When I think about a museum and their presence online, I don’t want to just see posts of the art you can see in the museum – that’s why I visit a museum. Rather, it should give viewers context, both with the “behind the scenes”, as well as the history of the art itself. I think that’s the strength of LACMA’s videos, as it doesn’t necessarily focus on just one aspect, but rather, incorporates many different aspects of what the museum is about. They do not necessarily need to have a strong social media presence, although that helps a lot with increasing foot traffic, but having a digital presence can enhance a user’s experience, either after the museum visit, or before.
One thing that is interesting to note — MoMA just announced a few days ago that it would be launching a free photography course online, so it’ll be interesting to see how that turns out.
Stephanie actually posted the storytelling piece that I wanted to post (the Dreams of Dali VR is so well done), but Wired actually posed about something else I had seen, so I’m going to use that one instead. They are reporting about Google’s collaborations with large museums via the Cultural Institute project, which is digitizing tens of thousands of pieces onto a digital archive. This time, Google partnered with the Guggenheim Museum in New York so that you can visit it through your computer. This combines Google’s street view option on maps with an extensive set of cameras/drones to capture the building, built by Frank Lloyd Wright.
I found this article, on using interpretive technology at the fine arts museums in San Francisco, was particularly interesting especially since I have visited the deYoung multiple times in the past (I have not yet had the chance to visit the Legion of Honor). This article goes over what Voices:FAMSF is, as well as its aim to combine the visitor’s experience with the art piece with sound to enhance their experience. (On a side note, I thought it was amusing that they decided to use the outdoor sculptures at the deYoung so they could get a better GPS read, since the deYoung has notoriously horrible cellphone reception.)
It’s interesting how these fine arts museums, the ones who are usually less flexible and more resistant to change, are trying to embrace technology and integrate it into the user experience. Maybe this is just the spirit of San Francisco, the city with such a tight-knit relationship with technology and the industry. As someone who grew up the county over, it has always been a given that the (big) museums have always embraced and accepted technology. SFMOMA, before it closed for reconstruction, had large digital displays in the entryway. There are two museums, the California Academy of Sciences and the Exploratorium, dedicated to technology (although not from an artistic standpoint).
In its beta phase, Voices:FAMSF noted that through the usage of their application, user engagement did increase, and that people actually felt like they were having a more holistic, stronger engagement with the art. Since the application takes visitor comments and uses them to generate a platform for discussion, both from the museum and the community, they hope to increase user engagement and understanding of the art at both of the institutions. While the app may not be ready for the public, their early beta testings are showing that embracing technology can be a good thing for museums.
Museums have mixed feelings about social media (especially Instagram). While some, such as LACMA and the Broad, want their visitors to pass by and take photos to post on Instagram (the #FOMO is strong here), others want nothing to do with Instagram and how it seems to be just one more app that keeps people’s faces drawn to phone screens, and not the art. However, Sarah Hromack and Rob Giampietro say that museums are faced with less and less choices. With more and more authority being put in the hands of the viewer via the power of social media, museums can’t afford to turn blind eye to how it’s transformed the museum experience.
You could even say that museums have captured Insta-fever. Around two weeks ago, I ran across this article on The Verge that talks about how the Tate Modern in London is going to put a series of Instagram photos on display in the museum. Run by Amalia Ulman, her Instagram @amaliaulman is a performance piece. She is the main character, portraying a small town girl trying to make it in Los Angeles. Apparently, it was compelling enough for the Tate Modern to install a selection of her posts in their space.
What the Tate Modern is doing is taking their interactions with social media (especially Instagram) to a new level. While performative Instagrams are common (and to an extent, all Instagrams are performative), this is likely the first time a major art museum has decided that it would join the echelons of “art that belongs in a museum”. At the same time, Instagram is a form of digital storytelling via photography/videography, so it could also have been considered only a matter of time before a museum decided to install a series of Instagram posts in their halls. There are plenty of accounts dedicated to being performance pieces (such as the woman who tricked her family into thinking she was in Thailand) to expose just how constructed social media can be, and that is art in its own right, I guess. (At least, the Tate Modern seems to think it is.)
This week’s readings reflect what we as a class have discussed since Week 1: how museums have shown and appropriated non-Western cultures, although the Introduction written by Karp and Lavine go into discussing how this is changing. Museums are reacting to the growing sensitivity and political correctness of its constituents (and potential ones), and are beginning to take steps to ensure that the most amount of people are happy.
Karp and Lavine pose three solutions to the problem Western museums have with displaying non-Western cultural artifacts/pieces: increase transparency, give populations more agency when it comes to their presentation in museums, and hire people who are specialists in non-Western culture. Of course, it’s best to always have an expert on staff to handle projects in the best way possible, but that is costly, especially if the exhibition is only temporary.
This is still a learning process for museums around the country (and world). The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York held a “China: Through the Looking Glass” exhibition until September 2015, and it shows how Western cultures, who historically have held more power over other countries, happily take aspects of other countries’ cultures and use/interpret it for their own means, although it can sometimes turn out quite funny (as pictured below). At least the Met was recognizing that the exhibit they were putting on was a Western interpretation of China, although it still makes me cringe today.
(original image here)
At the same time, there is no way for museums to make everyone happy. As Karp and Lavine so succinctly put it, “the larger point, however, is that no matter how the exhibition was organized, it would have been disputed”. People will find a reason to complain about everything, so all the museums can do is make sure that they are not grossly misinterpreting or representing the non-Western cultures they’ve put on exhibit, while also trying to understand (and let the audience understand) its special place in history.
I remember back in middle school, before Wikipedia was seen as a more “legitimate” source, that my teachers would always warn us to “NEVER use Wikipedia!!!”. I don’t know one of my classmates actually followed that rule, but in the seven-ish years since middle school, there has been a drastic outlook change on Wikipedia, the world’s favorite open-source encyclopedia. As Wikipedia celebrates its 15th year, you can tell how institutions have seen the success of Wikipedia and begun to understand the importance of having open source material available for an increasingly Internet-centered society who has a greater demand for open source content, as mentioned by Mia Ridge in her article. Multiple institutions, such as the Tate Modern and even MIT have posted countless material on the Internet free for public use, and that has begun to transform how we are able to consume and apply knowledge.
One way you can see the impact of Open Source is in the creative industry. While it may seem like they are just copying their predecessors, without open source or copyright free material, it has actually increased creativity, especially as new platforms, such as YouTube, increase in dominance. For instance, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, is a popular spin off on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which is open source. But, they were able to apply it to a cohesive digital storytelling plan (explained here by Joe Lambert) and give it its very own life. It is not like the 1995 BBC adaption, nor the 2005 movie, which are direct adaptations. It took the main themes of Austen’s novel and applied it to the 21st century, and delivered it through a medium that worked with the platform it was presented on (vlog-style episodes on YouTube). The creators were able to take advantage of the open-sourced material, and meld it together with the different aspects of digital storytelling to create something not quite seen before.
Tony Bennett’s “The Exhibitionary Complex”, for me, was the most interesting out of the three readings — followed shortly by “Why Museums Make Me Sad” by James Boon. They both cover similar topics, Bennett going moreso into the history of how museums emerged as a sort of middle ground between the low brow exhibitions such as freak shows, and the high brow. All of these come from a similar desire to put things on exhibition (thus, “The Exhibitionary Complex”), especially things regarded as unknown to the general viewer. For instance, this is what eventually popularizes the world fairs that defined a generation for its exuberant and ostentatious exhibits that showed off things from ‘far, far away’ (although maybe not a galaxy’s distance).
Common people then did not have the luxury of the Internet, or even the luxury afforded to us today through a public school system that covers world history and cultures. Rather than being able to form their own opinion about pieces they see on view, they are subject to whatever information the curator decides to put on display for the viewers. As Boon notes, people have an inherent interest in the unfamiliar, and enjoy viewing such objects with fascination and amusement, disregarding the curator’s assertion of power over them. In 2016, the sentiment has morphed. With the advent of the Internet, and more importantly, Wikipedia, the way we consume knowledge has drastically changed. This has also changed how we have come to view knowledge and museums. Coincidentally, my friend posted a link to an article about the “crisis” museums and the humanities are facing on Facebook (right here), which outlines this scenario well. We want to know more and more about whatever subjects pique our interests, and drawing our own opinions on the subject, which has resulted in a power struggle between the museum and its viewer.
Beth and Steven, the authors of the article, say that these institutions have the option to make their images and knowledge open source, or to even just advertise their published works more. Rather than protest against this shifting change, museums should acknowledge their special presence on the Internet as a key source of information.