On Tuesday, Cy and I led a ThinkTank for MA students to come and find out more about the exhibition, and also to ask a wider question around what role artists can play in museums. ThinkTanks are regular 2 hour sessions in which PhD students share their research, or other interests, with MA Museum Studies and Art Museum and Gallery Studies students from the School. They are less formal than much of the MA course, but a wonderful opportunity to explore particular topics in a really discursive way.
We started off by hearing a bit about the background to the exhibition: how did it come about? (serendipity) where did the idea come from? (previous work with artists doing interesting things in strange collections) how did we go about choosing artists? (contacts and recommendations). Interestingly and bizarrely, Cy pointed out to me that every time I have talked about the exhibition, I say something different. Is this because I am still very much in a ‘cloud of unknowing’? For me, a curator is not someone with all the answers: a curator sits somewhere on a spectrum between the artist and the visitor (perhaps?), and all of these are in different states of knowing and unknowing – but I rather fear that many curators would contest this view.
Students did a brief activity to outline some of the positives and negatives of involving artists in museum curation and interpretation. We then went out in groups to explore two cases each: what is this display about? what is the artist trying to say? does it matter if your interpretation is different from that of the artist? There were some fascinating comments about the different works, and responses that I’d never thought of (a separate blog will follow about this).
After a quick break, Cy shared the motivations and creative thought processes behind the design of the labels as objects – a fascinating glimpse into a process that was both iterative and complex – but once the exhibition is installed, now seems and feels perfectly simple and natural. He took us through a journey from lots of text, to condensing the text, to selecting appropriate materials, to thinking of the graphics as objects and interpretation in itself. I hope this will provide much food for thought and debate for the MA exhibition design exercise.
From the macro level, we worked towards a micro level, eventually opening some of the cases and having a good old rummage with objects. The photos speak for themselves – it really demonstrated to me the power of the object, and the sense of ‘privilege’ which was mentioned by many of the participants. But I don’t think this should be a privilege: I think this sort of access to objects and collections should be at the heart of what all museums do.