Mayhem In The Museum, Or Museum Etiquette In The Digital Age

The theme of this week’s readings was a discussion of how the online exhibit is coming to replace the traditional museum experience. In Art in America, the authors specifically noted how many of their peers willingly avoided exhibits because they felt they got all they needed, just from the pictures online. I appreciated how the Met, as mentioned in the Times article, used their online presence to give visitors a behind the scenes look at the museum’s new artworks, like showing the piece being unwrapped upon arrival. I believe that things like this are the best way to ensure that the tangible museum remains relevant: giving some of the picture but not all of it to entice viewers to visit, unlike the institutions which show all of their collection in an online database.

This made me wonder about the benefit of being able to take pictures in museums at all. In the Art in America piece, the authors mentioned Domino’s Sugar Baby, an anatomically accurate and enormous nude woman/ sphinx Karen Walker made of Domino’s sugar. I remember at the time of the exhibit SO MANY people were taking pictures to make it look like they were doing inappropriate things with the sculpture. Here are some examples:

sugar baby
Photo via
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 10:  People view Kara Walker's "A Subtlety," a seventy-five and a half feet long and thirty-five and a half feet tall sphinx made in part of bleached sugar at the former Domino Sugar Refinery on May 10, 2014 in the Williamsburg neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The show opened today, is free to the public and will run until July 6th.  (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – MAY 10: People view Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety,” a seventy-five and a half feet long and thirty-five and a half feet tall sphinx made in part of bleached sugar at the former Domino Sugar Refinery on May 10, 2014 in the Williamsburg neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The show opened today, is free to the public and will run until July 6th. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

We have become desensitized to blatantly disrespectful behavior in public for the sake of online virility, and users may err on the side of trivializing artwork to make it social media friendly. The respectful, quiet behavior that was expected in the museum setting is no longer a social norm. I believe the only way to solve this may be to forbid people from taking pictures in the museum altogether.

Week 5- Is art beating technology?

How much should museums interact with digital technology and at what point does technology surpass the experience of the art piece? I remember a few years ago there was a particular piece at the Hammer Museum where visitors would walk into a blacked-out room where a large wooden shed stood. Upon entering, they would see one wall completely made of sharp metal spikes that came to a center. Visitors could also walk around outside of the shed and see the perspective from the outside. Somehow I cannot imagine a digital version of this piece. Although pictures would be cool, there were certain moods that helped make up the piece. Indeed, a particular perfume was sprayed on the spikes each morning giving them a scent which added to the art. Just like the Sugar Baby exhibit, digital visitors would lose out on certain experiences that could only be gained by seeing it in first person.

Full body experiences seem to be the new form of artwork surrounding the visitor with a sensation. Digital technology cannot do much to this end and instead we may be left with a second-rate form of art. As the Rhizome article says, museums need to “digitize to survive” but perhaps artists are becoming aware of this by trying to draw the public out of their phones into full body experiences. After all, is it really an art experience if you view it through the same device you use to write papers, go on social media, and watch cat videos? I think that although museums are evolving to incorporate and use digital technology more, artists are responding by making pieces that cannot be into digital form. Besides, art is usually something shocking that forces the viewer to think differently than they had before. Perhaps art is rebelling against this new digital age?

Cataloging Items

This week’s readings focused on categorizing objects, works of art, and artifacts. “Data standards not only promote the recording of information consistently but are also fundamental to retrieving it efficiently. They promote data sharing, improve content management, and reduce redundant efforts.” Data standards are important for the efficient use of artistic objects. However, as we discussed in DH 101, categorizing cultural objects is inherently racist as it imposes Western ideals on work that wasn’t created for, or by, Westerners. Therefore, although data standards are limitlessly important, we must take care when creating categories that pay respect to the true meaning of the art work.

For example, the simple category “place of creation” or “country of origin” could become a category of dissonance and contention because of all the rampant tension and historical indiscrepancies relating to the borders of cities or countries. If something was created in modern day Russia in the 50’s, was it created in Russia or in the USSR? And how can we remedy these issues to ensure no unintended offense occurs when attempting to categorize objects.

The issues with substandard metadata are apparent in the social media/ blog site Tumblr. On Tumblr, you can tag items with anything you want. There are rarely suggested terms that would remain constant for every object. Though Tumblr content tends to be trashy memes rather than important high art, the issues with inconsistent data are the same: objects become nearly, if not totally, impossible to find. Therefore we cannot discount the importance of controlled vocabulary and metadata for all objects.

Week 4 – SANAA

In the article, “Community makers, major museums, and the Keet S’aaxw: Learning about the role of museums in interpreting cultural objects,” written by Charles Zange, Zange discusses new wave aim of museums trying to embody cultures in technology in efforts to preserve something that truly cannot be contained. This article illicit reminders of my last quarter in DH150, of SANAA coming to visit the class and discussing how community can be given a voice over the platform of the internet. However, in later classes, it was much discussed that culture cannot be fully understood by these modes of data — as data is merely a representation.

SANAA aims to illustrate the stories of people of color who have been marginalized due to the misrepresentation of the South Asian people in mass media after the 9/11 attack. However, it was important that they mentioned how although these are the stories of the people who face the trials of immigration, that one cannot truly live out the experiences expressed through mere reading. This database and site furthers the argument that Zange creates as to “… take a closer look at a few examples of how museums work with community makers; and second, to begin a discussion that critically evaluates the future of community-driven digital projects.”

Week 4 Blog

Charles Zange argues that museums can play a bigger role in connecting the general public to community-makers and their community-driven digital projects, which are political endeavors, in a sense, of promoting one narrative over competing ones. He also suggests that museums and community-makers collaborate on projects to give their works the wide exposure they need. However, that many of us think that museum exhibition is a zero-sum game of sorts; giving space to one group deprives another of the chance to display their objects. Therefore, it is essential for museums to distinguish themselves as an objective third-party. One way of achieving this is by letting the community members speak for themselves so that they don’t misconstrue their narrative.

One example of such attempt is shown by the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA), an online collection of digitized items that testify to the rich South Asian culture in American society. It is crowd-sourced, meaning members of the community contribute to the expanding collection of items. For viewers, such narrative has more value and credibility, given that they’re hearing the story directly from the person who has a personal connection with the item. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that people’s memories fade. Oral stories, especially, have the tendency to get modified as they are told over time. The storytellers themselves may only be left with a vague feeling or impression of what happened in the past, which begs the question, is their story true? Museums can bolster the individual efforts of these communities and bolster their narratives in clarity and credibility by using their vast network and resources to fill in the holes and gaps. In a sense, museums can play a bigger role than simply connect. They can provide viewers with a more immersive and valuable experience by helping these communities build a stronger case for their narrative.

Cataloging and Related Works

This week’s reading was interesting in that it almost sounded like an instruction manual on how to set up a museum (at least to me.) With the way the author narrates the article, this could very well prove to become something like “Museums for Dummies.”

Anyways, what I found most interesting was the discussion in part one about related works. The reading describes related works as having important conceptual relationship with each other, and are most relevant for works with multiple parts, works of architecture, collections of works, and works in a series. The article goes to say that it is most important to record works that have a direct relationship with the work of art being cataloged, especially when the connection is not obvious i.e. works by the same artist or with the same subject are apparent, but if one of these works is “preparatory for another,” that connection is not as apparent and must be recorded. In order to aid this, the CCO recommends distinguishing between intrinsic relationships–relationships that enable effective searches, such as by artist or subject–and extrinsic relationships–where two or more works have a relationship that is informative, but not essential either physically or logically in identifying either of the works.

When I read this, I couldn’t help but recall my trip to the Broad for my museum report this past week, where I couldn’t up but ask myself while walking around, why were certain pieces placed in the same room as other pieces–along with, “Why is there a taxidermy sheep in a tank of water in the middle of this room?” If they are from different artists, what connection do they have with one another? What does a golden urinal have to do with the with Barbara Kruger? Why are certain pieces chosen to be in a room of their own? This weeks reading hinted at some possible answers to this; perhaps some of these works held extrinsic relationships that art-newbies, such as myself, could not identify right off the bat.

Cataloging non-western art

The Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO) guide is an extensive guide that seeks to recommend how collections should be documented.  It covers things that are seemingly obvious, like being consistent, but when applied become so complex it can make your head hurt.  The CCO lies down suggestions, not guidelines.  Ideally, it seems that the guidelines could make it easier for collections to speak to one another, such as when a museum loans, but there are so many suggestions and factors that need to be considered in this that I don’t think it becomes any easier with application.

Last quarter I was part of a class that worked on creating a digital archive of images for African art classes.  This essentially consisted of researching the images, which were already collected on artstor, and adding to them all the catalog or metadata that we could find on them.  While this seemed like an easy process at the get-go, it quickly became more complex as we began the research proartstorcess because the works of art were so diverse.  Being non-western, much of their metadata did not fit into the traditional categories that artstor had.  How do you classify a work’s “period/style” when it’s a form that is widely used throughout a specific culture’s existence? How do you give it a country of origin when the work was from a cultural group that crosses national borders?

We were able to find workarounds but the general naming convention of cataloging sites such as artstor and Dublin core can be awkward when applied to non-western works.  The CCO attempts to cover all of its bases but the fact still stands that we have not fully addressed how to mediate between western and non-western art.

Week 4: Cataloging Cultural Objects

The Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO) guide reading covered key questions and issues of the cataloging process. First off, it’s important to understand that cataloging means to describe what the object is, who made it, where it was made, how it was made, the materials of which it was made, and what it is about. In order to achieve this, a cataloger needs to create metadata for the original data. The metadata of a painting, for example, would be the name of the author, the date it was made, the country of origin, the mearialsu and colors used, etc., while the data would be the painting itself. Viewers of galleries, and objects in general want to know this information in order to understand the object and to evaluate its significance and how they feel about it.

Thus, the cataloger is in a pretty important position of classifying and presenting the information about objects. According to this week’s reading, the cataloger must first decide what exactly he or she is cataloging: is it an original work or an image? Then, it’s also very important to establish relationships between various bits of information and to link the metadata to appropriate authority sources. With intrinsic linking, it makes it easier for viewers to search for and locate related works. The same goes for linking to authority sources, but authority sources additionally give more credibility and context to the work.

It’s noteworthy to consider that since a majority of museums are federally founded, the cataloging process will be dictated by those institutions. The reading discussed that there are many complications and nuances about creating minimal descriptions. It said: the specificity and exhaustivity of a catalogue may depend on the time, knowledge, and expertise of catalogers, the database structure and information system design, end-user needs and expectations, and long-established institutional practice.”

This discussion reminds me of Duarte & Belarde-Lewis’s article “Imagining Creating Spaces for Indigenous Ontologies,” which talked about ontologies and institutional versus community archives. And although the cataloger does not exactly have the “power to name” the objects, the role still gives authority to establish knowledge about those objects.

With this in mind, we, as consumers of this object metadata and information, must be a little critical of what is recorded about the object. It is quite realistic that certain facts and information about objects, especially cultural objects will be considered “not important enough” and be left out. Yet, even more often I would guess is the case of the sources that catalogers use in order to gather and code information about those cultural objects. For, cultural objects tend to have deeply rooted history that is closely intertwined with the people of whose culture they come from. And, we also know that traditional institutions and archives tend to create their own ontologies, representations, definitions, descriptions, and interpretations of objects, and neglect to give proper credit to the communities and the people’s stories that the cultural objects specifically belong to.



Week 4

I surprisingly enjoyed reading Baca’s piece this week. I thought it was very interesting actually reading through somewhat of a “manual” type piece and learn how to properly catalog cultural objects and the items to take into consideration when doing so. There is a specific set of criteria that one should include to make an effective catalog. Throughout the reading, I couldn’t help but to think that there are lots of things that closely resemble a catalog we use on an everyday basis.

One example is IMDb, the website that we refer to for movie ratings, celebrities, and other television and film entertainment information. Though people are not objects, it has the same structure. If we type in a celebrity name, it lists all of the movies they have starred in, what role, with whom, any awards they have received, and associated record labels. For more popular celebrities, it will have their birthday, ethnicity, place of birth, their family, height information. The larger the celebrity, the more information they will have. In turn, some actors who have only taken on small roles have very bare pages, if even a page at all.

This setup of a site like IMDb also fosters the hierarchal relationship described in Baca’s piece. On IMDb’s homepage, it will highlight pages on more relevant celebrities, movies, and things that are new.Those of more “importance” or in this example, “popularity” or “relevance,” will take precedence over smaller stars. When we look at a movie, the actors are listed from main to smaller roles. Even within smaller roles, those who are more popular will be listed first. There are different classifications within works- whether it be an independent movie, straight to DVD work, and producer, actor, or songwriter to name a few.

All of these relationships are linked together so we can see it as a network, much like connections between artistic or cultural works in a catalog, as Baca describes. Of course, this is not a catalog, as it is created through user contribution., however, there are some characteristics that resemble the factors described in the reading, as many may not realize.