Friday, August 9, 2013

Museum Spaces

I'm in Detroit with my family this week, and while we're here we will be visiting one of favorite museums, the Detroit Institute of Arts.  And we will certainly make a point of visiting the amazing Rivera Court that features the frescoes of Detroit's industrial heritage created by Diego Rivera in the 1930's.

I've been thinking about the power of museum spaces a lot over the past few months, especially since experiencing Rain Room at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in NYC, and, most recently, James Turrell's lightwork, called Aten Reign, that now inhabits the entire central core of the Guggenheim Museum.

In all three cases (Rivera's murals, Rain Room, and Turrell's Aten Reign) there's something really special, maybe even essential or magical, about the combination of the art+physical environment.

When you come into Rain Room, or Rivera Court, or the transformed Guggenheim rotunda, it's like entering a church or sacred space.  You can see people's body language change, and the sound level change as well --- everyone realizes intuitively that they're in for something special.  And, even if they come alone, that the experience will ultimately be a shared/social one.

This powerful combination of aesthetic and architectural and social elements plays out in the artwork of Olafur Eliasson and theatrical installations like "Sleep No More" as well.  (As an aside, there's a great article about the effects of Turrell's Guggenheim installation on visitors here.)

In the age of omnipresent electronic screens, I think we underestimate this aesthetic/architectural/social power a bit.  How can we leverage museum spaces to become more interesting (and welcoming!) to communities that normally don't think of visiting museums?  It's an interesting and continuing challenge for all of us in the field.

But if you look at the folks who waited in line for hours to get inside Rain Room, you know there's something important to pay attention to there.

What are some of your favorite Museum Spaces? Let us know in the "Comments" section below!

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