renowned as the Guggenheim taking a stance on urban living complications and joining forces with its “audience” to solve the problem.
In regards to the wide-reaching possibilities this represents, imagine if other museums began taking part in Web-based dialogue… The Brooklyn Museum and others have lead the way in participatory conversation, and their efforts have allowed their collections to be accessed and (most importantly) enjoyed by a much larger audience. If other museums took the leap and began interacting with their visitors, the exchange of information between visitor and institution would be so rich and culturally important. Museums would loose the often pompous and stuffy connotations and become true transparent institutions.