Response to Agnes Stauber

Today I was entranced by the video “Dreams of Dali,” a “virtual reality experience” which takes viewers inside Salvador Dali’s Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s “Angelus.” 

The video was created as part of the Disney and Dali exhibit at the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. The virtual reality is a synthesis between the fairylands we see in classic Disney films and Dali’s dreamlike paintings. Not only does it let the viewer see a whole new version of the painting, it allows one to imagine a world of Dali’s creation, maybe even entering into the realm of his mind. The presentation is more like that of a video game than a movie, as the viewer really feels like they are exploring this other world. “Lead developer Nathan Shipley used the same 3D modeling, lighting, and texturing tools game developers use, and built a gaze-based navigation system” to create this experience (Wired).

This video is free from text and there is no voiceover other than the haunting music playing in the background. The lack of human presence mediating one’s experience with the video differs from the videos available on Lacma’s website, and it is what makes this video so compelling.

As far as an online course, I would be interested in a course on Art Criticism. Criticism can be snarky and funny (like a YouTube video) which would make it enjoyable to watch through, while still being educational.


The Ethics of Crowdsourcing in Tag London

“The school as the crowd: Adventures in crowdsourcing with schools” by Ally Davies is a study on the Tag London website, a project which asked students to catalogue art pieces. The creators of Tag London worked with primary and secondary school teachers to ensure the project benefitted students as a supplement to their history education, while the museum used the student-generated data to better the searchability of the Museum of London website.

I wondered to myself about the ethics of crowdsourcing while reading this piece. While it seemed that students were engaged by the website, thus learning about art and artifacts from different time periods, teachers explained that the project needed to be more interactive and customizable to their curriculum to be truly beneficial. Explaining that this would require costly adjustments to the site, the teachers and museum were unable to reach a compromise and the project was abandoned.

There are four issues that critics of crowdsourcing argue. First, that businesses should support their communities by employing locally, which was the case in this particular project. Second, that people should be paid for their contributions. It can be said that the English grade schoolers were getting paid through education.

However, critics also say that it is exploitative to pay people in very low amounts. Therefore if their contributions were to be inconsequential to their grades (which was often the case in this project as the site was not customizable to different curriculums) the simple act of becoming more educated about the world was not incentive enough, and was therefore exploiting the students. For the museum, the cost of redesigning the website that students used outweighed the price of the work that the students were doing.

Finally, critics also say that professionals should not do unpaid work. The study by Davies emphasized that both parties needed to achieve mutual benefit from participating in the Tag London project, schools needed “an engaging learning experience, and the museum (reaching large numbers and improving collections data) “ Though the students were the ones doing the nitty gritty work (and they were not professionals) there is a third party at play in this particular case. Teachers logged many hours out of the classroom testing the museum software and designing appropriate lesson plans. Some declined to use the software because they did not feel like they had enough of a handle on the site to make it useful. These professionals were not getting paid for their work and input on the site, when they provided insight on how the first time user would interact, or by lending their classroom time to Tag London.

Overall, this project can be considered unethical because it valued the student input over the teachers. Though the students were the ones directly working and benefitting, the teachers who facilitated the entire project would have received the same, or greater benefit through sticking to their own lesson plans and curriculum.

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.

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.

How Open Data Can Be A Museum Exhibit In Its Own Right

When reading the articles for this week which focused on the use of museum’s open data for developers in creating visualizations, I had to ask myself how this can enhance the museum experience. Helen Wall’s work with the Moma collection’s data is a historical backlog that would be most relevant to scholars rather than a casual viewer. But as Mia Ridge says, “Like many participatory projects, open cultural data projects seem to work better when they set aside resources for community interaction.” Since we’re interested in presenting art in a way that expands the mind of an everyman museum visiter, we have to ask how this viewer can take advantage of a network of links between sources, which is essentially what open data is.

Mia Ridge, in “Where Next For Open Cultural Data In Museums” states “the internal and external benefits of linked data are in linking to other sources as well as providing linkable sources.” One example of this is an interactive Collection Browser I saw at NYC’s Cooper Hewitt museum earlier this month. At the museum, there was a table whose top was like a giant tablet. Using a stylus, the user would scribble on the table. A famous work of art which contained a similar line or shape would pop up, as well as the work’s metadata. If this doesn’t make sense, you can view a description of the Cooper Hewitt Collection Browser table here:

This is much more relevant that a bunch of graphs and charts giving biological data about artists and their art. Open data will also be useful for those who wish to access museum archives remotely. The problem with remote access is that it is even more decontextualizing than the typical museum format which we discussed last week with the Exhibitionary Complex: thousands of images and their metadata on one page with absolutely no caption or story as to why they are relevant.

Exhibitionary Complex: What Can The Viewer Do To Expand On A Museum’s Presentation

Who really benefits from museums? Is the question posed by Tony Bennett in his ‘Exhibitionary Complex” essay. In examining knowledge as a form of power, Bennett insinuates that audiences of public museums are prey to museum curators who regulate society. Making museums public is a method by the government for controlling society’s knowledge, while displaying the state’s power.

“Institutions comprising ‘the exhibitionary complex’, by contrast, were involved in the transfer of objects and bodies from the enclosed and private domains in which they had previously been displayed (but to a restricted public) into progressively more open and public arenas where, through the representations to which they were subjected, they formed vehicles for inscribing and broadcasting the messages of power (but of a different type) throughout society.”

This reminds me of my final paper for Art History 56B, Art of Africa, in Spring of 2014. In the assignment, the class was asked to visit the Fowler Museum’s Afrian Art exhibit and examine the benefit of the exhibit. Did the exhibit properly convey the true artistic climate in various African countries? Was it misleading in any way to the viewer? How can an exhibit, curated by an American for an American audience, give true homage to the African origins of the objects within?

After many hours of analysis, I answered the question by saying that the exhibit relied heavily on the assumption that the audience had no baseline knowledge of African Arts. Therefore, the exhibit became a dumbed down interpretation of the objects, which may lead to an overly simplified view of African art.

Is it problematic for curators to display art in a way that may limit the viewers’ own interpretation?  No. Curators must seek to present information as simply as possible in order to cater to a varied audience. The enlightened audience has thousands of tools at their fingertips: libraries, internet resources, worldly friends, etc, to expand their learning if they so desire to research an exhibit further on their own time. At the time of Bennett’s writing (1988) this was a less feasible option. But our class is called Museums in the Digital Age. In this world, the viewer has more power than the curator, jumping off from ideas presented in an exhibit as a baseline for research. Viewers do not take a curator’s word as law because they have the power to further expand, dispute, or qualify the ideas presented to them in the museum.