Inclusive Museum, Exclusive Curating, and Distant Audience in the Contemporary Art World: a challenge possible to be resolved in the Digital Age?


Shuchen Wang, Aalto University, Finland

Conventionally being placed on the pyramid top of cultural heritage institutions, the art museums were infamous in the previous decades to mediate and interpret ART to their audiences, if compare to the science centre. However, things seem to be changing, and even more so in the contemporary art field. A few years ago, Centre Pompidou, the contemporary art museum in Paris, deployed in-exhibition computer kiosk to encourage visitors instant-messaging with their online friends to share the visiting experiences. Last year, Kiasma, the contemporary art museums in Helsinki, hosted a conference entitled “It’s All Mediating” to discuss matters relating to art museum’s pedagogy and education. Now it is a common practice for art museums to run social media, employ mobile app, and participate the online commons. It seems that the museum focus has shifted from being object-centric to anthropocentric.

However, the communication stays one-way, however prosperous it may seem. Exhibitions are often un-signed still. Visitor’s feedbacks are gathered mainly to proof the popularity of the exhibition. The curating process stays opaque and exclusive. Under the numerous hits of “Like”, visitors stay distant to the core of art discourse generated and produced in the process of exhibition curating, which is often confined between the artist and the curator, only. Is it possible that the visitor become participatory? At a time that the digital media technology has started to re-leverage the power of politics and economics, it may happen in the high cultural sphere as well. Three angles to look at the question are: obstacle, methodology, and impact.

To identify the obstacle, this paper will focus on the current situation of museum operation, e.g., how the exhibition is organised, the image right is governed, and social media are deployed. As to the methodology aspect, it is maybe insightful to learn from our cultural industry colleague, journalism, who is going through a huge transformation because the right of discourse grabbed feverously by the pubic in the time of Web 2.0. Crowdsourcing and participatory journalism may be an examples considered by the art curators. As the communication theorist said: “It is impossible to measure the impact of media”, we can look into the wiki spirit and foresee a better future. However, pitfalls shall be avoided. One discussed case of the experimenting contemporary art exhibitions with “open-curating” method reveals the challenge of “quality control”.

As museums now are keen to be broadly inclusive, social active, and community engaging, it may happen that cultural elites in the art museum ivory towers would incline to release the power of art discourse. More than ever, museums vigorously try to approach their visitors. They want to be social relevant, and they embrace the innovative media technology and expect it to be a magic tool. Perhaps the core is just to be transparent and engage the public right from the beginning of the show, the curating process.

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