Author Archives: CMA Web Robot

About CMA Web Robot

Jeffrey Inscho is the Web & Digital Media Manager at Carnegie Museum of Art. In addition to the museum's web presence, he oversees multimedia production and in-gallery technology initiatives.

Six Visions for Radical Change


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In the entryway to White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes we’ve built a white cube, in fact a double cube, inside which the visitor discovers a kind of graphic green maze. Photo blow-ups are matched with a quotation from a founder figure or key patron for each of the six sites in the exhibition.

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These statements—exhortations, even—are intended to greet the visitor and instigate a gentle expedition through the galleries. These visionaries have radically adjusted land that frequently has borne the brunt of industrial processes and are instrumental in the creation of surprising new venues for art.

Here are some contemporary photos of the sites by Iwan Baan (and a historical image of the future site of the Grand Traiano Complex), including the introductory quotes from the exhibition:

The Olympic Sculpture Park (USA)

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“The Olympic Sculpture Park transforms the last parcel of downtown waterfront, a brownfield, into a visionary space that embraces the energy of urban Seattle and offers contemplative natural and artistic beauty for all to enjoy.”—Mimi Gardner Gates, former Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director, Seattle Art Museum. The Olympic Sculpture Park was previously the site of an oil storage depot.

Stiftung Insel Hombroich (Germany)

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“Hombroich is not only a question of building. It is a question of the architecture of life, a question of structures, and the meaning of all forms of life.”—Karl-Heinrich Müller, Art Collector and Founder, Stiftung Insel Hombroich. The Raketenstation Hombroich was a NATO missile site until the end of the Cold War.

Benesse Art Site Naoshima (Japan)

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“To encourage young people to come and see contemporary art on Naoshima, it is important to offer them positive experiences that are not ordinarily available in the city.”—Soichiro Fukutake, Director, Benesse Art Site Naoshima. Naoshima and neighboring islands have been used for heavy industrial purposes including, on Inujima, copper refining.

Instituto Inhotim (Brazil)

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“Children can’t learn between four walls. Sometimes museums only want to buy very intellectual pieces of art but people want to see things that spur their curiosity and interact with everything.”—Bernardo Paz, Art Collector and Founder, Instituto Inhotim. The reworking of the site at Inhotim, a former farmstead, was loosely based on proposals by Roberto Burle Marx, Brazil’s greatest landscape architect.

Jardín Botánico de Culiacán (Mexico)

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“…visitors to the Botanical Garden will enter the experience of the garden itself with its natural charms, and will have an unexpected contact with contemporary art, which is almost non-existent in Culiácan. This will open their minds and generate interest.”—Agustín Coppel, Art Collector and Patron, Jardín Botánico de Culiacán. Culiácan’s Jardín Botánico is currently being revitalized to incorporate contemporary art and to embrace environmentally sustainable practices.

Grand Traiano Art Complex (Italy)

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“Contemporary art is a very engaging, vibrant scene. It’s an important platform for the development of creativity, innovation, so it has a very important social role.”—Pierpaolo Barzan, Founder, Depart Foundation, Grand Traiano Art Complex. The Grand Traiano property, containing a former hotel and several incomplete buildings, will soon be a venue for contemporary art and creative industries.

Art of the Post-It


Visitors getting creative at the Natural History activity station

BACKGROUND

Carnegie Museum of Art shares its historic building with Carnegie Museum of Natural History. While these are two entirely distinct museums with separate staffs, boards, and programs, for many Pittsburghers the sprawling building we occupy is simply “The Museum” where one can see paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, prints, drawings, and contemporary art installations, as well as mummies, bugs, butterflies, dinosaurs, and dioramas representing diverse aspects of the natural world (all for one price of admission!).

The Forum Gallery is an art museum space located just off the entrance lobby shared by the two museums. Typically this gallery is dedicated to small, changing exhibitions of contemporary art. Most recently, our curator of contemporary art Dan Byers installed an exhibition in this gallery of art from our permanent collection on the theme of nature that he titled Natural History, making a purposeful play on our sister institution’s name. We took this opportunity to push our interest in participatory engagement and to collaborate with our colleagues in the Museum of Natural History to address the important topic of art and science as two ways of exploring the world.

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CHALLENGE

Carnegie Museum of Art director Lynn Zelevansky challenged us to find a way to overcome a major practical problem with the Forum Gallery space: how to get visitors to enter a gallery that is often obscured by a large wall that blocks the light from the large lobby windows nearby. We also wanted to:

  • Inspire visitors to engage in active looking: notice, reflect, react, and respond to the works of art and to the interdisciplinary quality of the exhibition.
  • Reassert the “forum” aspect of the Forum Gallery by motivating visitors to share their own ideas and interpretations of the artwork with other visitors in physical and virtual formats. This coincides with the identification of 20- and 30-year-olds as an audience targeted for growth in attendance.

What could we put in the lobby just outside the gallery to:

  • Capture the attention of visitors and alert them to the exhibition behind the wall?
  • Offer something fun and appealing to do that required entering the exhibition?
  • Inspire visitors to look, think, and respond actively to the works on view?

SOLUTION: POST-IT NOTES? YES.

We wondered how to bring their reactions of the artworks from the gallery to the activity space in the lobby, and offer visitors some control over their interactions with the artworks. We decided to select 12 individual works of art from the exhibition, reproduce them as 2.5 x 2.5-inch post-it notes, and attach a stack of the small reproductions on the wall next to each related original work. (Who doesn’t like a mini version of something?)

Post-it note reproductions of works by: Mel Bochner, Paul Thek, Katy Grannan, Beatriz Milhazes, Ed Ruscha, Valeska Soares, Fischli & Weiss, Laura Owens, James Welling, Carsten Höller, John Divola, and Florian Maier-Aichen

The post-its would be used as the source material for visitors’ creative responses, allowing them to get their hands on the images—manipulating and modifying the works into something new. The activity was facilitated by the activity station set up in the lobby just outside the gallery. There, visitors encountered a large table with a long horizontal display board featuring a call to action at the top:

A friendly museum educator stood near the table to greet curious visitors; offer them one of five prompt sheets, a clip board, and colored pencils; and invite them into the gallery to begin their exploration. In the gallery, visitors enjoyed the art and selected one or more post-it reproductions and “curated” their arrangement on their prompt sheets adding captions, drawings, narrative…whatever the works of art inspired.

We tested five versions of the prompt sheets—some with instructions focused to the subject of the exhibition (artists’ takes on nature), others with more open-ended instructions designed to encourage a broader range of responses.

Below are some examples of the various prompt sheets and the kinds of responses we received. (You can also see more examples on our Facebook page.)

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We posted completed prompt sheets on the display board with magnets and eventually provided stars and thumbs-up magnets for visitors who preferred responding to the work of other visitors to doing one themselves. We continually posted new completed sheets on our Facebook page and encouraged visitors to post them on their personal social media pages. In addition to the display board of recently completed sheets, we collected older sheets in two large binders for visitors to flip through, and placed one in the gallery and another at the table.

Our colleagues in the Museum of Natural History were eager collaborators. Together we identified locations in their galleries that resonated with the 12 focus works in the Forum exhibition. The scientific staff wrote and installed label texts in their galleries about the works of art from their perspectives. We provided a guide to these locations for visitors at the activity table.

Curator Dan Byers speaking at the Culture Club event for the exhibition

The exhibition was also the focus of one of our monthly Culture Club programs. After a short happy hour, Natural History museum staff joined artists and scientists from the community in lively gallery conversation about art and science with our curator and the public, and some completed activity sheets that were available at the station.

VISITOR TESTIMONIALS

Over the weeks of the exhibition, visitors jotted down comments in a notebook at the activity table. Here are some samples:

“Awesome idea, super interactive—engaging!”

“It is great to feel more of a part of the museum!”

“All the artworks should have stickies.”

“This was transformational! Thank you so much! I hope more museums do things like this. How wonderful to be able to respond to art, to peruse and then participate instead of just keeping it all inside!!”—An English teacher

“It is a very great way for kids to connect art & nature…however it was a bit difficult for a 6-year-old to understand. (She did it anyway.) How about break it down for younger children?”

“What a wonderful resource for classes.”—A University of Pittsburgh professor

“People who did the responses are older than I expected.”—A college student

“I really like the post-its. I’m surprised I haven’t seen something like this in other museums.”

“I like that the art response of an 8 y.o. and the response of a 38 y.o. are so similar.”
—A college student

“We loved the post-it sticker idea, that way we can still share the artwork at home.”
—A mom & 2 small kids

“Great exhibit….post-it notes are great for children to participate and remember.”

LEARNING

  1. The post-it activity achieved our goals of getting visitors past the wall and into the gallery in huge numbers.
  2. Visitors really looked at and responded to the art. The completed sheets reveal incredible thoughtfulness, humor, and creative invention from visitors of all ages. We had very few “throw away” results.
  3. The variety of creative responses we received reflect the myriad perspectives of visitors to our interdisciplinary institution.
  4. We needed more display space for visitors’ finished sheets and space to group completed sheets to better facilitate rating and commenting by other visitors. Although visitors of all ages participated, a special “kids’ corner” on the display board would have communicated more easily that both adults and kids were welcome to participate.
  5. Some of the prompts were more successful than others, and some people used the sheets in completely independent ways, ignoring the prompt entirely. A few didn’t even incorporate the post-its (not that this is a bad thing). The “On the Edge” activity, which encouraged visitors to extend the images on the post-its beyond the frame was by far the most  popular prompt. Many attracted to this prompt even connected separate works into a single composition. Also, a couple of the prompts were too similar, as visitors generally used them in the same way.
  6. Overwhelmingly visitors wanted a post-it reproduction of every work in the exhibition.
  7. Going forward we need better technology solutions on-site to help visitors and staff share responses as they are happening. We collected, scanned, and posted completed sheets to the museum website and Facebook page, and knowing that the sheets would be posted online was a motivator especially for 20- to 30-year-olds. We needed a way for visitors to share their work immediately on their own social media sites. Smartphone images didn’t read well given the limitations of screen size and the legibility of the artists’ writings and drawings.
  8. It would be good to have a way to gather metrics or track how (and if) visitors are sharing their creations on their own social media channels.
  9. Having the completed sheets attached to the specific artworks that motivated the visitors provides a clear context for the various interpretations and insights that will survive long after the exhibition is gone.

QUESTIONS

Overall we are happy with the results of this experiment, and we are busy thinking about some of the issues and opportunities related to this activity going forward—but we’d also love to hear from you. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please send me a note!: russellm@carnegiemuseums.org.

  • We’re curious about the sustainability of the post-its. How important is the novelty of the concept, or could we repeat this activity?
  • Would it work without full-time staff support? If we changed the public display part could we make this an activity visitors can understand on their own? Was the chance to talk with the staff member a crucial visitor engagement connection?
  • What questions or suggestions occur to you?

__________

A LITTLE QR CODE EXPERIMENT

One of the works from the exhibition, Mel Bochner’s Measurement: Plant (Palm), was displayed just outside the gallery entrance, close to the post-it activity table. This conceptual work consists of a live palm tree situated in front of a wall grid measuring the plant’s (gradually changing) height and width in feet. During the exhibition we noticed that visitors and staff were taking their pictures near the palm tree, ostensibly to compare their height to the palm tree. We thought this might be a good opportunity to see if visitors would be interested in sharing their photos via social media.

Just below the object label we added a separate label with a basic call to action asking visitors to post their photos on our Facebook page.

The staff at the activity table asked visitors to share their photos. The label included the URL of our Facebook page as well as a QR code that simply led to the page to help save visitors time searching for us (in theory). While we did continue to see many people take photos of themselves and friends by the Bochner work, most did not share the photos with us online. Maybe it’s because the process required help from a friend or a nearby staff member from the activity to take a photo of the visitor? Maybe the tone or design of the label itself wasn’t noticeable or compelling enough? Maybe the QR code was a turnoff since it wasn’t really offering any additional content, and since most phones don’t even have QR scanners as a native app. In hindsight, scanning a code probably isn’t any easier than simply searching for our page or entering the URL. If we’re asking them to take the time to scan a code, there’d better be a good reason—lesson learned!

Still, we did get enough photos of visitors and some staff members to possibly beguile you with this animated gif:

More on QR codes in museums: Nina Simon | Claire Ross and Chris Speed at MuseumNextBrooklyn Museum

Interview with Cory Arcangel


Cory Arcangel: Masters opens this weekend—check out this video where Cory and I talk about his newest work, The AUDMCRS Underground Dance Music Collection of Recorded Sound, a collection of over 800 techno LPs, available for listening on turntables in the Carnegie Library in Oakland.

A choice selection of video works of the last ten years will be on view in the museum, including the film Dazed and Confused, re-dubbed by phone bank operators from Bangalore; a supercut video of cats playing the piano; and the now almost-famous modified Super Mario Brothers video game.

Cory will be here at the museum for a live performative artist talk called Selected Single Channel Videos this Friday November 2, 2012 at 6:30 pm. And the best part, its FREE!

 

 

Installing the Modern World


Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs, 1851–1939 is officially on view at Carnegie Museum of Art. The exhibition is a massive undertaking, the largest exhibition of decorative arts and design at the museum in nearly a decade. We’ve received a number of queries as to how we actually did it.

While some may say it takes a village to mount an exhibition like Inventing the Modern World, in this case it took more of a sprawling urban center. We owe thanks to a large network of talented individuals—including our colleagues in the Exhibitions, Registrars, Conservation, Publications, and Technology Initiatives departments, our skilled professional art handlers, our generous co-organizers at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and a host of dedicated outside contractors—all of whom were truly invested in creating this knockout exhibition.

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Co-organized by the Carnegie Museum of Art and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (NAMA), the genesis of the exhibition extends back more than a decade. When chief curator Jason Busch and NAMA curator Catherine Futter were researching the topic over the last four years, they traveled across the globe on multiple trips, scouring museum collections for the most stylistically and technologically innovative objects exhibited at the fairs between 1851, the first international exhibition in London, and the 1939 New York World’s Fair. With such a large number of examples to choose from, each object had to earn its space on the exhibition checklist. (See some of the highlights.) We worked hard to secure loans, negotiating with museums and private collectors on shipping, insurance, and display requirements.

Once the checklist was finalized, comprising nearly 200 objects from 45 lenders across the globe, it was time to start thinking about the layout for our venue. Jason and I worked with NAMA exhibition designer Amanda Ramirez for nearly a year to plan the layout and design of the show. At the same time, we were working with our Publications department to finalize the exhibition catalogue and beginning to compose the 200+ wall labels and text panels for the exhibition.

Sample elevations and floorplan of the exhibition’s entry gallery

For a show that was more than a decade in the making, we had only seven exhilarating weeks to deinstall the previous exhibition, prepare the galleries for construction, build new walls and platforms, paint, and install exhibition furniture as well as 238 objects—all while primping the galleries with final touches for opening weekend. Here’s a peek at what we’ve been up to leading up to the exhibition opening.

Weeks 1–2: Once the previous exhibition was deinstalled, it was time to clean the galleries and prepare for new construction. The space transformed quickly as the fantastic crew from Giffin Interior & Fixture Inc. began building new walls, bringing in custom platforms, and painting the galleries.

Week 3: We continued to build and paint walls and lay out furniture platforms as the custom-built exhibition casework began to arrive. With the assistance of Bob Tolnai, fabrication technician at NAMA, the casework was placed and the galleries started to look more and more like an exhibition space. Decorative features such as fabric treatments to evoke bunting from the 1851 Crystal Palace, vinyl graphics including one modeled after Siegfried Bing’s Art Nouveau at the 1900 Paris fair, and photo blow-ups of fair displays were installed to provide visitors with context. Our 2-D plan was starting to become reality!

Weeks 4–6: This is when the real fun began. Truck shipments full of crates containing artwork arrived. Curatorial staff, art handlers, and registrars worked alongside a special team from NAMA (associate registrar Jill Kohler, conservator Joe Rogers, and registrar Janet Hawkins) to unpack and condition report all objects prior to installation, making sure they arrived in the exact same state in which they left Kansas City. Small objects were installed in vitrines while larger artworks were placed on platforms as the exhibition truly started to develop.

Week 7: The galleries were ready for the finishing touches. Two-dimensional artworks were hung, along with didactic panels. Vinyl quotations were applied to the walls and platform and wall labels were installed. After one last final cleaning of the galleries, the exhibition was ready to open!

I hope you’ve had a chance to visit Inventing the Modern World during its opening week, and if not, we hope to see you in the galleries soon!

 

 

New Hire: David D’Agostino


What is your official title, and what are some of your general responsibilities? 

My official title is Multimedia Producer. It is my responsibility to document significant and seemingly insignificant time-based events, people, happenings, etc., that exist inside and outside the Carnegie Museum of Art, by means of digital and analog technology. It is then my job to archive, and edit this documentation into informative and compelling stories. I collaborate closely with my talented supervisor, Jeffrey Inscho, Web & Digital Media Manager, to figure out the best media outlet to present each documented event or story.  Much of the content created will be edited into short form documentaries or “vlogs” to be presented on our newly redesigned website in addition to multimedia gallery interactives. For example, I just produced a focus piece called Pianoforte (below) which takes a closer look at one of the many fascinating objects in the recently opened show, Inventing the Modern World, Decorative Arts in the World’s Fairs 1851–1939. I had the great pleasure to interview and follow the extremely passionate co-curator of the exhibition, Jason T. Busch, who gives us a more in-depth look at the history of the surprising materials that comprise this mostly papier-mâché piano.

In just the past 10 years, digital media has advanced to the point where we can shoot and edit a professional broadcast quality film in a matter of hours. In the past, a five-minute film required at a least a 3-person crew and big lights and a budget out of the reach of most non-profits. Another problem was where to show it. Now, if a visiting artist comes to the museum, I can fit everything into a backpack set-up and interview them in an hour and have it edited and up on our website by lunch time (well, in theory!). What would have been an out-of-house investment is now an efficient in-house department. Of course with this comes my most important responsibility—restraint. All I have to do is step outside my office to find a story. My first day here involved baby tarantulas, free hot dogs, and X-rays of secret paintings. I believe my job is to use new technology, not just for technology’s sake, but as a tool to gently break down the walls created by museums in the first place—to give a voice to the conservators, the custodians, the curators, the directors, and to the culture and people of Pittsburgh.

What were you doing before joining us at CMA?  

I was producing a feature documentary (still in production) about a man who truly believes it is his divine calling to gather 144,000 chosen homosexuals, specifically “Bears,” to leave this earth on Dec. 21, 2012, to escape Tribulation and ascend  to heaven upon the return of a homosexual Jesus Christ.  I’ll be taking that day off.

What’s your favorite exhibition that you saw this past year?

I really enjoyed the Paul Thek show here at the museum. Whether or not we “like” an artist, it always gives us a new appreciation to see a retrospective of their work in chronological order. In this case I went backwards… But the show gave me such a clear idea the development of the artist and how he came to arrive at a certain aesthetic. The show gently integrated his personal biography in a way that did not distract from the work but brought me closer to it. The curator did a great job of connecting me to individual pieces by Thek that I would previously have walked right by. Honestly I went into the show wearing my usual cynical coat of arms saying something dismissive like, eh kinda goth, but I left the show feeling naked and inspired. It’s probably one of the best shows I have ever been to and I gained a new favorite artist as a result. Of course there are always some underdog curators out there curating shows of underdog artists. Sometimes those are good.

If you could steal one artwork from our collection, what would it be?

I would Never!… But if I had to…. Probably the Pterodactyl over in Natural History. I’d mount it on the roof of my house in Swissvale as a sort of warning to my neighbors, because my dog is useless as a guard dog.

Describe Pittsburgh in five words or less.

Other city of brotherly love.

Favorite timewasters? 

You said timewasters right?  Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Gooskie’s of Polish Hill, but never at the same time….

Any personal projects you’d like to share?  

I am happily getting married to Michelle C. Fried in November.