Monday, December 1, 2008

"Best" Exhibit? Why that's an impossible question

museum, exhibit, maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums When I worked at the Exploratorium, I was often asked the question "what are the top 5 exhibit here?" or at a dinner party I often get asked "what's the best exhibit you've ever seen?". It often gets me to wondering if the director at the MOMA is ever asked "what is the best work of art you have"? Or if the president of Stanford is asked "what's the best class at your school?". I know it stems from a genuine desire to make sense of what often seems (especially in the case of the Exploratorium) an overwhelming amount of info and experiences. However, exhibits are as unique as the person standing before it. They are also developed for specific reasons, and are often not intended for everyone-- but because they live in a public space, they need to be understood by all, if not engaged. When I worked there, I proposed an idea of creating curated podcasts or maps, where visitors could select a filter for what they wanted to experience, such as: - exhibits for teenagers - full-body exhibits - exhibits by artists ...and so on. In addition to to having the museum experts make these determinations, what about letting visitors leave their own maps and trails behind in a museum… much as they do on-line? The nice thing about this approach in a museum vs. in an on-line context, is that you still get to "browse" and be exposed to exhibits that may not be on your "list", since they may be adjacent. How could we make visitor-experienced floor plans? How might we allow visitors to get a sense of what their peers or someone they aspire to be “liked” or “learned from”? Have you seen this working somewhere already? Did you participate?


Nina Simon said...

Great post. I wrote about this a long time ago here.

My two favorite projects like this are from England and the Miraikan custom map interactive (Japan).

Maria Mortati said...

Hey Nina,

I hadn't seen that-- thank you for pointing me to it. I'd written a post a while back about "visitors as curators", but I'm thinking that this is slightly different- I *do* want to know what other people like + unlike me are relating to, but I also want to know what the "experts" think when given a pedestrian lens.

More than knowing what they think, I'd really like to understand how they got to making those selections. Sort of a "Why is this Exhbit in Our Museum?" tag.

For example, I'd love to see what exhibits at the Exploratorium Richard Brown thinks are great science vs. art, and ones that aren't. Then I'd like to ask the same question of Pam Winfrey, my stepkids, and so on. This goes beyond the wisdom of the crowd/communal experience mode and moves into an informed voice approach. I guess I'm saying that I don't have a problem with curators per se, I have a problem with them being the only voice, and with how they voice. Half the time it's meaningless to me.

Hmmn, maybe I will just do that, and post the findings here. Thanks as always, Nina, for getting me thinking.