Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Modest Proposal

As I blog about art and museums I often wonder what I’d do as a museum director of a grand institution such as the Louvre (above), the mack daddy of all museums. How would I steer such a sweet ride—gracefully around every curve or careening off the road into the nearest ditch? (There’s another scenario where I become President of the United States just to pillage the collection of the National Gallery of Art and fill the White House with my favorites. Just be glad I’m not that ambitious.) One crazy, yet feasible idea I have is a museum blog, i.e., a blog in which the people of the museum, from the director to the curators to the guards and so forth, present their stories and the story of their institution for the education and entertainment of all.

This idea came to me in two pieces. The first piece was Danny Danziger’s Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I reviewed here. Danziger’s book tells the stories of everyone from the cleaning crew to the director of the Met, placing a human face on the stone façade so many people find intimidating. I loved the concept of the book itself and the execution was superb. How hard would it be to recreate that same magic with any other museum? If every picture tells a story, then every person around that picture should have at least one more of their own.

The second piece that really sparked this idea was an article in the
October 22, 2007 issue of The New Yorker by Alex Ross titled “The Well-Tempered Web.” In that article, Ross argues that the Internet and blogs have revived the once moribund world of classical music, especially through blogs written by performing artists themselves. After quoting extensively from a musician recounting his personal reaction during a performance of Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, Ross writes:

This is a voice that, effectively, could never have been heard before the advent of the Internet: sophisticated on the one hand, informal on the other, immediate in impact. Blogs such as this put a human face on an alien culture.

I believe that museums also contain sophisticated and informal voices whose impact is felt only by a select few. The few curators and museum staff that I’ve gotten to interact with have all been vibrant, engaging people, full of fun and enthusiasm for the places they work and the art they believe in. A group blog that would allow these curators and other staff to speak off the cuff and from the hip directly to the art-loving public could breathe new life into the dusty corners of even the grandest museums. If you work for a museum and ask, “How do we bring in the kids?”, a blog might be one answer. The immediate impact of a museum blog, a blend of diverse voices and viewpoints all sharing one passion, could be just the bonding experience to resurrect the art world in America.

Of course, this could just be the opinion of a blogger wishing to beget more blogs, something the world may not need. But it also might be the next wave of museum interactivity—one-to-one communication between the experts and the public (or at least the virtual illusion of it). When the PMA conducted an online chat with curator Michael Taylor in late September, the response was huge (and perhaps too huge for their system, which seems dormant since that event), so there’s clearly an audience for online interaction with the cognoscenti. Being at the forefront versus the tail of the wave catering to that audience could mean a world of difference in the years to come.

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