After our trip to the Met’s Luce Center to try out their technology prototypes, I was struck by one of the comments made– namely, that a young child using the computers in the period rooms was able to exit the program in order to use Paint to draw her name on the desktop. It’s sort of a delightful anecdote and a commentary on the best laid plans of adults often going awry, but it got me thinking about my experiences with museums as a child. My first memory of visiting a museum is pretty hazy, but it was definitely to visit the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia (now housed in the fabulous Memorial Hall from the 1875 Centennial International Exhibition), and I was excited because I was allowed to dress up in “pilgrim” clothes and play pretend Thanksgiving with my siblings and other random kids.
It didn’t dawn on me until years later what the museum’s mission actually was, because it seemed light on traditional objects and heavy on being a child’s dream playground. They have constantly changing exhibits which are interactive for both children and adults, and currently they have something to do with literature (Alice in Wonderland), physics (a flight exhibit), and nature (a river exhibit). The emphasis, as cued by the institution’s name, is of course placed on touch and learning by doing– something that seems to be a popular trend in science centers too, like we’ve discussed in class. The point I want to make here is, that visiting the Please Touch (which my 5-year-old self called “Policetudge”–all one word), was memorable not because of what I might have learned about the Pilgrims, but because I could touch literally everything there. To an extent I still hold that obsession of wanting to touch museum objects– there’s something about feeling the surface nuances and the weight and solidity of an object that makes me feel as though I understand it more fully.
That said, I’m wondering how to classify the Please Touch Museum… now it feels more like a learning center or discovery center than my traditional concept of a museum (another bias leftover from childhood: my points of comparison were the more traditional style PMA and the Barnes Foundation where touching is, obviously, prohibited). As we see with the Luce Center’s more intuitive study computers, there is definitely a rise in more entertaining and accessible technology or interactive features in museum exhibition design. The Please Touch concept is just a simpler version of this type of interaction. I guess the answer to Steven Conn’s question “Do museums still need objects?” could start to get its answer here. Apparently, they need more toys.
I actually meant to post this a while ago after attending a glass conference at CMoG in mid October and talking about that in class today reminded me. I went in knowing the renovations were done by RAA in 2001, and was pretty curious to see what kind of innovations would await. One of the sections of the exhibition space is actually called the ” glass innovation center” if I recall correctly. Anyway, the architecture and exhibition designs for the educational areas and the glass studio were striking, as expected, especially given the level of audience participation in the glass making shows (which are really cool!)
I had to spend pretty much all of my time in lectures and in the glass galleries though, and was really intrigued by the layout of the exposed study collection. The vitrine case-exhibition style is essentially the same as the regular gallery, just more packed (and sometimes equally packed!) with objects. Sure, there are only accession numbers for this segment of the museum (with unfortunately no visible console or book for looking them up), but other than that there was sometimes very little difference between the study collection and the displayed collection. The shelves for the display collection itself often went up over my head in the 20th century modern section (and I’m not really short, so this was a weird problem to be having). I had to resort to taking wobbly pictures, arms fully outstretched over my head and just hope it would get the right angle since I couldn’t see it. This is kind of a disaster when your formal analysis topic is on the top shelf, but I imagine it’s not the best for the casual visitor either.
All that aside, Corning has an impressive, large collection, and even with the presence of the study collection, most of their objects are still stored in an offsite facility near the airport. I’m not sure if the study collection rotates different objects, but given the breadth of the collection (and it grows every year!), it makes me wonder: how feasible is it for large and growing institutions like the Corning Museum to incorporate these aspects of back of house fully into the front of house?
I made a comment on Monday about how I’m concerned about the overuse of technology in today’s museums, so I decided to try some further research to get a better idea of positive aspects of participatory technology. I came up with this interesting article about a study of the Sotto Voce audio guide done in 2002. The guide attempts to solve the problem of disconnected visitors who use headphone tours in art museums. The program acts as a connector between visitors and as a personalized tour guide. For the full article: Revisiting the Visit
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.
Apropos our discussion on Monday which briefly touched on the concept of Museum 2.0, a very relevant reinvention of the museum is currently taking place along Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Museum Without Walls: AUDIO is essentially a downloadable personalized audio tour of public sculpture available as an app for your iPhone or as a podcast for your computer. Implemented by the Fairmount Park Art Association, the tours encompass the 50+ sculptures peppered amidst the myriad cultural institutions of the Parkway, and are based on the idea of authenticity in the presentation and interpretation of sculpture. These tours seek to purvey the different perspectives of artists, historians, teachers, scientists, writers, local community leaders, and, yes, curators in order to present a more personal experience of Philadelphia’s rich tradition of public sculpture.
This idea is definitely interesting for its engaging use of public space, and its aim to reacquaint Philadelphia with some recognizable but perhaps still mysterious works of sculpture. Also of interest is the added role of the spectator as an active participant in the “exhibit”: visitors are invited to submit their photos and/or anecdotes to the program’s website. Added bonus: tours are free! For more information, including an interactive map, please see: http://museumwithoutwallsaudio.org/