Monday, June 8, 2009

It's All About Me

Well, not just me, but visitors in general. As Stephen Weil so memorably wrote, museums are undergoing a shift from being about something to being for somebody. It's interesting to see the ways that this newish approach is being played out in the marketing, promotion and visitor experiences. Above, a banner for the Ethnographic Museum in Krakow, Poland (photo courtesy Amy Forster Rothbart). Below, an information stand outside the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC. I haven't been to the Ethnographic Museum, but the Phillips has plenty of tremendous, amazing art to feature in their promotions--but what do they show to the passerby? Visitors enjoying themselves.

The Phillips is an old favorite--I used to live nearby--and it was a pleasure to revisit. The idea of a conversation between the art and visitors--Duncan Phillips' original idea--is beautifully carried out. The visitors' guide asks questions as a way of providing information--What should I not miss? Why isn't my favorite painting always on view? Where should I start? A simple gallery guide for adults and children to use together also uses effective question asking and encourages family visitors to, in Phillips' words, "linger as long as they can for art's special sort of pleasure."

I was intrigued by the cafe at the Phillips--it's not just a cafe. At the moment it's an art installation and cafe, thisisnotthatcafe produced by the artists' group, db Foundation. By expanding on, altering, and creating new elements within a cafe setting, the artists bring life to a cafe space. Like what? The selection of books in the cafe is regularly rearranged and re-ordered according to different systems, giving visitors a chance to think about the books themselves but also the ways in which all of us categorize our collections. A little installation, below, explains the process. And that, of course, brings it all back to me--how would I classify? What interests me?

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