Sunday, August 11, 2013

The "experience economy" comes to the arts

This is an interesting piece in the NYT. The art/ museum world is shifting towards a focus on experiences, it argues.

In this kind of world, the thrill of standing before art — except perhaps for works by boldface-name artists like van Gogh, Vermeer, Monet and Picasso (and leaving aside contemporary artists who draw attention by being outrageously controversial) — seems not quite exciting enough for most people. What’s a museum to do?

Glenn D. Lowry, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, has seen the future. In a speech he gave a while back in Australia, he noted that museums had to make a “shift away from passive experiences to interactive or participatory experiences, from art that is hanging on the wall to art that invites people to become part of it.” And, he said, art museums had to shed the idea of being a repository and become social spaces.

I discussed the book which, according to the NYT article, looks at the commercial aspects of this idea here.

Im fact, I was in the Metropolitan Museum yesterday, and walked around their newly rehung and expanded European paintings section. They now have what appear to be little iPad-like devices in front of some of the paintings, with simple analysis videos which are very effective.

Of course, they've had iPod-like audio devices for years, although I seldom use them. And I love their 82nd and Fifth series of two-minute videos about pieces.

But there must be so much more scope to put particular pieces or objects in context. Perhaps in five years, there will be video of some of the original settings for the Egyptian artifacts right beside them in the museum, for example.

Indeed, there could be a whole separate museum or area which looks for just a few pieces at a time in depth, using audio-visual means to delve deep into context, to enter into the world represented by the piece - the culture, the setting, the artist, ideas about art, how it fitted into the history of the time, audience and reception, technique, how it affected other art or ideas. The Met is dazzling in its breadth, but taking just a few things and looking very closely could be highly rewarding.

Instead of a room with twenty pieces of art, there could be one piece of art with twenty screens and a soundtrack. That could be inspirational, as well as a matter of participation and experience.

Artists often claim pieces speak for themselves. But they often speak in code, demanding knowledge of why and how the art has come about. More depth of context could challenge people much more to think and feel and respond to something encapsulating a different age and point of view. The key would be to go deep enough to challenge the superficiality or assumptions a viewer brings to the piece.