Detail of Prometheus by Gustave Moreau (1868)
Today, a visitor discovering Gustave Moreau’s Prometheus is able to target it with his phone, take a picture with Google’s « goggles » (the application or the fancy glasses) and gather automatically all there’s to know about it on the Internet : wikipedia’s page, high definition image, art critics and amateurs’ comments, facebooks’ like and twitters’ mentions, inspired or rude copies…
With Internet, museums are facing an amazing threat.
A threat because Internet creates a tremendous quantity of « noise » around the museums mediation, threatening to create durable misunderstanding for a lot of people. Hannah Arendt’s criticize about reproducibility of art in « La crise de la culture » is culminating in the internet.
But amazingly positive threat too, because digital behaviors are definitely changing the way we interact with art pieces and the museum as a whole. Firstly it gives an important boost to the museum’s action, before, during and after the visite. It’s a way for the museum to get out, to create a museal space out of its skin and its walls. And that’s not something you could have through other medias. In a museum as in an application, a game or a website, the visitor is in charge, following the path he wants. The best you could do is try to show him around, put signs here and there, warn him of traps and dead end. A curator has to think the digital and physical space of the museum has a whole.
Pretend it does not exist or that it damage your mission, and you will cut the bridges between the museums and its digital area. That’s the best way to actually see the threat I talked about actually occur. Why ? because the digital world won’t nicely give up talking, commenting and reproducing the works, with a bigger risk of being wrong or misunderstood the scientific knowledge you have. What Hannah Arendt failed to predicted is the way the reproducibility of art is infinitely balanced by the way people are connected and data is spreading in our world. Curators don’t actually want to be the right but unheard voice in this noise.
Some ways to work with a galaxy of interactions around a museum
Understanding and describing these social and collaborative behaviors is necessary if the museum wants to play a key role. It’s being an attractor, creating and hosting contents (website, applications, …) and sending them in the network, either professional (news, scholarship, teaching, tourism, …) or amateur (blogs, comments, social networks). In turn they will make theirs this content and will push it towards a broader audience.
The website of the Amsterdamer RijksMuseum is a work of art in itself. It’s directly build on that idea. The way visitors are encouraged to create their own sets of art piece, reframe them and use them outside the museums’ skin (being walls or web pages) is extremely well thought because the museum remains the reference of the works, the place you go if you want to check the context of a painting or its author.
(article originally written in 2009 but « refurbished »)