Category Archives: trends

Steven Conn Podcast

Here is a podcast interview with Steven Conn, who we read in class this week. The conversation is based around his book “Do We Still Need Objects?” and its pretty interesting to hear his views. I thought that some of the class might enjoy hearing more about his thoughts.

Jess Petersen

Manifestations of Museum 2.0

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.

-Logan

Back of House

In the Fall 2010 semester the Lab will explore the essential functions of the museum with the aim of inverting the traditional museum program and identifying new ways of making its internal processes of collection, conservation and interpretation more accessible and socially engaging. As evident in a range of recent projects, museums are increasingly interested in making their internal processes transparent –even participatory– for their visitors through on-the-floor staff interactions, visible study collections, interfaces to digital resources and the use of social media. These techniques and technologies allow museums to explore and even to blur the boundaries between ‘front of house’ and ‘back of house’ functions and afford new ways for the museum to connect with its audience.

The American Association of Museums (AAM) defines the museum as being comprised as a set of specific activities that are conducted under a guiding mission. These include: collection, conservation, interpretation, education, and exhibition. Unless we are museum professionals working within an active museum, most of our attention as members of the public is traditionally focused on exhibitions, and perhaps occasionally on an educational event or program.  The first three activities listed represent for most of us that mysterious hidden world behind the gallery walls and are often misunderstood, or at the very least under-appreciated while the activities of collection, conservation and scholarship are essential to any museum. Some might even suggest that there is a subtle institutional progression implied in this list of activities that places them in a linear hierarchy with the first – collection – being somehow the most essential and the last – exhibition – being almost an operational burden.

It goes something like this: if you do not collect there is nothing to conserve. Scholarship and interpretation requires an object of study. If you do not have scholarship then you cannot teach and if finally you do not have anything unique to say then what will your exhibition hope to communicate to its visitors? That may be a bit rash but you get the point.

Historically the systems of collecting and interpreting natural, cultural and artistic heritage have indeed informed the development of a museum’s architecture, its exhibitions and public programs. As systems of collecting and the construction of knowledge have changed over the last two centuries, we have seen corresponding changes in museum architecture, exhibition and programming.  We will explore how these changes played out in the museum, what societal forces drove the changes, and how design and museum practices have responded. We will identify emergent approaches in a range of new and existing museums. We will look at architecture, exhibition, technology, media, and the role of the curator and designer in shaping museum experience.

I am in interested in weaving together a number of disparate threads that I believe are catalyzing in this shift toward making the museum’s ‘back of house’ increasingly visible and essential to connecting with their visitors. After a decade characterized by iconic museum buildings and expensive permanent exhibitions and the subsequent decline of philanthropic support due to the downturn in the economy, museums are now looking hard at ways of making more value out of their existing assets. Back of House aims to explore this trend across at least three modes of implementation: the physical, the personal and the digital.

Themes and Threads

Architecture Inside Out
Over the last 50 years there has been a dramatic change in museum architecture. Long gone are the vaulted, naturally lit galleries of the early 20th Century and the ideals of symmetry, solid masonry walls, steep stairs and pillared portico entries. Modernism brought a disciplined rationality to buildings that were optimized for flexibility, flow and operational performance. Postmodernism was marked by what we might be called narrative architecture. These are buildings that are purpose-designed to a specific text and meant to convey a specific story. Now, at the culmination of a  museum building boom that lasted almost 20 years, there is a new trend emerging. In museums both recent and currently underway we are seeing an opening up of buildings, deconstructing the formality of the gallery, extensive use of glass and day-lighting, dramatic views both inside and beyond the walls of the museum, views into research areas, visible storage, study centers and high density collections displays, and a hybridization of traditional museum program or ‘nested’ programs where learning laboratories and other facilities are literally embedded within the gallery.  The Luce Foundation sponsored study centers at the Smithsonian, Metropolitan Museum or the Brooklyn Museum are examples of this approach. Another example might be the London Museum of Natural History’s new Darwin Centre­—a multistory, light-filled building attached to the original neo-gothic structure of this venerable museum, like a cocoon that opens to reveal the scientific research and collections functions of the museum to the visiting public.

Status of the Object
The second theme we will explore is the status of the physical object in museums.  While this will not be a class on materiality or material culture, we will explore the role of the museum collection as it relates to the function of the museum, conservation, interpretation, and exhibition. Recent publications such as Sherry Turkle’s Evocative Objects or historian Stephen Conn’s Do Museums Still Need Objects? explore the status of the analog object in the age that appears to favor the digital medium. The title of Conn’s book is striking. In fact it is almost alarming. Conn is a scholar and has spent a career rigorously mapping the changing topography of the museum as it responds to nuanced changes in society. The title is very direct and implies that an urgently needed, practical discussion will follow. The fact is that there are many, and perhaps even an increasing number of museums without objects. What is at stake in this trend?

Social Networks
The third theme concerns the advent of social networking applications and the integration of technology into the museum experience and the consequent “decline of the expert.” The ubiquity of social networking applications may be a symptom of society’s constant search for order and empathy that has been enabled and made visible by new technologies. At the very least, it reinforces the increasing importance we place in the definition of the Self as we seek to clarify and document our unique worldview, while at the same time atomizing into online micro-communities of like-minded individuals. We define ourselves by the connections we make in social space and the things we collect and give preference to. Museums have also traditionally facilitated this. The boundaries between traditional roles, responsibilities and authorities have shifted. We are now simultaneously content producers, curators and consumers. Museums are exploring ways to incorporate user-generated content and participatory experiences where the visitor becomes integral to the production of the experience. The scholar’s voice is just a starting point. In some cases it does not exist at all. The visitor’s voice joins a cacophony of others to form an infinite number of meanings where the project of interpretation is never finished. Nina Simon’s new book The Participatory Museum explores these ideas in depth and is sure to become a staple for museum professionals for the years to come. Other projects like steve.museum explores ways that social tagging can enhance the public assess and use of museum resources. What do these new social networking tools and digital assets provide to museums as they seek to communicate with our public? What does this mean for the role of the curator, scholarship and education in the museum?

Museum as Muse
Lastly, and more so than any architect or museum design professional, I am deeply motivated by a number of artists who actively use museum architecture, collections and processes as a site for their art. David Wilson’s LA-based Museum of Jurassic Technology; Ilya Kabakov’s immersive, and sometimes intentionally unfinished art gallery installations; Sophie Calle’s documentary approach utilizing photography and objects as evidence of a grand narrative; Andrea Fraser’s unauthorized, although seemingly ‘official’ museum tours; Mark Dion’s use of traditional archeological and forensic sciences and mock expeditions in unexpected places; filmmaker Peter Greenaway’s “100 Objects to Represent the World” and interactive room-sized talking painting “Wedding at Cana” at the last Venice Biennale; are just a few that come to mind. We will explore these works of art and see what they might teach us and ways of visually expressing the essential activities of the museum.

The Latest Word: Spaces of Experience

Charlotte Klonk's "Spaces of Experience"

The latest word in display theory was just released by Yale University Press. As in two weeks ago. Charlotte Klonk’s Spaces of Experience: Art Gallery Interiors from 1800 to 2000 locates the development of art gallery interiors in the broader history of experience and perception. It looks like an interesting read, and may be helpful in guessing what comes next!

Jenny F.

Museums Under New Management. Yours.

Yahoo Ad at Times SquareOver the last decade museums have become increasingly focused on their audience, what it knows and what it desires. While the focus group and formative evaluation has been around for a long time, there is a new trend in museums to solicit and feedback a visitor’s ideas as an integral part of their experience ‘on the floor’ . This is rapidly becoming the most valued mode of interactive engagement. True to the very notion that these experiences are essentially anti-authoritative, there is no agreed upon terminology for what this new activity is. Common terms used are ‘user-generated content’, ‘public-curating’, ‘crowdsourcing’, ‘bottom-up planning’, ‘audience engagement’, ‘user-centered design’, ‘talkback’, among many others.

These ideas follow a general trend in society based on a constant re-definition the self through the objects and ideas we associate ourselves with (see earlier post on this topic). With the notion of personal self-fulfillment at its apex, this new sense of how our identity in constructed also re-defines how we as individuals relate to society on the whole. We no longer expect to identify with overarching ideas and desires of a collective, societal-level experience, unless we select to join that experience. In fact over arching ideas are treated as suspect ideology. For the last 40 years or so the commercial sector has been bolstering this sense of the self determining individual, desire and focus on the self with generations of products designed around an expectation that products and services will be personalized and responsive to individual customers needs and interests. (No matter that we as consumers we eventually become slaves to some company’s idea for who we are).  If museums have traditionally reflected ideas about society and transformed to keep pace with larger shifts and societal identifications than it can be assumed that museums must also necessarily change to reflect this obsession with self-definition.

Last week we began to explore how a range of social-networking technologies have emerged to meet this new desire.  The social network is essentially a device that builds on the processes of self-selection and personalization, placing the user at the center of his web-based world, filtering content and creating associations that reinforce the user’s sense of self. Following the Web 2.0 Summit, Facebook founder, Sean Parker relates his vision of the future of internet commerce and posits that very soon, if not already, information services (like Yahoo, Google, YouTube, MSN) will be outmoded by network services (like Twitter, Facebook, Ebay, Paypal)” as the core value of the internet. Sean says that “Collecting data is less important than connecting people.” and ” New economic value on the internet will not be generated by the search, but by the number of connections it generates”. In other words, it is not the content but the connections that count. Crowdsourcing and auto-generative processes that lend meaning generated by collective actions of individual users over the opinions of experts, has now become a new tool for the production of the museum experience. In The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki asserts that a diverse crowd is often wiser at making decisions than expert individuals. The Brooklyn Museum took this idea to heart when they ‘crowdsourced’ their recent exhibition titled Click.

pyramid_n

Illustration by Nina Simon (museumtwo.com)

Nina Simon writes extensively on this topic of museums and how they relate to Web 2.0 technologies and social participatory experiences. In her post titled Hierarchy of Social Participation, she created the above diagram that illustrates five potential levels of a museum’s engagement with visitors. These range from passive receptivity at the bottom (most museum experiences) to collective social engagement in the creation of the museum experience (few but a growing number of museums). You could say that these emergent museums are “under new management”… that of the visitor.

It is interesting to try to imagine a museum that has no authoritative voice, no scholarly enterprise at its core, and perhaps no content of its own. This kind of museum would simply provide the infrastructure and the interface to connect visitors in a creative and generative process that aggregates an ever-changing and collectively produced content. The process itself and the feeling of being connected to other people becomes the experience. One commenter on Nina’s site likened this highest level of creative participation to that of a rave party. The Brooklyn Museum is a rapidly emerging as a pioneer in this area of Museum 2.0 exploration. It is not surprising that they also have regular, late-night, public parties in their exhibition halls after the curators and collections managers go home.

Tim Ventimiglia

Why is it beneficial for a museum to have twitter or facebook?

Twitter has rapidly become one of the most widely used sources of infromation in the world. Just today I saw on the news that a company called Peek is going to start selling a device that looks like an iphone, just for twittering… its insane! In the corporate world maybe twitter is a good idea to get out ideas rapidly. For a person to tweet that they just tried a pair of jeans and noticed that she’s not the same size anymore… not so much. But we are here to talk about museums and twitter/facebook. Facebook is a global social networking website that is operated and privately owned by Facebook, Inc. Here is a list of the museums on Facebook.  An article in The Art Newspaper proclaims that “Facebook is more than a fad- and museums need to learn from it” and museums should embrace the idea that “everyone is a curator”. I am attaching a portion below.  Jim Richardson,  is the managing director of Newscatle-based Sumo, a design consultancy specializing in arts and culture. Richardson published on the 202 issue of May 2009 after it was published online on April of the same year.

“Social networks and blogs are the fastest growing online activities, according to a report published in March by research firm Nielsen Online. Almost 10% of all time spent on the internet is spent on these types of sites, which Nielsen describes as “member communities”, and they are visited by more than two-thirds of the world’s online users.

This has not gone unnoticed by museums and galleries, with many creating some kind of presence on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. But because this has primarily been done as a marketing tool, institutions are missing a far greater opportunity. By treading gently into the second generation of web development and design, known as Web 2.0, museums risk achieving little, and are effectively paying mere lip service to online social engagement. If they were to make a proper commitment to the enterprise, they could transform their relationship with audiences, change people’s perceptions of them and vastly expand the reach of their collections.

The Nielsen research shows that a major factor in the success of social networks is that they allow people to select and share content. This has become a hobby, even considered by some to be a serious creative outlet, with web users spending time “curating” their online space. Museums are well placed to appeal to this new generation of “curators” because they offer rich and interesting content that can be virtually “cut-up” and stuck back together online in numerous different ways to reflect the individual tastes of each user. If remixing, reinterpreting and sharing interesting content is, as Nielsen suggests, the kind of engaging interaction that draws people to social networks, then museums should embrace the idea that “everyone is a curator”, both online and offline.

Most of the institutions that are adapting their own websites with those facets of the social networks that so many people find attractive are in the US. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York relaunched its website in March. It now includes links to the museum’s online users on various social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Users can also create personal online accounts, which allow them to bookmark upcoming events, create online exhibitions and “collect” works of art via their mobile phone as they walk around the gallery and view them later on the website.

Victor Samra, digital media marketing manager at MoMA, says: “It’s not enough just to broadcast information now. Sharing and participating in discussions are becoming normal activities on the web, so I think people are coming to expect it. People want to engage with content they are really passionate about, and museums have a great opportunity to provide this for them. This helps to change the perception of the museum as a building with four closed walls to an organisation with personality and a human face.”

One potential obstacle to museums sharing content online is the issue of copyright and how to protect images if they are put on the internet. Legal implications aside, from a practical point of view this approach is becoming outdated. For example, the Art Museum of Estonia has gone against convention by actively encouraging visitors to photograph its collection; the MoMA website helps users to co-create content and share these creations with friends.

All museums want to create a dialogue with their audiences, and most museum staff are well aware that the internet can be a useful tool for doing this. But museums such as MoMA that have wholeheartedly embraced the new digital environment are becoming part of the conversation, rather then just pushing content or questions at visitors and then sitting back. Online activity such as MoMA’s requires investment, both in terms of web development costs and staff time, but if this is where people are and how they are communicating, then, one can argue, museums should be there too.

Curators pride themselves on using their collections to analyse issues, provoke reactions and ask difficult questions. But these questions are no longer just being debated over a coffee or in the galleries themselves; they are also being discussed online, whether it is on social network sites such as Facebook, online discussion forums or the many blogs, and the content prompting these responses is no longer restricted to the four walls it actually inhabits. This means museums and galleries need to expand the sites where they introduce, narrate and edit their programmes.”

I believe this is truly a great article. But I would still like to throw out there the idea that keeps floating around my head… Can this all just become a big blur? Can all of this access, and participation actually make the museum disappear? There is a lot going on right now with museums and the web, in fact there is an international conference for culture and heritage on-line: Museums and the Web 2010, which is an annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line. So the future of the museum and its relation to these social networking technologies is still very unclear, especially with all the speed of change that is occurring in the world.

Clarisa Llaneza

Virtual Worlds

Virtual WorldVirtual worlds are becoming a major topic when it comes to participating on a local or global scale. There are many programs that are being developed to navigate through ancient architectural civilizations and even in the present, traveling around urban cities. These programs enable people to explore a vast amount of information, as well as pilot through artificial realms to meet people and view objects.

I am currently on a team to redefine how we experience New York City during the day versus the night. This involves a lot of data collection and understanding how these spaces feel in the daylight environment versus the night environment from a lighting stand point. One popular web program that has taken the first steps to this experiential experience is Second Life. They advertise this space as a place to connect, to shop, to work, to explore, to be different and free yourself and mind, and be who you want to be. This is definitely taking this idea of the iPhone as your museum guide to a much different and extreme limit, but this is a potential program that will be developed by many museums in the coming years and the beginning of this investigation have already begun.

The New York Hall of Science has partnered with the Greater Southern Tier BOCES SciCentr program on a project to engage an ethnically and economically diverse group of young people in creating a Virtual Hall of Science (VHOS). This entails designing, building and staffing the virtual science center while working and interacting with science and education professionals throughout the process. VHOS is seen as a long term program that will encourage students to develop and plan the future of their museum as they see fit. This program will further enhance the already strong connects NYSCI has with its community and student science education program.

In either case, the idea of a virtual world that enables people to experience a museum or, for that matter, many different cities from the comfort of their homes is a great start to spark interest, but the fact of the matter is that this will never change how we truly experience something that is tangible.

Stephen Kaye