The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Guest Blogger: Review of The North Carolina Museum of Art Blog

I am delighted to present a contribution from our second guest blogger - and a colleague of Carrie Hertz - Rebekah Moore, from Indiana University. Rebekah is a doctoral student in ethnomusicology at Indiana University. Her research interests include vernacular concepts of tradition and spirituality in Balinese music; indigenous politics and popular music, with a focus on Sámi music in northern Finland; and material culture, with focuses on homemade musical instruments and found object art. She is pursuing a doctoral minor in Museum Studies and is currently a Museum Education Representative and Education and Docent Trainer for the Mathers Museum of World Cultures in Bloomington, Indiana. She holds a B.A. in Music from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro and an M.A. in Ethnomusicology from the University of Maryland. Welcome to The Attic Rebekah!

Blog Review: The North Carolina Museum of Art

By Rebekah Moore

The North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) was established sixty years ago as the first major American art museum housing a collection formed by state legislation. NCMA’s exhibits are characterized by their diversity in theme, scope, and design. The Museum’s current exhibits include “Temples and Tombs” featuring Egyptian art, French sculpture, and North Carolinian photography. While the museum is characterized by a Eurocentric, “high art” collection typical of most American art museums, its innovative approach toward engaging its audience through the internet warrants more than a passing interest in the beauty or intrigue of the objects it holds.

The museum boasts an excellent website including photographs and catalogue entries on several pieces from its collection, and in 2005, the curators established a weblog to which patrons, artists, curators, and educators could post responses and comments concerning select objects or a series within an exhibit. The blog was formed in April 2005 conjointly with a photography exhibit titled “In Focus: Contemporary Photography from the Allen G. Thomas, Jr. Collection.” The photography exhibit ran from April 3–July 17, 2005. While the blog’s name—“NCMOA Blog”—would suggest it served as a home base for bloggers to discuss a range of issues raised by or affecting the museum, it was actually short-lived, and served only as an appendage to the photography exhibit. The last response appeared on May 20, 2005. The museum has chosen to keep the blog’s link active, however, thus turning a formerly dynamic forum into a static artifact of the museum’s past.

The brevity of the blog, which may limit its usefulness today, strengthens its value as supplemental material for the photography exhibit. The assistant curator opens the blog with an introductory editorial on the nature of blogs and their relationship to and similar function of photographs. She writes, “Like bloggers, many of the photo artists included in the exhibition open their private worlds to strangers. It’s highly personal and raw and, like bloggers, these artists want strangers to participate in their world; they want them to find it fascinating, or disgusting, or whatever—anything to get people to look—and then look again—at the world and at art in a new way.” This fascinating parallel elicits a slew of comments concurring with her assessment and responding to a particular photograph included in her post. Thus, the blog provides a forum for people from a range of backgrounds to post their ideas about the exhibit. The exhibit takes on a new dimension through which individual viewer perception—generally viewed to be a private, personal experience in which one assesses, for oneself, the value and meaning of a particular piece of art—becomes public domain.

The blog is divided into hyperlinked entries by theme for a total of six separate entries. Each blog begins with an initial post that closely resembles a news editorial in which the blogger addresses a particular object or installation within “In Focus.” Museum employees provide most of the initial commentary. This post is complemented by a scanned image of the object in question. Following the initial comments are two or more responses by additional museum staff and non-museum-employed bloggers, including art collectors, art dealers, and museum patrons. The blog is intended for patrons, artists, museum curators, or anyone else familiar with the exhibit. While I did find two posts by people who had not visited the photography exhibit, most posts were from people who could comment on having seen the photographs in person. In fact, three posts commented on the poor quality of the scaled down, digital photographs posted online, and one insisted that the photographs must be viewed in person. Each blog entry ends with an embedded form any visitor to the website may fill out to post to the blog.

Dialogue instigated through the initial comments varies widely. Many comment on the photograph’s aesthetic values or on their personal reactions to them. One blogger comments on issues of authenticity in response to an installation of photographs that were manipulated in Photoshop. Several comment on the appropriate emotional response a piece should elicit.

The blog includes several resources that would have been useful during the exhibit’s run, including links to collections objects photographed and catalogued online and links to artist’s websites for additional photographs, etc. The museum also posted announcements about upcoming events at the museum here, especially regarding programming for the photograph exhibit.

The blog provides an opportunity for bloggers to explore different aspects of viewer perception. As one might suspect, people’s reactions to pieces are strikingly varied. This would be an excellent site to conduct research on viewer perception. Occasionally, cordial correspondence ensues amongst friends; so the blog also serves an important social role. It also allows patrons to air their grievances with the museum on the exhibit’s content. One person comments that the show is inappropriate for children or sex abuse victims and should come with a warning. The curator responds by urging the person to start a dialogue on these issues and to take advantage of the blog as a vehicle for facilitating discussion. Finally, the blog is a useful resource for an arts educator. In her main post, the associate director of education for the museum writes about the topic of nudity in art. She includes a link for a PDF document about how to talk to children about nudity in art museums—unfortunately, the link no longer works. This would be an important resource, however, for teachers who want to bring young children to the exhibit.

The museum blog reveals how the internet can be used to facilitate dialogue around material culture and can serve to positively supplement a temporary or permanent exhibit. The inclusion of photographs from the exhibit and hyperlinks for additional resources enhances its value for anyone interested in learning more about a museum or an exhibit’s contents. The greatest contribution of this particular blog, in this author’s opinion, is to offer patrons a glimpse into how people formulate their responses to visual art and on the rich diversity of individual reception and perception.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Thanks for this Rebekah - it's a great review. I've just had a quick look at the blog in question. What struck me was the immediacy of the evocative and considered responses to each work, including one which I found very moving. This highlighting and privileging of the personal response is refreshing; it's active subjective, non-academic approach renders (or should have) the discussions accessible to a much wider audience than exhibitions of contemporary photography might do so normally.

I like your comment that the blog has become a 'static artefact of the museum's past'; the missing PDF file is like a label which has lost it's object, or vice-versa. I think there are lots of issues here that digital heritage people are getting to grips with, i.e. how to preserve and interpret the changing on-line presence.

It's a real shame this blog died so quickly - it showed so much promise. I wonder why? Lack of interest, time? Did the novelty soon wear off for the curators and educators of the museum - the main 'bloggers'? Regardless it's well worth a look.