Wow! What a week: 9 museums, 100,793 steps, and just over 700 photos taken. My head is still swimming with all the exciting highlight objects of the week and the information learned from our amazing speakers and museum staff presenters. During this week, perhaps since I am a first time visitor to the museums, I find myself comparing my experiences and the staff(s) approaches to their audience and exhibits. Today, I compared my visit to the National Gallery of Art (NGA) and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM).
At the National Gallery of Art, we learned that this particular institution would be considered more ‘conservative.’ For example, the museum has made big leaps with their addition of more visible wall text and allowing visitors to take pictures. I was a little surprised to hear this especially after noticing the wall text stating that the NGA welcomes photos. I thoroughly enjoyed the walkthrough by the curator of modern art and had a deeper appreciation for the exhibits afterwards. But, thinking about our seminar theme, I think the exhibits fall short of conveying the stories envisioned by the curator through the galleries. It was pointed out that the art pieces, in a way, “talk” to each other yet there is no mention of that due to the limited text. I wondered why not have a tombstone connecting two paintings with the same location and within the same time period. I would argue that visitors would need prior knowledge and a certain education background to make the connections. As a visitor without a certain comfort in museums, I think I would this museum intimidating. This is a classic Art Museum. I would love to dig deeper on why there is this resistant to the stories to connect to visitors. I do not think I am convinced that the general museum visitor does not connect on their own.
On the other hand, the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum are art museums looking to draw more people in. The NGA has the luxury of being a ‘new’ building with a newly curated exhibits to draw people in. From our guide, I learned the institutions want to keep their museum open later, eliminated bag checks to appear more welcoming, and holds evening programming. I had noticed they had some texts translated into Spanish. It felt like the institution needed to draw in more visitors and were figuring out ways to do that by being more welcoming and accommodating.
I thought it was interesting to see the different mindsets/approaches within the art museum community. I would be interested to track how the NGA does after its ‘newness’ wears off. Will they need to change their approach to stay relevant? Or will keeping with the same model work?
I’ll add that even though I’m thinking critically of the NGA. I thought the gallery spaces, staircases, and building itself were BEAUTIFUL. I’ll end with my favorite exhibit space at the NGA. I thought it was the best way to capture Calder’s work (along with others, I believe) – light, airy, and emphasizes the whimsical.