Now that Web 2.0 has become fully integrated into the way we seek, discover, process, and share information, it’s no secret or surprise that the GLAM world continues to refine engagement activities and outreach tools to bring in new and hopefully larger audiences. The increasing deployment of digital platforms to build visitor/user interaction with exhibitions, initiatives, and objects dovetails with the general decline in top-down institutional authority associated with a privileged class of makers and sellers, and with the move away from the reverent focus on the art object in favor of events, process, and interaction. This shifting of priorities and authority, however, is still in tension with the way the art world (and more specifically the art market) has traditionally functioned and continues to function, in which more exhibition attention in larger institutions is focused around those names that tend to draw higher prices at auction, still the usual suspects of 20th century male artists, as well as high-earning popular contemporary artists and makers.
In and of itself, I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing–though often receiving mixed reactions, exhibitions like MOMA’s mass-appeal shows under Klaus Biesenbach, exploring the likes of Bjork, Yoko Ono, and Marina Abramovic, have the potential to spark in new audiences interest in art beyond that of the famous names they came to see. At the same time, they can recontextualize a lifetime of work or provide a space to reconsider the scope of a large, tradition-bound art institution.
In “Digital: Museum as Platform, Curator as Champion in the Age of Social Media,” Nancy Proctor, Head of New Media Initiatives at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, explores the reconfiguring of digital media and institutional control in the proliferation of digital engagement possibilities, as well as the role of the curator in the feedback loop of institution and audience. Procter is referring specifically to crowdsourcing initiatives that employ user-generated content and collaborative tasks, rather than simply to marketing via social media or mass-appeal exhibitions. In her discussion of the changing role of the curator, Procter cites the exhibition American Furniture/Googled at the Decorative Arts Gallery in Milwaukee as an model of the way in which the curator is shifting from singular authority to access point of information in the public domain: “Like a node at the center of the distributed network that the museum has become, the curator is the moderator and facilitator of the conversation about objects and topics proposed by the museum, even across platforms not directly controlled by the museum.” 1Nancy Proctor, “Digital: Museum as Platform, Curator as Champion, in the Age of Social Media,” Curator: The Museum Journal 53, no. 1 (January 1, 2010), 38. In another example, Procter discusses the, citing Nicholas Poole, of the notion of the “citizen-curator”, whose participation in the interpretation of museums’ collections allow for the building of a rich, complex social history of art.
Once museums open the door of participation to their visitors however, the door is very hard to shut. In class last week, we discussed the possibilities that relinquishing some control provide for institutions, as well as some examples of movements that take the acquisition of dispersed control afforded by social media beyond the point that the institution intended or wanted to allow.
JJ brought up the example of Occupy Museums’ participation in a protest of the Brooklyn Museum for its leasing of space to real estate developers responsible for gentrifying the very neighborhoods that the Brooklyn Museum primarily served. The Brooklyn Museum responded to the protest in a novel way, by adding pieces created those protestors to their exhibition Agitprop!, which documented artwork geared towards political change. Compare this strategy to the Boston MFA’s dismissal of the initially tongue-in-cheek “Renoir Sucks” movement, which began as an Instagram account and morphed into a group of protestors agitating for the MFA to “take down” its Renoirs on the basis of their alleged suckiness (as well as the comparative over-estimation of Renoir in the art market, a serious issue relating to the inextricability of the art market, museums, art historical scholarship, and interpretation of aesthetic value that is arguably the subtext of the Renoir kerfuffle). Museum Director Matthew Teitelbaum’s brief response/non-response marveled, “We live in an era in which authority of the time can be questioned, with many different voices expressed and heard.” Or compare Agitprop! to the Guggenheim’s reaction to an Occupy Museums/art collective Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.) protest/art action of their construction of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island, a development site home to egregious labor violations, according to the Human Rights Watch. The art action entailed the protesters’ infiltration of the Guggenheim’s exhibition Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe during the museum’s crowded pay-what-you-wish evening in order to chant slogans, toss leaflets, and draw attention to the Guggenheim’s ignoring of the plight of migrant workers by choosing to site the new museum on Saadiyat Island. In response to the protest and seemingly ignoring its basis, Guggenheim Director Richard Armstrong said that construction on the new plant had not yet begun.
These examples demonstrate the possibilities for communication afforded by social media and protest movements (both physical and digital), as well as the ways in which institutions attempt to take back control either by refusing to respond or by developing cooperative patterns of discussion with community members (or inoculating gestures, depending on how you read the Brooklyn Museum’s handling of their protest). Though it is unclear which of the actions above is the most powerful (from the perspective of the museums), it seems pretty clear which option is at least the most successful in the arena of public relations (as well as resonant with the political urgings of some of the artworks displayed inside each museum). It would be quite interesting to study the correlation between the understanding of where curatorial and political power does and should lie as articulated by institutional leaders (and their digital media personnel) and the lines by which their museums strike a balance (or fail to strike a balance) between their various stakeholders.
GLAMwiki project proposal: In the past several posts, I’ve focused on general research in the area of art-and-technology as the basis for data used in various timeline and network visualization applications. Taking the upcoming Art and Feminism Edit-a-thon at Sloan Art Library as inspiration for proposing a GLAMwiki project, there are several notable women artists who contributed in significant ways to the history of art and tech in the latter half of the 20th century whose biographies and impact are only minimally sketched out on Wikipedia, if at all. Artists who experimented with internet art as a specifically feminist form, such as former members of the influential 1990s feminist art collective VNS Matrix Josephine Starrs, Francesca da Rimini, and Virginia Barratt, would be a good start. Given both the lack of representation of and information about women artists on Wikipedia, as well as the outnumbering of women in the tech sector and the small percentage of women Wikipedians, this proposal seems, to me, particularly on-the-nose.
|↑1||Nancy Proctor, “Digital: Museum as Platform, Curator as Champion, in the Age of Social Media,” Curator: The Museum Journal 53, no. 1 (January 1, 2010), 38.|