Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Accessibility Issue : Open Thread

Robin Cembalest offers a great round-up of how museums are attempting to draw in visitors by "drawing on game theory, interactive technology, and a host of other new strategies to help people feel welcome, engaged, and emotionally fulfilled" in the current issue of ARTNews. According to the Association of Art Museum Directors, the recession hasn't impacted attendance at the top 200 musuems as much as one might have thought it would (38 million people visited them last year), leading to this explanation, that made my day:
AAMD president Michael Conforti says that visitorship is up, suggesting that in fraught times like these, museums can provide a reassuring setting for visitors to interact with art, with their heritage—and with one another. “People are trying to connect with things that are more stable, that will be here,” says Conforti, who runs the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
But apparently getting certain segments of the population into museums is still proving to be tough. And that brings us back to one of our favorite whipping posts around here, the accessibility issue. I'll be honest, this is an issue we discuss at great length in the gallery, particularly when it comes to writing the press releases and designing the installations of shows.

It's very much something I'm aware of, that you can't expect everyone in the general public (or even the gallery-hopping public) to enter a space and immediately relate to all work. What might seem obvious if you've spent the last 6 months talking about little else will seem entirely obtuse to someone who hasn't, so the exhibition should attempt to provide something for the entirely unitiated as well as for the visitor well acquainted with the work. In fact, I think that being conscious of and facilitating access to the layers within any artist's work is a critical part of the educational role of a gallery. Throwing it all at someone at once is a surefire way to make them not care.

According to Robin's article, US art museums seem to be focused on this at the moment as well:

“Art museums have not been very good at communicating,” says Peter Marzio, director of Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. “Science and natural-history museums have done a much better job of remaking themselves to adapt to the 21st century” by creating interactive, educational, and family-friendly spectacles. Marzio argues that art museums can succeed “by doing the reverse. Not apologizing for the fact that the picture doesn’t move—you do the moving. What’s lacking is the ability for visitors to understand it because they’re not given information or training.”

Thomas Campbell, the new director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, says that engaging visitors who don’t feel comfortable is one of his primary challenges. “There is an enormous potential audience that simply isn’t coming here,” he says. “They come for school trips, but it wouldn’t occur to them to come again. Without sacrificing standards, we need to remind people that coming to the museum is not a big deal. You’re not taking a test. You don’t have to prove you know about the artists. It’s just fun.”

Campbell's last idea is the crux of the problem for much contemporary art, IMO. This idea that you must "know about" an artist to appreciate the work, rather that simply take from it what you can or wish to and move on. (How can you be expected to know about an emerging contemporary artist? Seriously...it's OK for such work to be new to you).

We see the "right" response to work by children in the gallery or art fairs all the time. They are fearless in offering a critique. They are fearless art experience consumers. They instinctively get that "it's just fun." Why adults become fearful about art is probably related to what Campbell references: the idea that you're being tested.

Personally, I feel this is a concern that institutions and galleries have to work to correct. The answer isn't only wall text or even well-written press releases, I suspect, but well-versed staff and an inviting environment. (We place a bench in our gallery for most exhibitions and purposely let visitors take their time, not approaching them to see if they have questions until they either indicate they do or have been in the gallery for a while. I like to think this communicates that it's ok to simply experience the show.) Some museums are taking a more high-tech approach though:
To an unprecedented degree, market research about the needs, wants, fears, and anxieties of visitors is shaping how museums are designed. “We got a lot of comments that it’s just overwhelming to come to museums,” says Lori Fogarty, director of the Oakland Museum of California, which inaugurates a complete reinstallation of its art, natural history, and science collections this fall. So the new galleries will feature “loaded lounges” where visitors can relax, read catalogues, or do hands-on activities, along with open spaces that accommodate up to 25 people for concerts, storytelling, or other such programs.

But a bigger change in her plan is connecting people who might never have visited art museums with the people who curate them. Fogarty calls it transparency—“breaking the fourth wall”—having curators answer questions about how and why they choose works. Visitor feedback will be encouraged, and the exhibitions, in turn, will be based on the “wiki model,” with curators representing only one voice in a mix that includes conservators, community members, and artists. “We can’t count on the fact that potential visitors were brought to museums as kids,” Fogarty says. “Many have no cultural or experiential reference; they don’t think of the museum as a place that welcomes them or has anything of interest to them.”

At the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, director Olga Viso is also using a major reinstallation as an opportunity to remake the museum into a more civic space. “We want to be in dialogue with the audience instead of in the place of authority,” as she puts it. Such efforts may mean involving the community in the organization of shows or asking people to vote on the selection of artworks. When the new installation opens in November, says chief curator Darsie Alexander, curators will hold in-gallery office hours—giving visitors insights into the way exhibitions happen, and giving the staff a chance to find out “how visitors encounter work in space—the kinds of questions they ask about art, what they find interesting, and how long they stay.”

As an art experience consumer myself, I find I'm more comfortable looking at any genre of art with more practice. This is obviously the solution to the problem. Getting people into the museums (or galleries) more frequently will lead to their being more comfortable in them and thus more happy to come back. Of course, the danger here is that efforts to please the visitor begins to compromise the mission of the institution or, worse, the intentions of the artists. The museum directors interviewed in the ARTNews piece all seemed very aware of that potential and seem to think that slowing the viewer down with interactivity is among the best approaches to the needed balance here:
[A]s Bonnie Pitman, director of the Dallas Museum of Art, explains it, “It’s not that the mission is going to change; it’s about how we respond—how we champion the experience and power of art. And how it embraces and engages and educates our community.” Every third Thursday, when the museum stays open until midnight, visitors can find storytelling, spoken-word performances, poetry readings, concerts in the galleries, and, in the case of the King Tut exhibition, belly-dancing demonstrations. Pitman herself leads the “Insomniac Tour” of the collections—it starts at 10 P.M.

Pitman took a page from natural-history museums in her institution’s year-old Center for Creative Connections, which attempts to slow down the classic three seconds that visitors spend in front of artworks by presenting eight masterpieces in a way that invites viewers to focus on materials. For example, Courbet’s The Wave (ca. 1869–70) is covered with a Plexiglas box with a movable magnifying glass affixed to it.

Campbell cites interactivity as the key to connecting with audiences who are new to the Metropolitan. “We take so much for granted,” he says. “You walk through gallery after gallery and there’s really very little explanation of certain objects, certain paintings in these rooms. There’s an assumption that you have a general knowledge of the history of European art. Modern technology provides the opportunity to provide more information without turning galleries into intrusive didactics. It’s really just a question of choosing applications.”

Of course, you can encourage folks to be a bit too comfortable in a museum, as this charming video featuring C-Monster's author demonstrates. Consider this an open thread on viewing art and ways to deal with the accessibility issue.

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39 Comments:

Blogger George said...

Nicolas Bourriaud leads the charge into the future.

The problem is that museums can be mausoleums. Walk but don't talk.

6/03/2009 10:14:00 AM  
Anonymous C-Mon said...

:-)

6/03/2009 10:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Accessibility: This is where galleries and museums and others have such a key role to the art world. They provide the opportunity for context. Context in terms of historical perspective, but also in terms of creating a public space that allows for private contemplation of an artwork. It is a great paradox, the art interaction benefits from both discussion and private contemplation.

Like meditation, that aha moment doesn’t always happen at the initial attempt to gain insight. The gallery bench is a cool idea. I’d love to see a café in the middle of “gallery” space. Sit and come back again and again to the works visible form your table.
Makes me think of the chairs in the Paris parks, you can reconfigure them as you wish, groups of 5, 1 for your feet, off under the tree shade … That type of flexibility to the space and time needs of the art viewer is key to accessibility, whether in an institutional space or not.

Not that technology won’t contribute to this type of “contemplative space”. I’m hoping in an upcoming exhibit to allow the twitterati to post digital comments of their experience of the exhibit. Allowing these other voices to interpret the art works and build a potential dialogue of insight into the exhibit. The idea of digital graffiti spanning time of the experiences found within the exhibit space could add a further dimension to the art experience. Projecting these onto a wall space could even give more access to valid artistic interpretations. Be a great way to see how an artwork’s interpretive perspective changes over time -short or long.

In another accessibility attempt, a planned exhibit geared for children will have all the paintings hung about 3’ off the floor. Accessability comes in all sizes!

6/03/2009 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger dbclemons said...

Very interesting subject. I can see that exhibitors are eager these days to do whatever is necessary to bring people in, but is a user manual really necessary for art? How complicated is the human condition? Is dumbing down the way to go? It would seem to me that the exhibitors owe it to themselves to be more flexible in what they show so that there's more chances for a viewer to find something they like. The other issue is that artists have a tendency to not always be in tune with what's popular, usually just the opposite.

6/03/2009 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger Mery Lynn said...

People don't need a narrative to appreciate music. We, like children with their favorite bedtime stories, appreciate through repetition. Frequent exposure as you said is the best way.

Ed, if you have the chance, I'd love to hear your take on pricing in the new economy. Should artists, like all other people selling goods right now, reduce their prices? Does this harm a career?

6/03/2009 12:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Kate said...

Perhaps this is just my own personal experience, but I find these bells and whistles detract from the experience of the work.

When I go to a museum, I tend to sit on the benches and look at pieces that I appreciate for a long time, then look at them up close to see how they are made. I noticed a while back that the people who rent the audio tours all tend to stand in a clump, putting about as much distance between them and the painting as they would have between their LaZBoy and the television set. The paintings become images that go with the soundtrack, as opposed to objects one engages with in a personal way.

I think it is insulting to the artwork to make it a backdrop for some other “more entertaining” activity.

6/03/2009 01:14:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

...says that visitorship is up, suggesting that in fraught times like these, museums can provide a reassuring setting for visitors to interact with art, with their heritage—and with one another. “People are trying to connect with things that are more stable, that will be here...

Does anyone else buy into this sentiment?

All the museum exhibitions over the last year were planned well in advance -- During the art boom when optimism was high, before there was any sign of collapse and the ensuing loss of corporate sponsorship. Attendance should be stable at this point, it's still a cheap date. Someone is incorrectly inferring a cause and effect relationship where one does not exist.

And that brings us back to one of our favorite whipping posts around here, the accessibility issue.

You bet. Does this really matter? What matters? Are artists all supposed to make art which is "pubicly accessible?" Are we fighting for market share?

Rather than messing with the art, let's mess with the museums. Museums have nice 'events' for members, Friday cocktail parties, but they are all for the privileged (members) and therefor snub the sector of the viewing audience they want to attract as new "visitorship" It's all about the elite and, in particular excludes, artists and students, along with the casual visitor with a growing but still tentative interest in the arts.

6/03/2009 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Are artists all supposed to make art which is "pubicly accessible?" Are we fighting for market share?

I think that's a straw man, George. I never suggested, nor did anyone in the article, that any of this demanded changes in artists' practice.

When we talk about accessibility in the gallery, for example, we (as I noted) discuss it in terms of how we talk about the work in the press release and how we design the installation. We certainly don't discuss it in terms of artist making work that's publicly accessible.

By installation design, I mean, things like...do we post text or a legend that clarifies something (as we did in Jennifer Dalton's recent exhibition) or use a bench to encourage visitors to slow down and take their time? It's not about market share, but rather about acknowledging that your average viewer will not have been as immersed in the dialog around the work as the artists and his/her circle, so what might seem obvious to us should be carefully reconsidered from the visitor's point of view.

6/03/2009 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I'm rushing out here so...

Benches are good. I liked the one in Ed's gallery a lot

Why (elsewhere) are they always in some awkward/inconvenient place so people can rest but not view.

6/03/2009 02:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

I think the key with the newer technologies improving appreciation is in the interactivity. If you passively listen to a tour, well there isn’t much dialogue there, but with something say like twitter the possibility exists to respond to others regardless of when you each viewed the art. When a gallery owners gives you space, they are sure not to avoid you, they are open and make openings for dialogue with you. Either to answer your questions or to simply welcome you into the environment.

Many of today’s technologies can allow for exchange when the viewer wishes to engage with it. Imagine having the “title card” pop up in your Blackberry or be seen on your ipod – if you so wished. The opportunity to learn more is there, but not forced upon you without you being ready for it. Art is a seduction of sorts; it reveals itself when you are ready. Some people need to be shown how to interact with art and technology can give more openings to do so.

I don’t mind art being a backdrop to life. I think its purpose is to allow each of us to live ours more richly.

6/03/2009 02:21:00 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

i'm a san francisco-area artist, and of course an art "enjoyer" as well. i have to say that i've been incredibly impressed with the san francisco de young museum's efforts at making the museum a welcoming and "happening" spot. not only are the curators' collections wonderful, but the museum does a lot of outreach in making their exhibitions relevant, interesting, etc. one particularly effective strategy is their friday night events, where visitors get in for a discounted rate, there are several collections open late, there's a local music/dj, a bar and other such live entertainment. it has succeeded tremendously in creating a welcoming and non-intimidating environment for art-viewing -- and is a destination in and of itself. it's definitely attracted a younger crowd that is notably absent from museums and now this museum is on equal footing as just one of several options for friday night outing options...
i think an underlying problem is that our culture's dialogue is entrenched within the experience and language of entertainment. dialogue and education about art--on the wider scale--is simply absent, save for few isolated groups of art-interested folks. even within my own open studio shows or other exhibits, i find i need to help viewers/visitors not feel "bad" that they don't "know anything about art." i'm always surprised how many people are intimidated and feel bad not knowing all about art history (sheesh! i'm still learning it too!). i usually try to make them at ease with some humor, or meeting them on whatever level they're trying to connect with the art. this is where i think the de young is succeeding, it's making the museum a place that's not scary--people feel comfortable around artwork, and will (hopefully) seek it out more on their own...

6/03/2009 02:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Whenever Ed starts talking about accessibility, I go to see what's on at his gallery.

"Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to present the first of these episodes: 'White on White: The Pilot (just like being there),' which will feature two artworks - points of departure on the subjects of time, space, past, future and Sussman's constant subject 'dailiness'. The centerpiece of White on White: The Pilot (the title a word play on the television pilot and famed astronaut and test pilot Yuri Gagarin) is Yuri's Office, a set for the upcoming TV show. Based on Sussman's photograph, Yuri's Office, this detailed recreation, by Sussman and Nicolas Locke, is inspired by the museumification of the real office of Gagarin. The installation takes on the desire to freeze time, to impose cryogenics on space when it is still untenable to freeze people. A second video installation How to tell the future from the Past, v.2 (HtttFftPv.2), by Eve Sussman and Angela Christlieb – shot during a 72-hour train journey across the steppe – conceptualizes time with the manifestation of humanity as the constant, as daily life – history in the making – runs backwards and forwards simultaneously. HtttFftPv.2 elevates the characteristics of humanity that transcend time, exposing us, un-empowered against it. Both pieces act as a visual 'captain's log', marking time, as if to build a dam of toothpicks against the deluge."

Hoping against hope that my supposed motives won't be attacked for it this time, allow me to suggest that this whole exercise is exclusionary by design. Museumification? Cryogenics on space? HtttFftPv.2? Conceptualizes time with the manifestation of humanity as the constant? Couching work of this ilk in language of this complexity creates an accessibility barrier that you're not going to solve with a bench. In fact, I don't think your fundamental problem is soluble. The categorical fringes of art are less accessible than the categorical center. (Isn't that the point of working there?) If you're then going to write about it in the manner exemplified above, you're sending a message to everyone who can't parse the language that this exhibition isn't for them.

6/03/2009 03:52:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Couching work of this ilk in language of this complexity creates an accessibility barrier that you're not going to solve with a bench.

I'd have to know what you mean by "work of this ilk" to comment meaningfully on this, but having read a statement you wrote on your own work (which included phrases such as "the confluence of materials and perceptions" or "solving these particular formal problems allows people to manifest themselves on canvas without any grand intentions on my part"), it seemed equally designed to communicate some things to a particularly educated audience, all the while it provided insights for those not well versed in artist's concerns. I'll acknowledge that you write well, but until I actually sign up for one of your writing courses, the notion that your motives in such critiques should be interpreted as altruistic rings a bit hollow.

Eve's work offers the exact sort of conscious layering I find exhilarating in art. Her photography and films are richer than just about any other artist's out there. Pure eye candy on one level. In fact, all one needs to do to appreciate this installation is sit on the bench and contemplate it. As one critic who called it "magical" noted, "it's like stepping into a time capsule." Another viewer noted how it felt "creepy." So the basics of what visual art, with regards to effectively communicating how something feels, are covered by simply looking. Which I'll invite you to do, if you're in the area while the show is up.

But there's also more behind why she makes the films she does, and for the viewers accustomed to learning more about the ideas and themes behind the project (the "why," on top of the "what,") you have my humble attempts to provide insights in the press release.

6/03/2009 05:11:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Museums are plenty accessible. Have you ever been to MoMA on a Friday night? Mobbed. It's the entry price the rest of the time that appears to be a barrier.

But if by "accessibilty" you mean bringing art to the masses via belly dancing at King Tut's tomb, no thanks. What's next, actual beheadings in front of the Judith and Holofernes pictures? Virgin births and crucifictions in the Italian Renaissance painting galleries? A Nascar track around the met? Wait, how Koons on the roof?

Not to reactionary, but here's the definition of "museum" from the Ency. Brittanica:
"In its Greek form, mouseion, it meant “seat of the Muses” and designated a philosophical institution or a place of contemplation. Use of the Latin derivation, museum, appears to have been restricted in Roman times mainly to places of philosophical discussion."

What a concept, a place to look at art and think about it. You want interactive? Go online. Go to Las Vegas or Disneyworld. Have an affair.

Whoa. A rant!

6/03/2009 07:26:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I like very much jen's impressions of the De Young in SF. It seems like a good attempt to energize the space.

I also think Gam is on to something - maybe museums could be WiFi hot spots with everything online and formatted to fit. Sometimes we want to know, to look something up, other times we just want to look.

Sorry but I do question Franklins motives. It is fairly easy to find fault and complain about advanced artworks, artworks which by definition are at the boundaries of present tastes. It is an endeavor with considerably less risk than publicly championing something one likes. Chicken.

Here's the link to the Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation Press release. Rather that quote a paragraph out of context, I enjoin others here to read the entire press release.

Especially when taken in the context of the exhibition, it reads as a narrative, a bit of sci-fi. It is entertaining, and some of the more difficult bits describe the artists intentions accurately and do bring another focus to the artwork for the viewer.

The Pilot is a complex piece, what you think you see, isn't there; and what's there, isn't what you think you see.

6/03/2009 07:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Keep in mind that we're discussing accessiblity here. I don't doubt that writing like this, in a way that favors big-sounding ideas over specifics, serves you and your artists professionally. You all are hardly the only ones, which is why this is a problem across the museum world. It just strikes me as unfortunate that you don't recognize your participation in the problem, and that museums are trying to solve it via yoga nights, interactive displays, and vague aspirations to communicate better. (I applaud the notion of curatorial hours in the gallery, which is a sound, specific idea that will give the curators the opportunity to answer questions like, "Dude! What the fuck?" I'm not being facetious here.) Pace George, who could do smarter things than insult my courage, this has relatively little to do with the work in question. High-sounding drivel, worse than the above, has been poured over styles of work that I like. It doesn't serve them either.

It's telling that you think that "her photography and films are richer than just about any other artist's out there" and this rather exciting assertion (or an appropriately tempered version thereof) never found its way into the press release. Lacking any such indication, the press release tells me that the work is not operating on that level and I should skip it. It sounds, as someone in the linked article put it, like there's going to be a test later. I'm pointing out that you have an opportunity here.

6/03/2009 08:14:00 PM  
Blogger joy said...

Wow: actual beheadings. Joanne, you actually went there. yeah, that would do it I guess. ;-)

6/03/2009 08:15:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Joy, too extreme?

6/03/2009 09:04:00 PM  
Blogger wells said...

Accessibility? A wonderful idea. And I think different approaches are good. Whether it's a bench. Or bellydancing. Or even a good beheading. Whatever it takes to engage an audience - me, you, them.

I like the direct approach. There was a recent opening at Lora Reynolds Gallery in Austin, Texas. One of the curators, a Jay Sanders from NYC, introduces himself to some anomolous visitors at the opening reception, and he makes them feel welcome and comfortable.

This incident was first posted by the anomolous visitor on Craigslist, and then it got picked up by an art blog called 'Bout What I Sees" -

http://salvadorcastillo.wordpress.com/

Beautiful stuff. Clearly, I favor an open door policy where everybody's welcome and everyone's included. And I believe in an art that lives among us. Sometimes silent on the wall, or mute on the pedestal, but not exclusively so...

6/04/2009 12:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Joanne, thinking in my experience is always interactive. Contemplation and philosophical meanderings are often forms of dialogue. Giving “newbies” layered access to experiencing art appears to me a wondrous concept. Percepts remain the realm of art, and that most art in museums is static / passive allows the viewer the space to interact with their experience of it over time (whatever the length of time). Art is a media, and the act of experiencing art is likely a large measure of why we value art. Giving access to that act of experiencing art has many thresholds, but it isn’t the experience.

Interesting different access to an art event here in this town. A local radio station held a contest – woohoo- the prize was to go on a tour, guided by a radio jock celebrity, to the Imagine Exhibit (Yoko Ono) at the art museum. This may not give the ultimate experience of art for a particular insight into the exhibit, but it does make the art part of people’s everyday life. Which in turn gives further access to the possibility of that calm of consideration that reveals so many insights to works of art.

I think access needs to be seen as a layered concept, that initial access may not be the ideal but leads and builds to an ideal viewing experience. Interactive access is an on demand level of involvement in the art experience. The bench in the gallery needn’t be sat upon if you don’t wish to.

6/04/2009 06:28:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...

Joanne: not too extreme at all! perfect!

6/04/2009 07:46:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...

by definition art is "interactive." but unlike 6flags-disneyworld-mohegansun-etc, it isn't quite so pre-packaged for easy breezey mass consumption (as in: dumbed-down). which means usually that viewers have to want to engage it, and they have to be inclined to make the effort. by and large they do. and if they don't, maybe it's because they *won't* - they've been trained by the mainstream culture to be spoon-fed. and there's not much I'm willing to do about that sort of resistence and closedness -- good thing I'm not a museum administrator!

I'm glad museums are getting into twitter-facebook-flickr-youtube-myspace-podcasts-blogarama-yay. museums and other public institutions need to be aware of how people communicate. they must keep up. museum officials have been getting their panties in a twist over public attendance for as long as there have been public attending museums... I remember when the met got into a kerfuffle about whether it was too crass to merchandise the art in the collection on, say, coffee mugs. heh heh. well, a decade later they just closed most of their stores and fired half their merch staff... soon you'll have to go to ebay to search for those met coffee mugs. or christie's! *sigh*... maybe it's time to develop an inter-museum API for iPhone.

6/04/2009 08:18:00 AM  
Blogger Rob Hitzig said...

Ed, I love your comment about children. You are right on target. I see it all the time as well. Children naturally react to art as they should, on an emotional level. Adults are often too busy thinking about the art and worrying about what they need to know to appreciate it. How do you deal with accessibility issues when the problem isn't the art but how people understand/react to it on a basic level? Maybe there should be a big sign at the entrance of museums/galleries telling people to stop thinking and start feeling? How about more public art! If people are surrounded by it in their daily lives, they can't help but learn from it - maybe.

6/04/2009 12:47:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Franklin starts off with this gem of indirection Whenever Ed starts talking about accessibility, I go to see what's on at his gallery. Parse the undertone of this comment and than wonder why he says Hoping against hope that my supposed motives won't be attacked for it this time...

In the real world, today's art world, art is about ideas. For example I found Sophie Calle's exhibition at Paula Cooper wonderful, but I expect it falls outside of Franklin's narrow point of view. So when he makes a visit to Ed's gallery, he already has his knife in hand as he sets out to attack.

It's nothing but a cheap shot coming from someone bound up in past ideas.

Now, I don't expect that the cultural audience will ever be in agreement over anything for more than a fleeting moment, disagreement accounts for differences in our human nature. So the question of "accessibility" is one which actually functions on several levels. Gallery press releases are directed towards a more specific audience than reviews or other critical articles.

Earlier Joanne, expressed her preference for a museum that is a place to look at art and think about it. continuing with You want interactive? Go online. This is a fine sentiment, but it does not address all the issues facing accessibility. Nor should we expect museums to completely change everything, one way or the other, what will probably work best is a combination of approaches.

6/04/2009 03:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

George, straightening out your attempts at argument is like combing a plate of linguini.

Press releases communicate the gallery's official condensed statement about the show to the public. That's why they go on the website. It is contradictory to fret about accessibility while issuing press releases that confound normal reading by intelligent people. I understand that there are professional reasons for using vague, emotionally flat, high-sounding language when talking about art, but such language imposes barriers to comprehension. I take it as given that this work is not going to explain itself as art in the way that a traditionally presented exhibition of paintings might. (Again, isn't that the point?) So if you take less accessible work and describe it in less accessible language, you're going to have an accessibility problem.

You don't have to wonder why I hoped my supposed motives wouldn't be attacked for pointing out the obvious. I'll tell you. It's because doing so is an invalid form of argumentation. To where do we proceed from the assertion that I'm driven by art that falls outside my narrow point of view to visit Ed's gallery wielding a knife? We proceed to the counter-assertion that you're driven by waning relevance and lack of recognition to suck up to Ed in the most public manner possible. I don't think that would be a productive discussion, but if you'd like to have it anyway, e-mail me and we can do so without troubling the rest of Ed's readership.

6/04/2009 06:24:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

OK, that's enough of this. Do take it up elsewhere, please.

There have been some lovely on-topic comments in this thread to encourage me to leave it open, but any more along this line will result in it being closed.

I will take home advantage to get the last word on this though:

It is contradictory to fret about accessibility while issuing press releases that confound normal reading by intelligent people.

Despite your prior suggestion that "this rather exciting assertion (or an appropriately tempered version thereof) [should find] its way into the press release," personally, I loathe anyone telling me how to feel about something, especially in a press release, so I refrain doing so myself. A press release should clarify themes and process to my mind, not encourage excitement...the work either does or doesn't do that on its own.

Come see the show. I'll let you be the judge.

6/04/2009 06:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

In that case, you ought to refrain from saying that you're pleased to be presenting the work. Maybe I won't be.

Seriously, I don't think describing the work as layered, exhilarating, or rich would impose upon my autonomy as a viewer. (I feel more put upon by "conceptualizes time" and whatnot. I am almost certainly not going to agree that the piece turns time into a concept.) My understanding of press releases is that they should encourage people to come look at the show. Tell them what's in the gallery and list the reasons why it's worth checking out. Plainly. Don't make them struggle to figure out how history in the making is running backwards and forwards. Leave that for the artist statement.

Unfortunately, the folks who usually let me crash in NYC are indisposed for the month of June. Best wishes though.

6/04/2009 07:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

50 ways to approach your love…

Benchs are sometimes hard, so ... what if you could put your feet up in the art space a la Lazy Boy or Charles Eames chair?

…what if art spaces had “show” windows onto the street level where they changed the art every two weeks…

…what if art spaces hung their art a la Sistine Chapel on their ceilings instead of the walls…

… what if the art was placed under a glass floor so that you could walk over it…

… what if art spaces had weekly treasure hunt games, where the participants had to find in the art space 3 pieces of art with fish in them, or art created by left handed artists, or art made from tempera, or art under 100 square inches in size

… what if art works were hidden behind curtains that the viewer had to open …

…what if guards had to dress in period custom for the galleries epoch …

…what if art was shown juxtaposed against different styles or periods or geo-locals…

… what if art was placed in a tunnel of love …

… what if an art exhibit was shown without a theme and the viewers had to suggest what the theme actually was …

… what if an art space did a poll to find out the art idol of the month for their collection …

… what if art was placed on easels pell-mell (so you can also see the back of the work )through out the artspace instead of lined up in sequence on the walls…

… what if you could only see 4 artworks per visit in an art space…

6/05/2009 06:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...what if more people in the art world put a true effort into advocating for art education? Most people feel uncomfortable in museums because they are profoundly lacking in visual literacy. For these people, it's an act of courage to enter the museum at all. The lacking is much more fundamental than not knowing a particular artist or art historical period.

6/05/2009 09:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed, forgive me, but after reading the recent posts from George, et. al. I'm wondering why you chose to censor my posts from the evening of June 3 - neither of which were harsh or hateful, but IMO relevant to this topic.

O blog dee blog da.

6/05/2009 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

To be honest, Anonymous, it was because they were anonymous. When George and Franklin pass into the terrain your comment had (and the mere fact that you felt compelled to reassure me it wasn't hateful should have led you to reconsider its tone, IMO) I at least have the benefit of knowing who they are and where they're coming from. For anonymous commenters, why should I tolerate any degree of disrespect? Seriously...what does it gain me or the readers?

6/05/2009 09:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed, I ask then, what is the point of offering the option to post "anonymously"?

I seriously doubt that George would have had a problem with my post, or defending his POV in a response. He and I have bantered and disagreed before. There are no hard feelings I know of.

I understand you have the final say, as it is your blog, but...

I feel as though you are singling me out - and disagree that I had crossed into "the terrain" you "radared." I explained my POV about the press release and exhibit, and also gave the artists a nod of respect. My comment to the museum, was an agreement with Joanne Mattera's POV. What was wrong with that.

I feel that you were offended by Franklin's comment about your press release, and then you censored my post because I agreed with him, and stated that the release made me feel as though the work and exhibit weren't for me either.

Look Ed, I'm an unknown artist, limited education. I'm not sophisticated, and at times can barely follow some of these posts due to my unfamiliarity with the "art terms" that are thrown around. I enjoy your blog, learn from it, and post (when you allow it) anonymously because the option to do so is offered, and because I'm embarrased by my own "naievte", but I'm working on that part. That is the main reason I post Anon. But someday, you will know me and my work, and we can laugh about this.

O blog dee blog da.

6/05/2009 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Visual literacy is a wonderful aspect!

Maybe it should be more towards Visual Acuity though. The art world tends to orbit around the two poles of concept and percept. The difference between the two might be described as concept being focused on conclusions while percept is turned to face personal openings. If art doesn’t widen ones ability to see their horizons then it has missed its higher calling. (maybe percept and concept in turn orbit the individual which in turn orbits the other …)

One might even start with Eye spy with my little i nights at the art museum ….

6/08/2009 06:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Great if Ed's got a bench. If it's hard and woody, that's 50% better than most off Chelsea. One last step is a comfortable sofa. I tend to remember galleries who are doing things differently.


The current work at Winkleman doesn't seem to be made for mass consumption, but that's not a problem to me (I say "seem", I haven't seen it). The important in the issue is the artist: what do they want? Who do they think they are adressing themselves to? If they want to impress a great art critic or curator, so be it, they can make art that demands a lot of reflection. If they wish to touch the general visitor, it's their responsability. The Kyrghistan artists (at Ed's) are somewhat accessible. The Sophie Calle exhibit was hugely popular in Montreal. The book of the exhibit sold many copies in major libraries. I don't know about Cooper's PR, but yes, the usual PR
often focus on the intellectual merit of an artist, and sometimes that's really not the strenght of the work. Emotions are for sissies is the big message of the artworld.


Cedric C

6/08/2009 09:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

I know I'm late to the conversation, but I want to put in a vote for the sanctity of the traditional museum experience. Most of the events and programs discussed as possible ways to increase accessibility are things that would detract from the museum (or gallery) experience for those of us who appreciate the time and space set aside for quiet contemplation of the artwork. So much in our culture is about trying to capture the attention of the masses (who have a rapidly shrinking attention span), so much is dumbed down, with the volume pumped up. Can't we keep the museum as a sort of sacred space? People feel intimidated? That's too bad, but I don't favor turning the museum into a circus or arcade of noisy entertaining games just to lure them inside. I think museums should be treated like temples. Everyone should be welcome, but if you're not a believer, no one is forcing you to go in. I'm not religious, but when I travel, I go into churches and temples to see the sacred spaces (and art and architecture) of other (usually much older) cultures. I don't believe in god but if I'm in someone else's church or mosque or synagogue or sweatlodge (you get the picture) I observe the local customs out of respect and courtesy to the believers. I don't go into a catholic church and say, "I'm bored. It's too quiet in here. Everyone in here knows what all this stuff means but I don't. I feel excluded. What's with all this candles and incense and mumbo jumbo? And guys wearing costumes and people going into little telephone booths and telling their secrets to the guys in costumes behind a screen? WTF? Where's the snack bar? Where's the TV? Is there WiFi in here? I have to check my email. Oh, there's my phone ringing. 'Dude, where are you? I'm in church. No, for real. Everyone's giving me dirty looks. Like, what, you can't even talk on the phone in here? That's wack'."

There are more than enough places that cater to such attitudes. Leave the museums alone.

6/08/2009 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Oriane, that's the old way, one for a kinder gentler time.

I don't want to see the museums become circuses but I do think they could hold events which encourage a new audience to attend. These types of events would supplement rather than replace the current museum experience.

As for new technologies, I suspect museums will be adopting them somewhere along the line because wifi enabled devices capable of displaying images and text are becoming ubiquitous. It is a more flexible way of providing information about the artworks - at any level of depth the viewer desires. And, it is less intrusive.

FWIW, I think that quiet contemplation of the artwork is nonsense, it's not what happens in any museum I've been to. It's a myth, and one of those little elitist ideas used to suppress a viewers excitement, or disgust, or curiosity, whatever. How can you walk into a room filled with great art and not get excited?

I've paid attention to people in a gallery, to how much time they spend with an artwork, it's not very long (and in Chelsea, these people are the interested, including artists)

I'm lucky, I live close to the V train which stops in front of Moma. I joined the museum and one of the things I really like, is that I can take break (45 min to 1 hour) - sub up to Moma and spend a half hour, recharge, have a cup of coffee and a change of scenery, without feeling like I have to get my $20 worth and stay for two hours being 'serious'

6/08/2009 01:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

The dilemma in each generation is that the norm of what becomes tradition changes. There are people who can logically demonstrate that by moving the language of the liturgy to English, and turning to face the parishioners changed irrevocably the Christian mass. They would argue that our generation has had the wrong type of access and so our diminishing attendance.

If art is to remain relevant to each generation; if what you treasure in the space for contemplation while viewing art is to be passed on to the next and future generations, art needs to be first offered up to them in their norms, not ours. Then they will be free to discover what you value in that contemplation. Have faith in their humanity and they too will discover it.

The thing that I don’t understand is why do you feel the active and passive are mutually exclusive? I hate the roving tours of tourists in the art museum, so I either let them pass or move onto another gallery. There are quieter nights then the weekend afternoons. I can find the type of access that best suits me.

It is likely diversity of access that can bridge the tradition (generation) gap. Art isn’t our exclusive domain whatever our preferences of access.

I really do think we are wrong to assume that it is only the gallery/museum that is the medium (ground) and not the artwork.

6/08/2009 02:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I would be very cautious of apprehending a museum as if a temple. First, that concept enhances certain forms and approaches to art versus others. Secondly, for me spirituality begins exactly at the point where art isn't able to achieve it (or bring it to me). I spent many years questioning myself on that issue. If you have an important party atmosphere in a museum, and people are able to meet, talk and make friends, to me that is more important spiritually than the art that gathered these people together. If it was me, I would put all of Giacometti's cats free to roam in the museums.

That's spirituality (or at least Cedric's take on it).

Cedric Caspes

6/08/2009 05:10:00 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

The problem with accessibility lies in the breadth of understanding of the public. Being an artist who has seen a heck of a lot of art does not mean, however, that I can understand Edward's current exhibition any more than the average person (and I am not saying anything degrading towards Edward nor the art). And a bench is not necessarily going to solve that problem for me. Belly-dancing can be fun for some but it distracts one from the issue of understanding the art on display, while with story-telling and poetry readings you are catering to another interest (and again a supposedly "cultured" intellect), which again is separate from the focus. Sure, it might correlate in some thread, but I personally find the entire hands-on, interactive approach a childish way to obviously demonstrate that the art standing on its own is not enough.

As an artist and teacher of painting, I know that the average person does not know what an impasto is, and one of the first things a passionate student will ask me is, "what is a glaze?" This is basic terminology of what I consider to be important things to notice in certain kinds of paintings because maybe they were utilized by the artist for an important reason. A bench or a concert is not going to help with this, unless the terribly long descriptions on the wall have wiped you out. Just like a museum.

I think that a better way to address the issue of being accessible is to allow the public to understand how galleries work, how artists work, how artwork is chosen and why, because to the average person all of it is a curious mystery. And this may be why they feel threatened in an intellectual way. How about throwing a Hanging Party? Seriously, I know that it invades the professional work to be done, but instead of people going to the fancy opening, they go to the hanging. A couple of bottles get cracked open, you pull out the paintings and start discussing where and why a painting should or should not go here or there, you sneak in some down-to-earth comments on why a piece is so breathtaking or ground-breaking, you get the public to understand the respect in handling artworks, the gallerist's love for art and artists, the work involved in lighting issues, they throw in their own remarks and questions, some collectors stop by for a preview, you talk about the time it took to put all of this together, etc. I personally think that sure, it could last all night or all day and be a heck of a lot of work, maybe too much, but when the attendees leave, they will be walking away with a great deal of knowledge they can't find anywhere, certainly not in a review, on the internet, or at an opening. And they will probably feel much more comfortable and willing walking into a gallery the next time.
I know, the idea is impossible, and incredibly stupid, but my point is that we need to try to find a way to make art and galleries more accessible, informative and enriching without being too fun, too dumbed-down or too distant from the subject at hand. And sometimes that might involve mentioning masterful impastos over a glass of wine with someone who never would have walked into your gallery.

6/22/2009 04:50:00 AM  

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