Visitor-centered:
What does it
mean to
Walk that Talk?

Peter Samis
Associate Curator, Interpretive Media
San Francisco Mu...
This is where I come from.
Offering chamber. Withholding chamber.
Modern art—like all the objects we exhibit
—exists in a framework of meanings.
• Physical aspects
• Process of its making
...
Of these, art museums typically strip away
all but one or two.

• Physical aspects
Olafur Eliasson states the problem.
“Objecthood doesn’t have a place in the
world if there’s not an individual person
making use of that object.”

i.e.,
The e...
So how do we make our objects useful?
Our Visitors:

Experts………………Novices
Somewhere along the line
that leaves us to restore the
context.
How we
interpret:
sometimes we
leave people
stranded.
High and dry.

JustinCozart, Drought
Other times, we give them Too Much Information.
Recognize this syndrome?
From drought to flood in one easy lesson!
Compare this...
Reversal of fortune.

Detroit Institute of Arts, USA
From Aristocracy to Industrial heritage.

Ruhr Museum, Essen, Germany
The Power of immersive spaces
…and scenography
Drama…
…and stories:
How about this for compact?

33 words.

Kelvingrove Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland
Or this...

Detroit Institute of Arts, USA
Minimum words. Maximum impact.
BELLAMY: “With visitor research, most people… read
the first couple sentences and then you ...
Consider the longer wall text…

rewritten with
personality!
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
Consider the wall text…

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
“Their art can hurt, can be ugly.”
Passion.
Hatred.
Emotions validated.
And with them, the visitors’ potential
discomfort.
With audio/multimedia tours, the issue
is the same—but different.
It‟s just as easy to run on at the mouth
and try to cram too many points in,
ignoring people‟s tired feet.

Photo: Freakin...
So what can you say in a minute that
keeps people looking at—and engaged
with—the object?
Dosing = Scaffolding

Photo: RocPX
How do we know what our visitors want
to know?

How do we know what our visitors know?
Why don‟t we just ask them?
This goes for kids, too.
The power of prototyping to make sure
you‟re communicating as you hope…
Families’ conversations during interviews and
the projective techniques used provided
insight into families’ comfort with ...
Object sort activity. Families in action.

©2011 Garibay Group. All Rights Reserved
The goal of this activity was to
uncover patterns and identify
common characteristics of objects
that fell in each quadran...
What might we learn here?
Ask Kirsti
• 33 years old
• Smart, hip
• Works in an
architecture firm
in Copenhagen
• Lives in
Øesterport
• Learning to
k...
Kirsti is your future.
“I know it‟s „interesting‟—
but not really. I feel
horrible about it.

I live now.”
Kirsti is your future.
“It‟s a pity because there
are beautiful things, and
they are old things, and
they‟re part of our h...
She‟s hoping for stories as a way in, but
instead she gets overwhelmed by
undifferentiated accumulations of objects.
“Give me one beautiful thing and I‟ll look at it.”
In fact, art & ethnography may not be so
different.
Each is born in a powerful symbolic
dimension, comes with its own web ...
And leaves people outside that system
completely puzzled.
But the spoken word is powerful medicine.

Especially combined with images & text.
Video and multimedia, on-site and
online, offer another kind of scaffolding.

Context building.
Knowledge on demand, just in time.

SFMOMA, 2001
Art Institute of Chicago, Decorative Arts galleries, 2012
And from Nick‟s presentation yesterday…

Victoria & Albert Museum, Furniture galleries, 2012
So hopefully
this…

Photo: RocPX
can turn into this:

Yogendra Joshi, Flow
Thank you.
Visitor-Centered: What Does it Mean to Walk that Talk?
Visitor-Centered: What Does it Mean to Walk that Talk?
Visitor-Centered: What Does it Mean to Walk that Talk?
Visitor-Centered: What Does it Mean to Walk that Talk?
Visitor-Centered: What Does it Mean to Walk that Talk?
Visitor-Centered: What Does it Mean to Walk that Talk?
Visitor-Centered: What Does it Mean to Walk that Talk?
Visitor-Centered: What Does it Mean to Walk that Talk?
Visitor-Centered: What Does it Mean to Walk that Talk?
Visitor-Centered: What Does it Mean to Walk that Talk?
Visitor-Centered: What Does it Mean to Walk that Talk?
Visitor-Centered: What Does it Mean to Walk that Talk?
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Visitor-Centered: What Does it Mean to Walk that Talk?

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Presented at the National Museum of Denmark to a mixed audience of Nationalmuseet curators, educators, and staff from other Danish museums. The presentation addresses responsiveness to visitor needs in developing interpretive components and gallery design. I followed the talk with a hands-on workshop in which participants wrote labels in new ways, observed visitors, and edited their galleries with visitor experience in mind. Part of a 2-day symposium organized by Mette Boritz of the National Museum.

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  • This is what happens when you try to re-insert all that missing context, upside-down, through the wormhole of a single label!
  • “Most 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 daysand how they perceived others in the world.”
  • “Most 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 daysand 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.
  • Controversial topics? The Resistance? The white buses?
  • Visitor-Centered: What Does it Mean to Walk that Talk?

    1. 1. Visitor-centered: What does it mean to Walk that Talk? Peter Samis Associate Curator, Interpretive Media San Francisco Museum of Modern Art National Museum of Denmark Copenhagen 18 September 2013
    2. 2. This is where I come from.
    3. 3. Offering chamber. Withholding chamber.
    4. 4. 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
    5. 5. Of these, art museums typically strip away all but one or two. • Physical aspects
    6. 6. Olafur Eliasson states the problem.
    7. 7. “Objecthood doesn’t have a place in the world if there’s not an individual person making use of that object.” i.e., The expert’s reality does not trump the visitor’s perspective.
    8. 8. So how do we make our objects useful?
    9. 9. Our Visitors: Experts………………Novices Somewhere along the line that leaves us to restore the context.
    10. 10. How we interpret: sometimes we leave people stranded. High and dry. JustinCozart, Drought
    11. 11. Other times, we give them Too Much Information.
    12. 12. Recognize this syndrome?
    13. 13. From drought to flood in one easy lesson!
    14. 14. Compare this...
    15. 15. Reversal of fortune. Detroit Institute of Arts, USA
    16. 16. From Aristocracy to Industrial heritage. Ruhr Museum, Essen, Germany
    17. 17. The Power of immersive spaces
    18. 18. …and scenography
    19. 19. Drama…
    20. 20. …and stories:
    21. 21. How about this for compact? 33 words. Kelvingrove Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland
    22. 22. Or this... Detroit Institute of Arts, USA
    23. 23. Minimum words. Maximum impact. BELLAMY: “With visitor research, most people… read the first couple sentences and then you move on. So we thought, „Okay, we‟ll just give them the first couple sentences. We‟ll put everything that we need to 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. 24. Consider the longer wall text… rewritten with personality! Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
    25. 25. Consider the wall text… Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
    26. 26. “Their art can hurt, can be ugly.” Passion. Hatred. Emotions validated. And with them, the visitors’ potential discomfort.
    27. 27. With audio/multimedia tours, the issue is the same—but different.
    28. 28. It‟s just as easy to run on at the mouth and try to cram too many points in, ignoring people‟s tired feet. Photo: FreakingNews.com
    29. 29. So what can you say in a minute that keeps people looking at—and engaged with—the object?
    30. 30. Dosing = Scaffolding Photo: RocPX
    31. 31. How do we know what our visitors want to know? How do we know what our visitors know?
    32. 32. Why don‟t we just ask them?
    33. 33. This goes for kids, too.
    34. 34. The power of prototyping to make sure you‟re communicating as you hope…
    35. 35. Families’ conversations during interviews and the projective techniques used provided insight into families’ comfort with history and the ways they related to objects. ©2011 Garibay Group. All Rights Reserved The interactive nature of the family interviews allowed us to gather input from both adults and children.
    36. 36. Object sort activity. Families in action. ©2011 Garibay Group. All Rights Reserved
    37. 37. The goal of this activity was to uncover patterns and identify common characteristics of objects that fell in each quadrant. This process allowed us to understand how families approach and think about objects. By uncovering these patterns, findings can be used to help CHM make decisions about ways to interpret collections and engage families. Thus, the purpose of the matrix is to more easily visualize groupings. Keep in mind that the focus is not on the individual objects, but rather on the patterns that emerged. Note that the italicized phrases in the quadrants (e.g., I know what…) were not on the matrix used by families. These phrases were names we gave the quadrants to facilitate analysis and discussion. ©2011 Garibay Group. All Rights Reserved
    38. 38. What might we learn here?
    39. 39. Ask Kirsti • 33 years old • Smart, hip • Works in an architecture firm in Copenhagen • Lives in Øesterport • Learning to kickbox • Seeks new knowledge & experiences
    40. 40. Kirsti is your future. “I know it‟s „interesting‟— but not really. I feel horrible about it. I live now.”
    41. 41. Kirsti is your future. “It‟s a pity because there are beautiful things, and they are old things, and they‟re part of our history.” But it‟s • • • • • Too cluttered Undifferentiated Not enough air Makes her feel tired Overwhelming
    42. 42. She‟s hoping for stories as a way in, but instead she gets overwhelmed by undifferentiated accumulations of objects.
    43. 43. “Give me one beautiful thing and I‟ll look at it.”
    44. 44. In fact, art & ethnography may not be so different. Each is born in a powerful symbolic dimension, comes with its own web of cultural references…
    45. 45. And leaves people outside that system completely puzzled.
    46. 46. But the spoken word is powerful medicine. Especially combined with images & text.
    47. 47. Video and multimedia, on-site and online, offer another kind of scaffolding. Context building.
    48. 48. Knowledge on demand, just in time. SFMOMA, 2001
    49. 49. Art Institute of Chicago, Decorative Arts galleries, 2012
    50. 50. And from Nick‟s presentation yesterday… Victoria & Albert Museum, Furniture galleries, 2012
    51. 51. So hopefully this… Photo: RocPX
    52. 52. can turn into this: Yogendra Joshi, Flow
    53. 53. Thank you.

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