Tags: art, connections, exhibit_review, interns, storytelling
To my extreme sorrow (and no doubt that of any number of my colleagues at PEM), our Museum Action Corps internship program is drawing to an end. To celebrate some of the incredible work of the program’s coordinator, Rosario, and her many teams of impressive interns, I thought I would use a few BrainPopcorn posts to highlight my favorite recent intern projects.
Exploring Personal Connections Across Artworks, Curators, and Visitors
Exhibit openings usually have a number of common denominators: VIPs, staff with shiny nametags, refreshments, people mingling with more or less conversation focused on the art. Maybe there’s some music, there are pretty much always a few minutes of speeches–it’s a fairly predictable pattern.
Which is why, when the museum staff was invited to an intern-created temporary exhibition event, “Connecting Cultures,” I was beyond pleasantly surprised to see the pattern rearranged.
First, we were invited to pick up a name tag–not with our name on it, but instead with a noun we found appealing, or which we felt applied to us. There were lots of choices: hard work, creativity, entertainment, emotion, etcetera. Unsurprisingly, I chose
And with our name tag came an accompanying envelope with instructions and a slip of paper inside. The instructions suggested that we consider and then do these things:
1) Why did you pick your name tag? (Easy, that. I don’t think they had ‘Hello, my name is Imagination’ or that would have been more of a battle.)
2) Find the artwork listed on our initial slip, talk to the intern who picked it, make connections between his or her experience and our own, as well as that of any other person visiting the artwork at the same time (This turned out to be very cool, as I learned things about my coworkers which would never have come up in everyday conversation.)
3) Pick another word associated with that artwork from the group on the table and follow it to the object indicated. Then think about how that word applied to both artworks.
4) Repeat step 2 until you’ve gone full circle or the time runs out and it’s time for speeches.
As you can see from my list, there were any number of neat themes to choose from: some had to do with the ideas expressed in each artwork chosen, others to do with the physical aspects of the artwork itself. I did find myself redirected to the same object once or twice, so deliberately picked other words instead so that I’d have the opportunity to talk to different interns about their choices and experiences during the MAC semester.
My favorite take-away thoughts from this activity were these:
1) The level of staff or ‘visitor’ participation in this exhibit was very high, and conversations tended to be more on point than I’ve seen in some other intern exhibitions or final project presentations.
2) People tend to clump with others from their department or with whom they usually work closely, but the unusual name tags were a fun way to start a conversation with someone new. (Or to stare surreptitiously and wonder why someone picked a certain term as their new ‘handle.’ Some were glaringly obvious, others were more of a head-scratcher, and that was fun. It’s a great ice breaker and one I’d definitely like to re-use when I get an opportunity.)
3) Some of the staff members found the directions confusing or convoluted, presumably because they missed one of the group introductions to the activity which were provided by the interns themselves. A little more signage outside the exhibit might have helped those who didn’t realize they had instructions in their envelopes as well.
4) The idea of ‘tagging’ a group of artworks with similar ideas or physical aspects would be a great way to talk about themes and looking at art with kids, either using examples from museums or their own artworks generated in class.
Tags: archaeology, art, exhibit_review, history
Disclaimer: I totally love National Geographic. You, my astute readers, will have figured that out already.
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My family and I spent the long weekend in Washington DC, enjoying a little respite from New England snow, and taking in (as one does, when one lives in a museum-mad family and works in a museum) the cultural sights. Though I’d love to give detailed reviews of everything (kudos to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, for instance, for a fascinating exhibit design in “State of Deception: Nazi Propaganda” which I wish I’d had more time to explore), I’m going to focus on the original impetus for the visit, which was National Geographic’s Terracotta Warriors: Guardian’s of China’s First Emperor.
Sadly, there were no pictures allowed inside the exhibition, so I have no photos of my own to share. Fortunately, they bent the rules for their own bloggers, so there are some fabulous pictures of objects in the exhibition and at least some small sense of the layout available here. One of the things I thought they did best in this exhibit was that each element was allowed its own space: the exhibit areas weren’t over crowded, which was important given how many people were trying to view them, and where two or three statues or other artifacts were placed together, it made sense and helped advance the ideas and context which the audioguide and interpretive panels were trying to convey. It seems like a very basic and obvious thing to get right, but it’s noticeable in the traffic flow and the overall feeling and satisfaction of the visit if artworks or other objects are placed awkwardly.
There was a lot of overlap between the text panels and the audioguide, but enough difference that for the slow-paced intent studier like myself, it was worth listening and reading both. I appreciated the context provided regarding the period especially immediately before the rise of Emperor Qin, but thought (as I have thought about many exhibitions before, including the MFA’s Tomb 10A exhibit) that it would have benefited from a timeline somewhere early in the exhibit, possibly also including reference points to western/European events of the same time period, to provide that extra hook for those of us who had largely Eurocentric history educations. (For the record, NG does apparently have a video segment not featured in the exhibit anywhere which mentions a little of what was going on in Rome at the same time period, which I’ve embedded below.)
Overall, however, I loved it. I thought it was fascinating, the figures themselves were stunning displays of individuality and craftsmanship and technique, and the overwhelming impression that I left with was one of a man who commanded immense power and influence, and who, like many strong rulers in other cultures, created an infrastructure that allowed the arts to flourish. Very cool.
(Video: A reconstructed flyover of what they think the complex around Emperor Qin’s burial mound would have looked like.)
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More fun Chinese themed posts to come as we approach Lunar New Year, but for now I leave you with the events listing for Lunar New Year at the Peabody Essex Museum, which promises to be a huge amount of fun.