I don’t know about you, but I’ve been thoroughly enjoying National Geographic’s remake of Carl Sagan’s classic PBS series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980), which debuted in March of this year. The new version, called Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and presented by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, demonstrates the persistent fascination of outer space, that unfathomably immense expanse within which we float “like a moat of dust in the morning sky.” One of my favorite parts about show is that it zooms all the way out to the limits of the visible universe and then all the way back in to earthly bodies at the microscopic level, creating a sublime sense of interconnection and wonder, of the universe around and within us. Apparently I’m not the only one geeking out over Cosmos: the video for Symphony of Science’s song “A Glorious Dawn” featuring Sagan and Stephen Hawking has been viewed almost 9 million times. Continue reading
What is your official title, and what are some of your general responsibilities?
Marketing and communications manager. My main responsibility is to plan and implement initiatives to drive attendance and secure maximum visibility for CMOA exhibitions, programs, collections, and staff. This includes social media, advertising, and community outreach, among other things.
What were you doing before joining us at CMOA?
I was the marketing director for Brooklyn Philharmonic, commonly known as Brooklyn Phil. It was my first time working with a performing arts organization, and during my time there I got to work with some amazingly talented folks: Alan Pierson (Alarm Will Sound, Crash Ensemble), Mos Def, Royce Vavrek, David T. Little and Erykah Badu, just to name a few.
What’s your favorite exhibition that you saw this past year (at any museum/event)?
Ann Hamilton’s the event of a thread at Park Avenue Armory in NYC. It was so beautiful, I never wanted to leave!
If you could steal one artwork from our collection, what would it be?
Dem Unbekannten Maler (To the Unknown Painter) by Anselm Kiefer. It’s currently not on view, so…
What is your major source of inspiration?
OMG Cats in Space.
Five things you can’t live without?
My Kindle. My iTunes library. Coca-Cola. Paper. Pencil.
If you were a Crayola crayon, you would be:
Coach marks in version 2.0 help orient the user to app functionality.
Last October, we released the first version of the CMOA mobile app in conjunction with the opening of the 2013 Carnegie International. During the past few months, many people have been using the app both inside the museum and elsewhere, and we’ve been studying how these users have been interacting with it. We asked users what they liked, what they didn’t like, what was confusing, and how we could make the experience better. After compiling this user feedback, we began work on a fairly substantial update to the app. Earlier this week we released version 2.0 of CMOA for iOS and we’re really proud of it.
If you haven’t already installed the update, you can get it on the App Store.
Updates to version 2.0 include an element we’re calling coach marks. One of the most popular pieces of feedback we received from users was that they didn’t know how to dive right in with the app. Many users indicated there was a small learning curve. In order to mitigate this, we added a series of coach marks that orient new users with a quick overview when they launch the app for the first time. The coach marks also appear infrequently throughout the user session to highlight commonly overlooked features like artwork bookmarking or social sharing.
We also introduced the ability for users to enlarge the body font. This control is gesture-based: pinch out to enlarge, pinch closed to reduce. In addition to font size control, we added some other usability improvements and squashed some bugs.
The most substantial updates, however, have been incorporated on the back end and are (hopefully) invisible to users. Version 2.0 brings support for the museum’s permanent collection and also gives us the ability to add or remove temporary exhibitions as they open and close. Currently, the permanent collection content in the app is made up of artworks that fall into three subsets: Director’s Choice with audio commentary from Lynn Zelevansky, Impressionism at CMOA with commentary from associate curator of fine arts Amanda Zehnder, and a Staff Favorites section that highlights meaningful artworks from various employees across all four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. We will continue to develop and grow the available content in the coming weeks.
Go Ahead, Fork Us
Another back-end update invisible to most users is perhaps the biggest of all. As of today, we’ve made all the underlying code (for both the web-based CMS and the native iOS app) open source via GitHub. This means other institutions can freely use, adapt, extend, and repurpose (otherwise known in developer circles as forking) our source code for use in their own applications.
These are the first pieces of code the museum has contributed back to the open source community, and we’re excited about the possibility of contributing more in the future. For now though, we’d love to hear about how this code is being forked in other applications. If your institution is interested or has questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch via GitHub or more conventional methods.
Big thanks are again in order for Dimitry Bentsionov, who is the brains behind the code and has been instrumental in making this project a reality.
The Beijing Silvermine Project makes a strong case for the necessity to materialize photographic images as physical, tangible objects that exist in the world. Initiated by the French collector and editor Thomas Sauvin, this massive archive currently contains over half a million analog photographic negatives made by Beijing’s inhabitants, shot between 1985 and 2005. Salvaged from recycling plants in the periphery of the city, these discarded objects—35 mm analog color negatives blemished by time—have been renewed with a very different kind of life. The time frame itself is also a telling subtext: There’s the reforming and opening up of the economy and a marked shift towards a leisure class on the one hand, and the changing nature of the photographic medium from silver-based processes to the digital on the other hand.
That the trove of images is a poignant and truthful record of the collective experience of Beijing’s citizens is the obvious response. But what the project also insistently reminds us is that the physicalized photograph circulates in ways that are more unpredictable and surprising than their digital counterparts. The Beijing Silvermine photographs are more like vagabond drifters, accruing traces of experience throughout their passages, and through time and space. As the first law of thermodynamics states, physical things can be altered but not entirely destroyed. Had Sauvin not intervened on behalf of these photographic objects they would have been processed through chemical treatments so that the remnant silver nitrate could be extracted and used elsewhere.
Instead, these rescued images—including events such as births, weddings, and travel snapshots, to the more wondrously formal and accidental blurs and chance compositions—provide a collective lens to view an existent, self-contained universe peopled by a specific populace in a precise place that not only encapsulates life, but also all the varying forces that shape it.
Arthur Ou is assistant professor at Parsons The New School, and is one of the agents for the Hillman Photography Initiative. More info about the Initiative and this year’s upcoming programming will be announced very soon. All images in this post are courtesy of the Beijing Silvermine Project.
Conceptual art first came to widespread attention as the art of an information age dominated by communications, technology, and data during the 1960s and 70s. Indeed, the term “information art” is one of the many labels that Conceptual art attracted before consensus was reached on its name. As a watershed moment in the history of 20th-century art, Conceptual art occasioned new ways to think about what a work of art is, what an artist does, and how audiences respond to art. Most of these new ways of thinking had something to do with the activity of thinking itself, which Conceptual art prioritized as a core concern. “Idea art” is another name that circulated around this art as it first emerged. By placing less emphasis on the way art looks and more emphasis on the thought processes that go into and come out of it, Conceptual art deskilled the production of art objects and opened art both to unprecedented kinds of participation from viewers and to new contexts for its appearance in public.
In so doing, it also helped usher new mediums like video, performance, and installation into existence. Moreover, its artistic radicalism was in sync with radical political developments of the time, including the student movement of the 1960s, the New Left, and second-wave feminism. Outside of the United States, Conceptual art or something analogous to it arose more or less simultaneously around the world, and scholars now speak of a global conceptualism, which can be found not only in New York but further afield in Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Moscow, and beyond. Initially, the pioneering efforts of the dealer Seth Siegelaub, who showed the artists Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, and Lawrence Weiner at his New York gallery, attracted private collectors to Conceptual art. A few intrepid museums, most of them in New York, where the movement had its epicenter, were quick to follow. The Museum of Modern Art and the Jewish Museum mounted exhibitions of Conceptual art in 1970. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis gave a retrospective exhibition to the Conceptual artist Mario Merz in 1972 (well before his 2008 inclusion in Life on Mars: 55th Carnegie International). However, most museums, Carnegie Museum of Art included, were not so forward thinking at the time and, for reasons as diverse as the institutions are numerous, neglected Conceptual art.
Today, the museum possesses a strong and varied collection of Conceptual art, and artists working within the movement’s expansive legacy are frequent participants in the Carnegie International. For instance, the museum owns three of On Kawara’s date paintings, one each from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. These deceptively simple paintings are small monochromatic canvases save for Kawara’s inclusion of their date of creation on their surface. They stand as markers of time and of Kawara’s passage through it. The dates of these three—19 Jul. 68 (1968), Apr. 27, 1978 (1978), and Feb. 29, 1988 (1988)—correspond roughly to Conceptual art’s initial emergence, eventual dissipation, and first historical reassessment, but none entered the collection until 1991, when Kawara participated in the Carnegie International and won the Carnegie Prize. This retroactivity is indicative of how the museum has collected and exhibited Conceptual art. (There is, however, one noteworthy exception: Michelangelo Pistoletto and James Lee Byars, two artists frequently included in the ranks of Conceptual art, exhibited in the 1964 Carnegie International—before Conceptual art was identified as a movement.) The museum did not acquire work by a Conceptual artist until 1980 (a drawing by Sol LeWitt), and its first exhibition to prominently feature Conceptual artists was the 1985 Carnegie International. The first solo exhibition it dedicated to a Conceptual artist was held in 1989, when Marcel Broodthaers became the subject of a retrospective, and a work of his, Untitled (Les Portes du Musee) [The Doors of the Museum] (1968–1969), entered the collection in 1997.
Robert Bailey is assistant professor in the School of Art & Art History at the University of Oklahoma. He is writing a book about the Conceptual art collective Art & Language.