So yesterday I pit the Brooklyn Museum up against the mighty Cooper Hewitt. And what a day it was. First impressions of the Brookyn Museum were a little negative, their outside space is lovely, but the signs told me what wasn’t allowed, the fountain wasn’t accessible even when it’s as hot as the surface of the sun and a lovely growing for art project was imprisoned behind a fence.
But then I saw that families had gathered along with a special educational needs group and just the odd tourist type so I didn’t feel too much of an outsider. And when we stepped in the first experience is their Boombox exhibition, which pumps music across the foyer with the most amazing tinkered boomboxes you have ever seen. And I fell in love instantly.
Couple this with a ‘pay what you want’ ethos, friendly staff and a ground floor curated in a wonderful way, and I was pretty happy. The central room has grouped pieces together in three ways – by people, by places and by things. And they have used soft background images on the walls to give context to each. So rather than your brain overheat and switch off after the 9th oil painting in a row, you are kept cognitively agile as you keep returning to why these things are together. And it continues in the amazing African art collection. Items are grouped into 2 or 3 things that are connected, here there is Qur’anic writing board from Sudan and a 3 headed figure from DRC both linking into virtue. And there is a space where you can create connections between pieces as well, using chalkboards and images from the collection. Upstairs is more traditional and I couldn’t help but snap a pick of what must be the worlds oldest maths book. Up again to see Agitprop! And it was good to see space devoted to a very local debate about gentrification in Brooklyn. I then debated whether I would go into the sports photography exhibition as it’s not really my cup of tea. But I did, and it was gorgeous. Yet again, being brave paid off, disrupting my routine paid off. It works for individuals as well as organisations! But I haven’t even got round to the tech part yet. When you get in, and connect to the free wifi, you can download the app ASK the Brooklyn Museum. Then, when you have a question about any of the art you encounter, a team of experts downstairs will jump on it and use their knowledge, plus their growing wiki, to get you an answer. I watched them at work and was blown away by the resource that would give – a collection of the questions prompted by your collection. So that could in theory give insights into the relevance of your pieces, your interpretation, your experiences. Even no questions would tell you heaps about that area of the exhibition.
And it was onto my next stop, the Cooper Hewitt with the infamous ‘pen’. The building is intimidating, very grand but very beautiful. I am ashamed to admit how long it took me to find the entrance. I then waited to gain entry which takes a while as the spiel as to how to use the pen is fairly long. But it is very exciting to use – once you get the hang of it, there is a definite technique!
The exhibitions are exciting and diverse and having the ability to ‘collect’ the ones you really like with the pen is great. Then there are large multi touch screens where you can collect other objects or look at your collection and try your hand at using that as inspiration to design your own items. My snail inspired hat would make Philip Treacy smile I think. So there is a lot to like and the Pixar experience was great – very high quality paper and pens to try your own designs. But there was something lacking – only one person was truly friendly and helpful to me. Most staff appeared to be guarding the collection against us awful people, children were told to sit properly on stools and generally I felt watched and like an unwelcome guest. All this on top of me failing to make a connection with anyone there after weeks of trying difference avenues. It’s sad that something that could be so good, just didn’t quite make it.
But back to the tech involved. In both cases it didn’t have to be tech. But for the Ask app, maybe it’s easier to ask your phone rather than a person, after all we spend our whole lives asking Google now. And does getting your answer so easily reward diversified curiosity rather than the deeper epistemic curiosity we seek to inspire?
And the pen allows and rewards the use of the collection for inspiration. But the stylus is a little clumsy to use so it could be just a finger on the touchscreen or even paper and pencils and a scanner. In this case the pen has taken over the customer service role, which it doesn’t do very well.
So I guess it should be people first, tech later… Go to the Brooklyn Museum if you have the chance, it’s amazing.