Drawing from the Well of Language: Droughts, Floods, and Flows of Meaning

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An attempt to distill some rules of thumb for museum interpretation, covering the spectrum from analog to digital. Delivered to an international audience of museum professionals in Yerevan, Armenia on …

An attempt to distill some rules of thumb for museum interpretation, covering the spectrum from analog to digital. Delivered to an international audience of museum professionals in Yerevan, Armenia on October 21, 2012.

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  • Much of the art in this suite was made before the French Revolution for European aristocrats who lived grandly, luxuriously, and fashionably. The works of art help reveal how the privileged few wiled away their days and how they perceived others in the world
  • “Impressionism’s breath of fresh air is just a memory here. Munch, Kokoschka and Beckmann put people center stage and exaggerate to make themselves heard. Who cares about likeness? They despise the bourgeois who believes that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds… Their art isn’t easy, and doesn’t set out to be. They see themselves as Van Gogh’s heirs, but of his tormented, overstrung side. Their art can hurt, can be ugly.”
  • Impressionism’s breath of fresh air is just a memory here. Munch, Kokoschka and Beckmann put people center stage and exaggerate to make themselves heard. Who cares about likeness? They despise the bourgeois who believes that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds… Their art isn’t easy, and doesn’t set out to be. They see themselves as Van Gogh’s heirs, but of his tormented, overstrung side. Their art can hurt, can be ugly.
  • Once accepted, they can deal with the paintings. Address them full on, in their potency.

Transcript

  • 1. Drawing from the Well of LanguageDroughts, floods, and flows of meaningPeter SamisAssociate Curator, Interpretive MediaSan Francisco Museum of Modern ArtMUSEUMS AND WRITTEN COMMUNICATION. Tradition and InnovationICOM-CECA 2012 Yerevan, Armenia 21 October 2012
  • 2. Museums. Even if they look like this on the outside...
  • 3. ...they look like this on the inside.
  • 4. …and this...
  • 5. Offering chamber. Withholding chamber.
  • 6. JustinCozart, Drought
  • 7. Modern art—like all the objects we exhibit—exists in a framework of meanings.• Physical aspects• Process of its making• Relationships (to its maker, to ideas, to other works)• Documents (journals, letters, sketches)• Media• Methods of approach and understanding
  • 8. Of these, art museums typically strip awayall but one or two.• Method(s) of approach and understanding• Physical aspects
  • 9. Experts………………Novices Somewhere along the line that leaves us to restore the context.
  • 10. Olafur Eliasson states the problem.
  • 11. “The very basic belief that is behind mywork is that objecthood, or objects assuch, doesn‟t have a place in the worldif there‟s not an individual personmaking some use of that object…”
  • 12. So what‟s our toolkit for hooking visitorson the objects we share? urbanmkr, ...in our borrowed tackle box
  • 13. ONLY CONNECT: A research project onvisitor-centered museum interpretationwith Mimi Michaelson, Ph.D. sponsored by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation
  • 14. So, some lessons on a continuum from Analog to Digital: 1. Gallery texts and object labels.
  • 15. All too often, we do it like this.
  • 16. An indigestible inundation of text & audio.
  • 17. Compare this... Detroit Institute of Arts, USA
  • 18. “Much of the art in this suite was made before the French Revolution for European aristocrats who lived grandly, luxuriously, and fashionably. “The works of art help reveal how the privileged few wiled away their days and how they perceived others in the world.”In two sentences, the entrance panel sets you up for a highly charged experience.
  • 19. Or this... Detroit Institute of Arts, USA
  • 20. Or this: [Black lung]
  • 21. Atemlos = Out of breath [Along with a paragraph on the side telling the story of the miner whose lung this was.]Ruhr Museum, Essen, Germany
  • 22. How about this?33 words. Kelvingrove Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland
  • 23. Minimum words. Maximum impact.BELLAMY: “With visitor research, most people… readthe first couple sentences and then you move on. Sowe thought, „Okay, we‟ll just give them the firstcouple sentences. We‟ll put everything that we needto in those first couple sentences.‟” PERRY: Our word count on labels is thirty words. And within that thirty words, you have to say why that object is good. —Interview with Martin Bellamy and Anne Perry of the Glasgow Museums
  • 24. Consider the longer wall text… rewritten with personality!Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
  • 25. Consider the wall text…Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
  • 26. “Their art can hurt, can be ugly.” Passion. Hatred. Emotions validated. And with them, the visitors’ potential discomfort.
  • 27. 2. Audio (& Multimedia) Tours
  • 28. With audio/multimedia tours, the issueis the same—but different.
  • 29. It‟s just as easy to run on at the mouthand try to cram too many points in,ignoring people‟s tired feet. Photo: FreakingNews.com
  • 30. So what can you say in a minute that keeps people looking at—and engaged with—the object?[Micro-doses ofcontent.Touch the screento access eachone.] Add great video as a sub-level, but keep it short!
  • 31. One museum director told us:“I don‟t like the idea of everything gravitating towarda predictable, or best-practices model… You know, it‟ssort of a phantom idea, and it could spell mediocrity.And so I think, you know, there‟s the best practice forthe project…But I‟m always interested in seeing what people think„best practices‟ means, and I‟m always ready for adebate on that, with anybody who cares to talk aboutit.” —Dan Spock, Director, Minnesota History Center
  • 32. Dosing = Scaffolding Photo: RocPX
  • 33. The same applies to video and multimedia,on-site and online.[Touch each thumbnail to reveal a paragraph of content, a facet of the topic.]
  • 34. Knowledge on demand, just in time. Points of Departure: Connecting with Contemporary Art, SFMOMA, 2001
  • 35. Updated. Art Institute of Chicago, Decorative Arts galleries, 2012
  • 36. Words, effectively written and dosed, canturn seemingly neutral objects intopassionate subjects. [How many ways are there to make a black painting—and what are some of the reasons one might want to do so?]
  • 37. Unfamilar objects need stories—andpeople who are passionately involved.[Segments from Dorothea Lange‟s oral history.]
  • 38. The spoken word is powerful medicine. Especially combined with images & text.http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/multimedia/interactive_features/68
  • 39. http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/multimedia/videos/215
  • 40. So hopefullythis… Yogendra Joshi, Flow
  • 41. Can turn intothis: Yogendra Joshi, Flow
  • 42. Thank you.Yogendra Joshi, Flow