Thursday, 17 July 2014

Sentences to ponder

I found this gem on Art Daily, describing an app that seems to allow you to, um, shuffle 52 images of pictures from an exhibition at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC, which should know better:
"uCurate allows visitors to design their version of Made in the USA and, like Duncan Phillips, create deeply personal displays of works that spark visual conversations", says Susan Behrends Frank, exhibition curator. "By making this technology available through a mobile app, the Phillips aims to increase our audience engagement, making interaction with the museum's American masterworks more accessible."
The idea that moving around some images on your iphone is somehow comparable to the formation of Duncan Phillips' sophisticated and personal art collection is just laughable. It's such a marvelous smorgasbord of silliness ... all the buzzwords and fashionable concerns mixed together in meaningless mush. That last sentence has interaction, engagement AND accessibility all together - what's not to like? And it's an app - how cool is that, kids? Oh, and we're curating. Curating is so hip these days; we're all our own curators on social media now. I know this is harmless fun that doesn't do any real damage, but what a monumental waste of time, and what a dreadful distraction from encouraging visitors actually to engage with the real works of art in the gallery. I don't know much about American art, but I bet the Phillips' curators (the real curators) know a great deal. I'd rather they spent their time sharing some of that knowledge with me rather than fobbing me off with silly games.

I've long loved the Phillips, and I'd like to believe that this is all said with tongue firmly in cheek. I suspect that Susan Behrends Frank needs to be seen to be saying the right things, and has come out with this splendid parody as a way of maintaining self-respect.

But there is a horrible possibility that she means it.


  1. Shudder. The one type of engagement museums seem to refuse to acknowledge is simply looking at art for a good long time. Something that is infinitely more engaging than fiddling with an app.

    Also I take issue that something requiring a relatively pricey piece of technology (especially if the app is only for the more expensive iPhone) makes something more accessible.

    More easily quantifiable maybe? Easier to get impressive stats as you count everyone who fiddles with it for a few seconds as someone who has 'engaged'?

    1. So true. I do wonder why people go into museum work if what they really want to do is play with technology. And there are so many brilliant art historians who can't get jobs!