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“This is art and we don’t care if you agree”

October 11, 2009

The other day I was lucky enough to spend a sunny autumn afternoon at Louisiana, probably Denmark’s best art museum. All made even better because I was there with two of my favorite people.

My niece and nephew at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

My niece and nephew at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

If you have a chance to go there now, GO. At the moment they have three amazing exhibitions, all really different and all equally inspiring.

Being back at this museum got me thinking. Last semester, for a class called Knowledge Media in Culture and Society, I wrote a short paper about Web 2.o principles in the museum setting, using Louisiana as a prime example of how this does not look. While my paper had some major methodological flaws, and is best seen as an unfinished study, the ideas explored are interesting ones and make for some good conversation.

I began with this question: How does an art museum share knowledge and how is this changing with the developments of new media technologies and Web 2.0 philosophies?

Typically, art museums share knowledge in a top-down hierarchical manner. Curators create exhibitions, we (usually) pay to go see them.  To give the visitor a minimum of context, there is normally some text to accompany an exhibition. Many art museums also offer additional educational tools: tours with a museum staff member, self-guided audio tours, information via text-message, pamphlets or brochures, reading areas, informational films, etc. While many of these tools have the potential to be interactive, more often than not, they remain in the top-down pattern of the expert-knows-all model of knowledge sharing.

Louisiana is, in my opinion, unfortunately stuck in this old-school frame of mind. Unless the work of art itself is inviting the museumgoer to get involved, there is no real opportunity for interactive meaning-making.

"Don't miss a sec'" - Monica Bonvicini's one-way mirror toilet at Louisiana.

"Don't miss a sec'" - Monica Bonvicini's one-way mirror toilet at Louisiana.

Mostly what happens at a museum is this: the curators choose what is significant art and the museum setting and exhibition form reinforce that decision, effectively saying to the visitors, “This is art and we don’t care if you agree”. While an institution’s opinion is certainly valuable, it is perhaps not always the best approach to get a diversity of people engaged with the aesthetics and ideas of Art.

Am I being unfair to the Louisiana? Does it seem like a love/hate relationship? Maybe. I will give them this – for children, this art museum can’t be beat. The museum grounds are lovely for running, exploring and picnicking among the shadows of sculptures. The Children’s Wing is three stories of art studio space where kids can create and be inspired by the current exhibitions with the help of hired museum employees. Just outside the Children’s wing, a lake with small houses built by artists and a really big slide.


So if you are going and want a more interactive experience, bring a kid along.

Okay, off the soapbox now. But if you think the ideas of interactive knowledge sharing in the museum setting are interesting, you should check out Nina Simon’s blog. It is a really great blog – a wealth of information and exiting new ideas. And if you’ve really got some time to spare, you can read my paper, here.

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