Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Cornucopia of Good Reading on Museums

Just in time for our flight to Los Angeles, The New York Times publishes a special section on museums just jam packed with articles I can't wait to get to, including:
  • To Keep or to Donate: Foundations Wrestle With the Question By Stephanie Strom. Eli Broad’s decision to keep his art in a foundation is rippling, mostly silently, across the museum world.
  • Historic Images, Finally Online. Philip Gefter discusses the Smithsonian Photography Initiative, which seeks to give visitors access to all the photographs in the institution's collection.
  • Throwing a Bash? Surround It With Culture By William L. Hamilton. Corporate cocktail parties, wedding receptions, birthdays and the like have become such a major source of revenue that museums now build event spaces into their plans.
  • Boot Camp for Curators Who Want the Top Job By Benjamin Genocchio.
  • Trying to Add a Pulse to a World of Machines, By Katie Hafner. At the Computer History Museum, curators confront a basic problem: how to make objects that are ugly, slow and obsolete come alive.
and truly so much more. If you don't normally buy a dead-tree copy of the Times, today might be a good day to treat yourself.

Regularly posting will resume Monday.

Labels: art museums


Blogger Ries said...

Ok, I admit it, I am a total museum nerd.
I go to Auto Museums, Textile Museums, Arms and Armor Museums, Archeology Museums, Technological History Museums, Costume Museums, Natural History Museums, Craft Museums, Architecture Museums, and way, way too many Art Museums.

And Art Museums seem to be the only ones that have somewhat (not entirely, but somewhat) resisted this idiotic, photoshop and youtube driven mania to make the "obsolete come alive".

In Museum after Museum, they put away the actual historical objects, and replace them with snappy silkscreened graphics in the latest font, or with little interactive videos, trying to "make history fun".

This is just wrong.
The Museum of History and Industry, in Chicago, used to be full of grand old objects, REAL THINGS. I took my kids there a few years ago, and whole rooms full of those things have been replaced with virtual representations of what those machines would look like if they were on the Sponge Bob show.
The Tech Museum, in San Jose, which is only a few miles from the Museum in the article above, is even worse- here you are, in Silicon Valley, the heart of the computer industry, and you have to go thru three floors of crappy graphics before, tucked away in the basement, you come upon an actual computer.
I suspect this Computer History Museum is actually a backlash against how little computer history they have at the Tech Museum.

Imagine if Art Museums did this- if the Louvre removed the Mona Lisa, as it was too static and boring, but instead gave you a wonderful audio visual cartoon about Smiles and Mickey A and Italian food.

I want unmediated access to actual objects- because the power is in the object, not in critical reappraisals of how the artists intent somehow fits into a theory of "dispersal".

I want this access in all museums, including, of course, art museums.

Socialist that I am, I want the workers to control the means of criticism.

3/12/2008 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

I noticed an ad in todays Times for the opening in June of the Tadao Ando addition to the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Ma. Having been obsessed with Ando for years,I'm really looking forward to seeing my first Ando building. Maybe it will inspire me to get to St. Louis to see the Pulitzer. One of the great things about the Pulitzer blog, 2buildings1blog, is seeing the art in Ando's space, and the excitement of the staff going to work there every day. Exhibits on view at the Clark will be "Like Breath on Glass: Whistler, Inness, and the Art of Painting Softly", and a show of Japanese art including contemporary japanese ceramics, which are fantastic. Did any of you New Yorkers see the contemporary japanese ceramics show at the Japan Society last year? A Clark visit in June sounds like a de-tox opportunity for the jaded eye.

3/13/2008 04:15:00 AM  
Anonymous McFawn said...

I like how the Computer History Museum tries to inspire awe by explaining how WEAK its computers on display are: "this machine is maybe one one-hundredth or one one-thousandth as powerful as the computer on your desk!"

Strange turnabout. The problem with a compter museum is that you have to love obselesence itself to get into it. Old computers are only charming in their weakness, crudeness, and backwardness. They have no mystery or draw beyond that.

Perhaps it is too soon to have a computer museum. In another eon when compuers are replaced by biorobots or bursts of pure functioning energy, the computer will gain the full charm of something far in the past.

3/13/2008 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger Ries said...

Old computers, like any other man made object, have more of interest about them than simply charm.

The historical and societal context can be interesting, if its discussed.

And, for nerds like me, who are interested in the interface between man (or woman) and object in general, be it Art, craft, industry, or making a pie, the exact same issues arise looking at an old computer as when I look at an old painting.

What decisions did the creator make, and why? How did those decisions reflect the time, the cultural mileu, the thoughts in the air, the available technology, the entire world at the time?

And what do those particular decisions tell us about us, today?

To me, a computer is just as interesting as, say, an egyptian mummy of a cat, or a fossilised pygmy hippo bone, or a giant statue of Buddha carved into the wall of a cave, or a diorama of World War 1 trenches, or a 1950's Ferrarri Formula 1 car, or an Anselm Kiefer painting, or a George Orr pot, or a recreation of Brancusi's studio, or the Apartment/Treehouse/Sculpture that Tinguely lived in.
I have gone to museums to see all of those things, and enjoyed them all immensely.

3/13/2008 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Old computers are only charming in their weakness, crudeness, and backwardness. They have no mystery or draw beyond that.

In the sense of an antique, yes. The same can be said for the technological devices we use today, it’s time relative.

I happened to have worked on one of the first commercial computers that used an integrated circuit, before that they used hundreds of individual components. These machines came into being at the crossroads between the industrial and the technological ages, they were birthed in the mechanical, meticulously assembled from hundreds of small parts interconnected by miles and miles of brightly color coded wire. They had a particular beauty, form following function, where the function was the manipulation of the invisible rather than the material.

They weren’t as powerful as today’s computers, but they were several orders of magnitude more powerful than any mechanical adding device. They were clever in exploiting the limited technologies of the time, and by no means crude, they solved the technological problem presented. Curiously, most of the aspects of modern computers use the same technological and logical principles of early computers, modern computers just use more bits and pieces, they are just made much, much, smaller.

At the time, there was no computer science, the programmers had degrees in philosophy, math and religion, I asked. The tech writer moonlighted as a script writer for Star Trek, he thought he was hot shit, so did we. We all knew we were working of the cutting edge of technology, we took a certain pride in that.

This was the era of the space race, the decade the US put a man on the moon. I worked on the Apollo project as well. It is hard to imagine how limited the available technology was at the time and how complex a technological problem it was to solve. Every individual who participated, knew what they did was important to the success of the mission and for the lives of the astronauts. Yes we were in the midst of the cold war, but it was more than that, the "space age" or "computer age" were still optimistic visions for the young engineers of the time. The transition from the industrial age to the information age was occurring, slightly more profound than the release of Windows Vista.

3/13/2008 01:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 1:54, thanks for that post. This is by far one of my favorite replies I've ever read in the comments section of this blog.

Makes me want to go look at some room filling computers.

3/13/2008 06:36:00 PM  

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