Written by Jenny Lai:
I'm not kidding when I say New York City's museums are one of the main reasons why I live here. It's where I go to learn something new, to be quiet and reflective, to be alone or to be with friends, to be amazed. I never leave without feeling like they are the greatest treasures of this city. One time, I was meeting with singer Davóne Tines to talk about designing a jacket that would be inspired by a Kerry James Marshall painting. Then, we walked down the block to the MET and wound our way to the contemporary wing to see one of Kerry James Marshall's paintings in person for ourselves.
This is exactly what makes me feel incredibly lucky to live here, and one of the things I'm missing the most right now during the city shut down. So, I decided to go online with the question: How do we visit museums now?
I usually don't spend much time on museum websites, just long enough to check out their current exhibitions. This time, I took a deep dive in and discovered just which museums have the resources to and/or placed priority in developing their digital content and I've been incredible impressed by a few institutions. Of course, successful digital content is not just about what the words/images/video are, but how it's presented and how it's experienced by the viewer through a screen and touch pad. And I found some delightful solutions from museums! I am certainly not aware of everything that's out there - far from it - but I wanted to share a few of the findings I've been particularly joyous about, and I welcome you to leave comments to share your own discoveries!
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The MET has the most extensive and impressive collection of digital content that I found. Start here to get a comprehensive overview of what they offer.
This feature (the MET calls these "Primers") on artist Gerhard Richter includes mesmerizing up-close gifs of him sliding a giant squeegee across a canvas to create his paintings, a slideshow that shows every layer of a single painting he made, archival videos of him speaking about painting, and many other refreshing and creative ways of helping us engage with the artist.
The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art offers concise essays paired with works of art (gorgeous images from the MET's collection); you can easily search for any art topic you're interested in, or just browse the collection to see what catches your eye! Look at this three-cornered stone I found!
The MET also has an extensive collection of audio playlists about different galleries, exhibitions, and time periods. For my readers out there, they have five decades of artbooks/publications online, many of which are free to read and download! There are behind-the-scenes videos with conservators, tours of specific collections by artists and guests... What I've just listed is a drop in the bucket of what the MET has to offer online. Seriously, it is pretty wondrous. Go check it out.
Cooper Hewitt Design Museum
Although I don't visit the Cooper Hewitt as much as I'd like, every time I go, I'm reminded of how they singularly stand out in the way they incorporate technology and interactivity within the museum-going experience. The pen-tracking tool they give to every museum-goer allows you to save the details of items you liked in the exhibition, to be accessed online later. There are touch screens that allow you to create your own designs in real time, which are projected onto a screen or the entire room.
So how do I visit the Cooper Hewitt now?
Well, you have access to Smithsonian's 2.8 million 2D and 3D Open Access images, which is fantastic for research and education. Their blog features short and sweet reads (can also listen as audio!) on different works of design and this is really nice when you're in the mood for a small nugget of information - say, learning about the Sanitation Fairs of 1864 or textiles developed for Rodarte's fashion.
Cooper Hewitt also has a few "online exhibits," short and sweet highlights into objects and exhibitions, that I found to be very suitable for digital format. Sometimes, in museums, I just can't get close enough to the object I want to see ( I'm the kind of person that wants to press their nose right up against it). In these online exhibits, I found that I could see way more detail than I'd be able to in person and I think this is exactly what digital can do really well. Also, these online exhibits have a lovely rhythm to them, holding your hand and leading you through to look at different aspects as you scroll through on the pad.
The rest of their Blogs are just as worth looking through; I found their conservation stories about putting electronics through x-rays and researching dyed textiles through multiband imaging particularly fascinating.
At first glance, it appears MoMa doesn't have a very extensive digital offering. MoMa's digital content mostly live on their "Magazine", which contains excellent interviews and essays, though I find the organization to be not so conducive to highlighting these wonderful entries.
In fact, I was particularly impressed with MoMa's audio offerings:
You can access their exhibition audio captions where curators, artists, and guests speak about different collections, artworks, and themes.
I do particularly love their collection of audio called "Beyond the Uniform," where MoMa's security officers, many who are artists themselves, talk about particular works of art that speak to them. I think encouraging and sharing this diversity of perspectives is particularly important. Personally, I think MoMa's presentation of this content needs work, but I think these perspectives are really valuable and necessary.
The Way I See It is a newly launched radio series presented by BBC and MoMa where they speak with 30 creative thinkers from Es Devlin to Renee Fleming who choose a work from MoMa to speak about.
Through a little more digging, I found the following:
It's pretty awesome that MoMa has free coursera courses where you can better understand "Seeing through Photographs" or "Postwar Abstract Painting".
They also share something called "Salons" online, which is a part of MoMa's internal Research & Development. These salons, where Paola Antonelli invites multiple guests to present, are on topics as diverse as "Dogs" to "Anger" and "Angels". Looks fascinating! I think it's really wonderful that the general public actually has access to these internal presentations.
Leave a comment below if you have more to share about your favorite way to experience museums right now!