Monday, October 27, 2014

All the World's an Expert

Last Thursday, The Wall Street Journal published an article about a new trend in museums: allowing the public to curate exhibitions.  In a nutshell, a few museums have given visitors the opportunity to decide upon an exhibition theme and/or choose the art (from a pre-selected pool) for an exhibition.  In some cases, the museums have seen an increase in membership and donations; in other cases, museum staff members have resigned over the public's involvement.  The big question is, is it appropriate to let the public be so involved and if so, what does this mean for museums?

I find this turf war fascinating, and a bit sad.

I think one of a museum's overarching goals is to get the public, its visitors, to appreciate art.  Appreciation comes from interacting with the art.  Sometimes that involves learning about its origins, the time it was made, the social structure of the artist's community, or the particular challenges the artist might have faced.  In the case of the public curating, the viewers have a vested interest in the art because they are choosing what might be seen.  They get to make choices.  Viewers spend more time looking at all the art options in order to make a choice, as opposed to simply looking at what they might select themselves.  They are involved.

I'm disappointed that a curator might resign over this type of scenario.  A good curator could still be the gentle guiding hand in the creation of the exhibition during the pre-selection process.  I don't see how the museum's leadership role in the appreciation of art is diminished by letting the public sometimes have a say. I don't think the museum relinquishes its role as an expert by exhibiting artwork selected by public opinion.  These exhibitions would become a collection of favorites and I can imagine there would still be many educational opportunities.  I think there would be  sociological things to glean from public curating that would dovetail nicely into the "facts" of the art.  We'd likely gain a lot of insight into trends, social conscience, and probably get a few surprises as well.

I think this would get people thinking and talking, and Isn't Art Supposed To Be a Dialogue?

I think enabling the public to participate in the development of an exhibition is a great idea.  I don't think it should be done all the time -- there's a lot learn from experts curators.  But I do think it's an excellent way to engage the public and to let them be part of the artistic process.  I think it's a very resourceful way to get visitors to come back (and pay again and/or become members).  I think it could be very exciting for a curator to understand their "market" and community via this process.  I say Bravo.  I hope museums will, whenever possible, let visitors have a say.

If you're interested in reading the full article, here's the link:


Natalya Aikens said...

very interesting!

Kristin L said...

Interesting indeed. The whole debate appears to reflect the current trend (or is it here to stay?) of everyone expecting to "interact" or to be invested in the creation of everything -- be it social media, fundraising, or just building a custom burger. I'd think that if the public is choosing from a pre selected list then it's the best of both worlds -- the curators can be assured exhibits will be achievable and meet certain minimum standards, and the public can be invested in the creation.