Thursday, January 14, 2010

Exhibit Design visits The Circus

Lions and Clowns and Acrobats, Oh My! I just finished the installation of an interactive children's art exhibition called "Under The Big Top" at the Nassau County Museum of Art. (Here's a Flickr set of some of the installation images.)

One thing I've been pondering about the "Under The Big Top" exhibition is how the inclusion of thematically-focused interactive components that require physical engagement (as well as a few exhibit installation "easter eggs") in a traditionally "hands-off" context, like an Art Museum, can, paradoxically, foster the types of behaviors (like careful observation and imaginative play) that we would like to see in every type of museum installation.

Two examples of interactive components from "Under The Big Top" that provide a nice intersection between the circus-themed works of art and an opportunity for visitors to experiment with artistic concepts like form and color are:

• Acrobat blocks
Here visitors get to create their own colorful patterns using these cleverly designed "acrobat blocks." A simple "circus ring" on the table adds to the opportunity for visitors to create wonderful sculptural forms in a "Big Top" context.

• Colorform Clowns
With this exhibit, visitors can experiment with form and color by putting "makeup" (actually cling vinyl nose, eye, and mouth shapes) on the mirrored clown faces.

There's also a cool little "easter egg" lighting effect that shows a shadowy version of the colorform clown faces reflected onto the floor in front of the Colorform Clowns exhibit as well.

All the exhibits in "Under The Big Top" are simple, low-tech (no tech!) and open-ended opportunities for visitors to engage with both Circus and Art themes.

And best of all, the activities leave visitors in a curious, observant mood that is a perfect complement to viewing works of art. (As opposed to bouncing around like pinballs --- which seems to be the effect many science center exhibits have on kids ...)

The experience of putting together the "Under The Big Top" show has made me think even more carefully about the exhibit design possibilities of coupling "hands-off" museum objects with related "hands-on" museum experiences.

What are your experiences with integrating hands-off with hands-on? Let us know in the "Comments" section below.

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