So recently I have been doing the museum circuit in Detroit and Chicago. Upon visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), I had to check out the new interpretive vision instituted by their director Graham W. J. Beal. The DIA re-opened its doors this past November 2007 after renovating both the outside building and inside galleries. I have to say that having been to the DIA pre-renovation, I was quite impressed with the new galleries. The museum is absolutely gorgeous and gives me that feeling of reverence as I wander through the infamous artwork. Amidst these newly renovated galleries the beautiful art is displayed in a revolutionary, user-friendly way. Beal seeking to “extinguish the deathly whiff of elitism” implemented a new interpretive plan for the artwork. There are now text panels, posted next to the paintings, on silver metal stands, nearly as big as some, white in color to provide information for the visitor. These prominently placed panels have large type, a maximum of 150 words, and in simple terms, introduce the “broad idea” of the art works being displayed. I have to say originally I was all for this “new interpretive vision”. On the frontier in the museum profession is the idea of a user-friendly, community-driven, open door, anti-elitist, art-for-all-people museum. And, isn’t Beal trying to accomplish what museum professionals ascribing to the new, 21st century, re-imagining-the-museum thought process are all desperately seeking to achieve?
Hmmmm….my jury is still out. The signs were a bit in-the-way, distracting when I was trying to meditate on the art and read the tombstone information about the piece. These white signs were almost like white neon signs screaming “READ ME!!!, READ ME!!!!!” Although, I do think the information was helpful if you have never ever been to an art museum in your life, never picked up any literature on the subject and wanted to know more beyond the exhibit label.
On another note, while visiting The Art Institute of Chicago, I noticed something. Something that caught me a bit off guard…In most of the prominent galleries throughout the museum were large white desks with Mac computers and a museum employee. All there to help you with anything that you may desire pertaining to the museum, to the artwork, the sky was the limit! And these persons were not just in the main entrance, they were in every major gallery! I was quite puzzled and shocked by this new change in the museum’s attempt to go above and beyond in its catering to the inquisitive museum visitor.
Museums catering to the new, uninformed visitor, a new trend? I think so. Every museum seems to be jumping on the band wagon. It is yet to be determined if this new trend is here to stay. We, as museum professionals (or museum workers) will all have to wait and see. 🙂