This past weekend we caught the Turner and the Masters exhibition at the Tate Britain before it closes at the end of this month. I liked it, there was some beautiful work on display (and ironically enough, I preferred the masters to Turner half of the time). And at the same time I am incredibly frustrated (and not just because we weren't very smart in going to the exhibit on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks before closing which meant that some paintings weren't visible because there were hordes of people looking at it).
I'm disappointed and frustrated because I think most exhibitions don't do enough to draw people in. Think of an interesting idea for an exhibit, do all the hard work to get the paintings together, commission text and images for the catalogue, set up the shop and order merchandise, add a section to the website, order the audio guide et presto. And mind you, that's a lot of work right there, a whole heck of a lot of work. But it ain't enough. Here's what I'd like to see happen:
- I want to be able to prepare more by listening to the audio guide beforehand (and I don't mind paying money for the file) and downloading it to my iPod
- I want to read more, and see more, about what I'm about to go see. Give me more background, put some of the catalogue up as pdf's, set up a wiki or point towards information I can use
- I want to read what other people thought of the exhibition and add my own thoughts, to help make future exhibitions better
- Why not enlist the visitors in creating a catalogue of the paintings? A good curator pulling together a great exhibition is great (and for instance, the current Sacred Made Real exhibition shows passion and care in how the curator put it together) but why not tap into your audience? They collectively know a lot and would love to share it methinks.
- Put the lectures/podcasts that accompany the exhibition online.
I have to admit that I think exhibition visitors, me included, are lazy. We hear about an exhibit, everyone else goes, we go, we see, we buy and walk away. If we're lucky we enjoy. And we might learn something. But that's it. It's time to reinvent museums and exhibitions. I've been reading on the museums of the future and done a bit of collecting of thoughts around this and I can't wait to put some of it in practice, and I know it'll all cost money but it's well worth it, I'll predict. Now, to find a museum who'll be the guinea pig (Tate, National Gallery are you listening?).