The Online Contextualization of Museum Exhibits
by Ioana Literat — University of Southern California
March 01, 2012 – 00:00
The website for a museum exhibition is a valuable tool in helping to orient and attract the visitor, but it generally represents only a sneak peek at the actual show, and includes, as a teaser, only a few of the (best) works on display. Is there a point, however, when this online experience ceases to be merely a “sneak peek” and ends up revealing too much? Within the quintessentially subjective, sensory-based realms of artistic appreciation, can museum websites ever be guilty of artistic TMI: just too much information?
The clip on the left represents a video tour of the official website of Talk to Me, a recent design exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. The show, which ran from July to November 2011, is centered on the communication between humans and technologies, and presents an intriguing array of interactive technologies, innovative interfaces and postmodern design projects.
However, the exhibition’s corresponding website left little to be discovered upon an actual visit. Interestingly, the website chooses to spotlight not only a few selected works, but all of the 194 designs that make up the exhibition. Each individual exhibit has a separate page, which includes a written description of the work, and a series of videos and images that explicate and contextualize it. These multimedia elements are missing from the actual museum space, although, given the interactive nature of these exhibits, they are integral to the understanding and appreciation of each artwork. In this way, the website allows the visitor to better understand and assess the artworks, by seeing them “in action”: the images and video demos are able to contextualize these projects in a way that a conventional museum exhibition cannot; within the gallery walls, these dynamic objects are frozen, silent, and seem stuck – a lifeless simulacrum of a larger conceptual impetus.
Since the website is so excellent and comprehensive, I wonder if, in a sense, it displaces the localized experience of seeing this exhibition in person. Can it unwittingly dissuade museum-goers from paying it a visit by revealing too much? Or, for those that do decide to follow up and visit the MOMA, does the physical, localized experience feel like a disappointment? Can an art lover and museum aficionado forgive themselves for thinking, even for a brief little moment, that the online experience was more fulfilling than the real thing?