In “The Exhibitionary Complex,” Tony Bennett describes the two different opposing opinions in exhibiting art and artifacts in museums. One view, also known as the Carceral Archipelago, saw the public gaze as a form of incarceration, similar to people incarcerated in prisons. The other view, the Exhibitionary Complex, views the display of art as a way to educate the public and spread knowledge of the artifacts. It seeks to teach self-regulation through spreading knowledge. While prisons have inmates are monitored but cannot return their own look, the Exhibitionary Complex has it so that everyone is self-monitored, where the subject and object are interchangeable. Museums are like “show and tell” that seek to incorporate the common people into the processes of the state .
Something that I saw that aligns with this article is the Spongebob episode “Band Geeks,” where Squidward and his more pompous rival Squilliam compete to see who can direct the better ensemble to play at the Superbowl performance. Here, Squidward has to expose his less-cultured sea creatures to instruments and the art of performing music, which in this episode has been set up as a skill only for those more educated. In this episode, the Exhibitionary Complex can be seen in action—by teaching his fellow sea creatures how to play instruments—and that no, horse radish is not an instrument—Squidward is educating them and giving them a newfound understanding of something previously seen as exclusive to those of high wealth or status.
Similar to how the Exhibitionary Complex revolves around the art in museums, in this episode, music is the art form that is being showcased. Unlike what Douglas Crimp suggests, the showcase does not confine nor imprison the art. Instead, this showcase opens doors and exposes music as an art form to populations beyond simply the rich and cultured.
Here is the clip of the final band scene from the Spongebob episode, “Band Geeks.” I couldn’t find the full episode, unfortunately.
This week’s readings reminded me of my experience at the Mingei International Museum at Balboa Park, San Diego. About a year ago I visited the museum for an exhibit entitled “Surf Craft: Design and the Culture of Board Riding” with some friends. I was really excited because I had never been to a surfboard exhibition before and, like most surfers, shared a fascination for surfboards as a craft object.
“People have made surfboards for centuries. Standing alone, these boards are often striking examples of functional design. Together, they tell a compelling story about the evolution of an important American art form. Traditional craft, cutting-edge engineering and minimalist art converge in the Museum’s new exhibition devoted to surfboards built from the late 1940s to the present day.”
–Richard Kenvin, curator and surf historian (from my hometown)
The exhibit was a perfect fit for the museum, which was named after the Japanese word mingei, meaning art of the people. This craft-focused art museum setting afforded a more approachable relationship between museum goer and object. Someone with no knowledge of surfing or surf culture could appreciate the diversity of shapes and forms and stop to appreciate a board with of high visual interest, while a more knowledgable visitor could take note of the functional variants across time and space or research a particular shaper. Don’t get me wrong, the “museum effect” certainly changed my viewing relations with the surfboards, but not as much as I had expected considering their origin as functional, everyday objects. I guess in this way, the exhibition supports Svetlana Alpers’ conclusion that “museums provide a place where our eyes are exercised and where we are invited to find both unexpected as well as expected crafted objects to be of visual interest to us.”
A piece of media that I encountered in the past week was an advertisement for a YouTube video. What was special about this advertisement is that I did not skip it even though I could, the reason being that I found this advertisement a work of art. While I can’t link the actual ad, this link shows a similar experience here. What I found artistic about this advertisement is that it was different from any ad I had seen before and it drew me in, it made me wonder. The ad was an interactive 360 (though I would instead call it spherical video since you can see more than just a panorama but up and down as well) ride in an audi car. You could see the cockpit of the car as well as gaze out of any window, including the rear window. These ad was in a sense an experience that made me want to resonate, or find meaning in it.Greenblatt describes wonder as the ability to draw in a viewer, and while it was only an advertisement, this one drew me in because if the experience it offered me.
Also, Benette describes the soft definition to what art is, an object that describes rather than the method by which it was created. I think this ad was art in that it shows what our culture appreciates. The ad features a long clear highway and a city skyline in the background thus showing our appreciation for industry as symbolized by the road. Some may argue that the point of advertisements are to reach the consumers by any means possible. While this may be true, I think that advertisement in their own right can be art in that they resonate with their audience and can hence help us as researches understand what a culture was like based on advertisements. As an example, we study WWII propaganda which were evocative of the time. I believe that a characteristic of art is that is engaging and evocative.
In this week’s reading, “The Museum As a Way of Seeing,” by Svetlana Aplers, Alpers illustrates a variety of examples of her experiences at art museums and exhibitions: specifically that of Dutch art and the MOMA. She further argues that “the museum effect… is a way of seeing. And rather than trying to overcome it, one might as well try to work with it.” Thus, the installation of the objects do, indeed, attribute to the viewer’s overall experience. Alpert even goes as far to say that museums need to “pay as much attention to the possibilities of installation as to the information about what is being installed.”
This reading heavily reminded me to an academic article written by Erkki Huhtamo, a professor here at UCLA’s Design | Media Arts department, titled “Explorations in Exhibition Anthropology.” In Huhtamo’s piece, Huhtamo discusses how the display of the work and the signs that surround the work will attribute to the piece itself. For example, by having a sign that says “Do Not Touch This Piece,” it implies that there are other pieces that are to be touched and interacted with. Also, when the space of an installation was arranged that a doorway was right behind the piece, viewers were naturally inclined to walk behind the piece even though it was later discovered to be off-limits as soon as the security stopped them. Huhtamo discovered that the way a piece is presented has the potential to ultimately take away or add to the viewer’s experience of the piece.
Although both writers have different aims in resolution, they both discuss a similar premise — that is, the design of the installation plays a role in the museum space. Alpers, on one hand, illustrates the importance of presenting the work in a way that educates the public — leading to resolutions such as MOMA’s audio tour guides, giving clarity and clear vision to the pieces in an exhibition. Huhtamo, on the other hand, depicts the significance of designing a space to present the works in the most practical way that viewers can get the optimal experience, without confusion whether or not to touch the piece or disfunction in regards to where to walk, and able to fully put their focus on the piece itself.
After reading Boon’s “Why Museums Make Me Sad” it reminded me of the Koh-i-Noor diamond.
The diamond is one of the largest in the world and originally owned by several South Asian dynasties. After colonization it ended up in the hands of the British Empire and is currently part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. The Jewels are on display at the Tower of London.
Although I have never personally seen exhibitions of the actual stone or images of the stone in India or in England, I am curious as to how the museum interpretations differs. This relates to the readings acknowledgement of the ever present existence of context or lack their of in museums.
Depending on where it was shown, a different story of who the stone really belongs and should belong to is told. It extends the readings point that patrons of museums should be cognizant that what they are seeing in a museum is affected by location, history, politics, curators, and a countless number of other factors. This also brings up the point of pillaging, with various museum objects only existing because of the pillaging that took place from one group over another groups objects. To this day the possession of the jewel by the Crown is controversial, but then it brings up the other question of who it really belongs to. The stone has shifted from region to region across South Asia that it is hard to determine who really holds claim and who has the right to give it context.
Although the Koh-i-Noor supports the argument as to why Boon feels melancholy about museums, the object nor the article doesn’t seem to provide me with any type of solution. It seems to me that it is nearly impossible for a museum to somehow express a point of view when it displays something. I think it is something that should definitely be acknowledged in the hopes of continuos improvements in objectivity.
In his essay “Resonance and Wonder”, Stephen Greenblatt states that there are two distinct qualities that define the museum’s method of exhibition, and these are resonance and wonder. He defines resonance as “the power of the displayed object to reach out beyond its formal boundaries to a larger world, to evoke in the viewer the complex, dynamic cultural forces from which it has emerged and for which it may be taken by a viewer to stand”. And wonder is “the power of the displayed object to stop the viewer in his or her tracks, to convey an arresting sense of uniqueness, to evoke an exalted attention”. He goes on to say that most museum exhibitions that are worth viewing has both elements of resonance and wonder. However, he does argue that the viewer’s experience of an exhibition can be further enhanced if the object has a “strong initial appeal to wonder”, which then can lead to a “desire for resonance”. In other words, the object should be able to draw in the viewers with awe and wonder, and in doing so, it should invite them to delve deeper into the object’s resonance in order to learn, experience, and understand the cultural associations and its significance as a social and historical object. Viewers, then, can better appreciate and experience the exhibition.
Greenblatt’s idea of resonance and wonder can also be applied to other objects. For example, everyone has one or more favorite movies. A recent movie that I fell in love with was Pixar’s Inside Out. I watched it several times already last year, and the reason is because it played with both elements of resonance and wonder. The idea of tiny, imaginary, and colorful creatures living inside our heads was a strange, but intriguing, concept. Not only that but I was able to associate the many emotions Riley displayed with my memories from when I was a teenager. The film was able to draw me in with wonder and keep me hooked through its resonance. And Greenblatt’s idea is not limited to museums and movies. It can be widely applied to architecture, music, books, and other objects. An object that has the power to evoke a sense of wonder and a feeling of resonance can make the viewer’s experience and interaction with the object that much more enriching and rewarding.
“The Exhibitionary Complex” by Tony Bennett explores how nineteenth century institutions of exhibition, such as museums, arcades, and department stores, shared practices of representation that served as vehicles for the dissemination of knowledge and power. These institutions, through their ordering of objects, in turn, ordered the public and their gaze. Bennett further examines levels of “looking” that these institutions imposed, especially that of the relationship between the individual’s gaze onto the object, and the public’s gaze onto the individual. Bennett asserts that the exhbitionary complex, “perfected a self-monitoring system of looks in which the subject and object positions can be exchanged, in which the crowd comes to commune with and regulate itself through interiorizing the ideal and ordered view of itself as seen from the controlling vision of power – a site of sight accessible to all” (82). I found his analysis, of looking and simultaneously being looked at, the most intriguing because it is a big part of my museum-going experience, which largely involves me looking at others looking at objects. People watching really is one of my favorite things to do, watching how others interact with objects within an exhibitionary setting. It is quite a powerful experience watching these relationships play out.
In the vein of looking and being looked at, the best example of this relationship at play is perhaps the most meta; Marina Abramovic’s performance art piece “The Artist is Present.” In this piece, Abramovic sat still and silent for over 700 hours (over the course of three months) while spectators were invited to sit opposite of her and gaze into her eyes. She is at once an individual looking and an object being looked at. The object is finally imbued with a gaze. I highly recommend checking out this piece. You can watch a snippet of the performance in the link provided below. This particular moment that is documented is perhaps the most heartbreaking. Marina and her once creative (and romantic) partner, Ulay, are reunited after not having seen each other for over thirty years. Enjoy (with a box of tissues).
This week’s reading on the Exhibitionary Complex discussed the evolution of museums and its role as a public institution in a position of power to preserve heritage and educate people about it. The article reminded me of the recent appraisal LACMA received for the activity on its Snapchat account, where reporters discussed the comedic approach museum digital strategists used to engage users with their collections. Below are some of the funny snaps from their account:
To me, LACMA’s approach to publicity is an extension of the concept of the Exhibitionary Complex. This complex is one that applies not only to museums, but to social media platforms and the desire to build a digital image, reputation and history. In the same way that museums were given a newfound power to “order objects and persons into a world” (pg 98), social media and marketing strategists have immense power to create an image for, and convey information about the organizations they represent. LACMA’s use of slang and humorous references to youth culture arguably made museums more attractive to Snapchat’s young user base, and connected them with the museum’s information economy in an interesting way.
In addition, LACMA’s use of Snapchat was a tactic to debunk the myth of fine arts appreciation as time-consuming, irrelevant and inaccessible- while I enjoy visiting museums, several of my friends think it is either boring, too abstract, or something they would simply not prioritize doing on a free afternoon. This reminded me of Bennett’s commentary on the role of exhibitions and events as fulfilling “short term ideological requirements” (93). Although museums have a fixed role and a permanent collection, they are able to make the institution relevant by putting on new exhibitions (for a limited time) that speak to current trends or recent historical events. This allows museums to be part of a larger conversation going on in the area/world. Connecting this to LACMA’s use of Snapchat, I think the move was part of the institution’s recognition of trends in digital communication, and the flexibility the museum had to capitalize on such trends in spite of the traditional purpose they have.
Finally, LACMA’s Snapchat move reminded me of Barthes’ remark on the “habitual divorce of seeing and being seen” (97). In the article, Barthes describes the Eiffel Tower as the perfect example to illustrate the technology of vision- the site itself can be a site for a sight. Looking at the Eiffel Tower gives us one view, but visiting the Eiffel Tower gives us a bird’s eye view of Paris that we otherwise might not have access to. In the same way, I think that LACMA’s Snapchat account embodies this dual vision. We view museums as a site for the exercise of cultural capital, but social media strategists are using these traditional pieces to exercise their knowledge of youth slang. Attempting to caption the art so casually and unconventionally puts the art in a different light compared to what we might experience in a museum, and allows us to establish a more personal relationship with art even via our phones.
This week, I had the pleasure of reading Tony Bennett’s “The Exhibitionary Complex,” and was really intrigued with his explanations and justifications behind the complexities of the formation of both exposition and spectacle. Drawing upon numerous examples from past institutions, such as a “cabinet of curiosities” and a “Great Exhibition,” Bennett brings up the notion and case of the Crystal Palace. A cousin to the panopticon, which was an architectural method that allowed maximum observation of inhabitants, the Crystal Palace “reversed the panoptical principle by fixing the eyes of the multitude upon an assemblage of glamorous commodities. The Panopticon was designed so that everyone could be seen; the Crystal Palace was designed so that everyone could see.” Interestingly, the Crystal Palace combines the functions of both spectacle or participatory observation, with the concept of surveillance. Bennett continues to explain how the Crystal Palace is a useful term in the exhibitionary complex; society itself is a spectacle, institutions’ involvement of providing spectacles, and above all, allows for permanent displays of knowledge, thus asserting power.
I found this idea of the Crystal Palace and its purpose to be reminiscent of many of today’s museums and their exhibits. Like how we had discussed in class, it seems as if many museums are employing the use of installations and interactivity to better exhibit art. But a question is raised; with the purpose of many pieces being audience participation, are the users then pieces of the art itself? It can be said that a museum is a Crystal Palace, where museum goers are not only encouraged to view works, the spectacles, but are also assumed to be “under surveillance” of the museum. Heavy words, I know, but it is essentially observable in how power is displayed by what is called for in an exhibition, as well as how museums essentially “curate” the public as viewers themselves.
“…The development of the exhibitionary complex also posed a new demand: that everyone should see, and not just the ostentation of imposing facades but their contents too.”
To further surmise, I especially feel that Bennett’s words are imperatively relatable to the expositions of the digital age– everyone should see, but with the addition of evolving forms of digital display and creation, everyone should be seen as participants of these expositions, as well.
Despite the perplexities that the theory behind the Exhibition Complex introduces, the intersection, or really the duality, of Bennett’s notion of seeing/being seen was extremely intriguing. Ignoring most of the implications brought forth by the article, such as the identity of the crowd, the Eurocentric tendency of the museum, and the social implications of the crowds and museum goers, I thinking mostly of the design of the museum, and the interaction of the crowd and artifacts. For me, this interaction cultivates in two ways: the crowd becoming part of the display, and the crowd as a separate spectacle. Those attending the museum are there to see the what is displayed in the museum. Simultaneously, however, those gathered around the artifact are also part of the viewing process. At museums I often find myself observing the crowd just as much as the art, noting the way that people move through the museum space, and how long they take to look at items, and in general which items have the largest crowds so as to avoid them. Just as Bennett pointed out in the article about the Great Exhibition of 1851, the spaces seem designed for you to observe the people just as much as the exhibits themselves. I definitely fall into that trap: it’s always a moment of great joy and interest to see who else is attending the museum with me.
In modern times, seeing versus being seen has a completely new implication thanks to the invention of the internet and social media, and the incorporation of technology in the museums themselves. Museums compete with artifacts once again becoming public (if we consider items inside a museum as “private” which is a somewhat contested idea) as posted pictures circulate widely. People can now “see” things in this way without being seen. Conversely, museum-goers can be seen publicly not just by attending the museum but by sharing selfies on various social media platforms. This spreads the network of being seen even farther, than just the physical space of the museum. It is a great boost of cultural capital, as now your museum visit is even more visible – everyone can know that you attended, rather than just the strangers in the museum.