Friday, November 30, 2012

Lansing School Days Exhibit

Tonight from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. marks the premier of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing's Lansing High School Days exhibit.  Come see it at the Creyt's building (831 North Washington Street in Lansing) today or on one of our additional open house days, 12/2, 1/6, 2/3 or 3/3.

I promise I'll follow-up on this post with more commentary about how visitors interact with the exhibit after I attend the opening. For now, I hope you are sufficiently tantalized. :)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Exhibits on a Shoestring

Today I had the opportunity to attend a workshop sponsored by the Historical Society of Michigan called "Fabricating Professional Exhibits for under $500." I attended wearing my Historical Society of Greater Lansing board trustee hat and hope to incorporate some of the techniques I learned in this workshop into future pop-up and traveling exhibits mounted by the HSGL.

Tamara Barnes, the Society's associate director for diversity and outreach, served as the presenter. With solid experience working at small historical societies and museums in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Tamara had some great tips to share.  These are my favorites:

  • Use hollow core doors as mounts for traveling exhibitions and temporary exhibit walls. They're light, cheap, and you can attach things to them easily.
  • Have large graphics printed professionally on adhesive vinyl.
  • To add depth to a photo display, cut out an image from the foreground of a photo mounted on foam core, and superimpose it on top of the full image mounted on foam core. (That's what's going on with the image of the boxer, in case you can't tell from my poor meta-photo.)
  • Museum wax is a great reusable adhesive!
  • So is velcro!
  • Use vinyl letters for a special touch to jazz up a simple exhibit.
  • Use composite board to make stands for large artifacts.
  • Use pine stanchions to hold exhibit text or barrier ropes.
  • Display multiple digital images with a digital picture frame or a small flat-screen TV.
  • Make everything blend together with a good coat of paint.
  • If you're able to splurge, splurge on a good color laser jet printer, a scroll saw, a mat board cutter, and a dry mount machine.
My biggest takeaways from the presentation were, thus:  light, cheap, and adhesive, are the way to go!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Broad Promises a Broad Outlook on Contemporary Art

Although I wasn’t able to make it to the grand opening celebration for MSU's new Eli and Edyth Broad Art Museum last weekend (November 10 and 11, 2012), I had a chance to visit yesterday, and I was very impressed!  There seemed to be a pretty wide swath of the community visiting at the same time including groups of students who were entranced by the video exhibit on the second floor. 
Photo by Mike Mulholland of M-live

It was neat to see how the art worked with the building’s unique architecture (designed by Zaha Hadid).  I’ll admit I had been a little bit skeptical, but the angular spaces created within the museum flooded with natural light well into the late afternoon, and they seemed to engage the artwork and the visitors in a thought-provoking dialogue.  I noticed a lot of people viewing the galleries from different perspectives, stopping to look at pieces again after seeing them from another side.  

I also enjoyed the ease with which mobile technology was incorporated into the design of the gallery experience. It was very easy to experience the artworks on multiple levels depending upon how deeply you wanted to engage with the context of the pieces. This also provided a great opportunity to deepen understanding of the relationships between the historical and contemporary pieces on display. So many museums have to add these kinds of layers later, so it must have been ideal to be able to plan for these kinds of interactions from the beginning.  The only media critique I might offer involves the sound bleed in the video gallery.  I’m not sure how you’d overcome this, but it can be tough to focus on one of the video pieces when loud sounds come through from its neighbors. 

I'm looking forward to writing more about specific exhibits in the future. In the meantime, visit as soon as you can!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Museum of Everything

In a quiet moment, taking a break from mulling over Superstorm Sandy's devastation, this was sent to me by a curatorial colleague from New York City. As a historian, I'll admit that I often find the art world to be rather mysterious.  I'm especially intrigued by the way in which art critics and collectors seem to periodically discover "democracy." When curators exhibit art by "self-taught" artists, they often do so with great fanfare and a sense of astonishment, as if they have truly uncovered the next best thing. 

The Museum of Everything's creators feature a mini-manifesto on their home page: 

In tiny crevices and under dusty beds, there lies a secret creativity by the unknowns of society. Unexpected, delicate, profound, this democratic work has inspired the world’s greatest artists and creative minds.
The Museum of Everything, estd 2009

Is this creativity special simply because it is "secret" and needs established art-critics to unearth it and expose it to the dazzling light of fame and recognition? Reading a little bit deeper into the Museum of Everything's endeavor, I know that my gut reaction is over-harsh.  The project is doing good work by promoting works by people with disabilities and those who lack privilege or connections. 

Perhaps what I find so problematic about the tendency of art critics to infuse "subaltern" art with elevated meaning, is that I see the same thing in the discipline of public history.  We well-educated public historians have a tendency to get excited about "contextualizing" the stories of "everyday" people within a "larger" historical context.  We may find individual stories intriguing, but they are more meaningful in aggregate. That is why true collaboration is challenging.  I suppose the key in all of these encounters is to know yourself.  If you know what makes you tick and gets you excited, you can recognize when you are telling the stories you want to tell vs. those that your partners may want to tell.  Merging your approaches, you can create something new and interesting together. 

All that being said, the Museum of Everything does some pretty nifty things with their website.  My favorite it their "exhibition #4d" which is set up like a true set of galleries for a visitor to explore instead of one long slide-show or a searchable database.  This lends a sense of physicality and proximity to the often-restrictive digital environment. The artworks are only tagged with an artist's name and location. No other contextual information is provided, so the experience of viewing them together is contained.  Any further exploration will have to be done "outside" the museum.  Like other quality gallery and museum experiences, this one leaves me wanting more, inspiring me to go do my own digging.

For more about the project and its place within (or without) the art world, see this article