In Praise of the Kunsthalle/ pt. 2

In my last blog post I talked about the issues facing museums in the digital age and began to bring up the possibilities of the Kunsthalle as part of the solution. I first started thinking about these possibilities a while ago, and we are so lucky here in LA to see this happening already in the form of Pacific Standard Time. Art institutions are coming together to address the facets of a period of art production in a specific time and place, and we see through this collaboration the possibilities of utilizing the different museums and galleries and their individual qualities (some large, some small, some collecting institutions, some not, some offering products for sale, some non-profit, etc.) to fully engage the topic and to  meet the needs of a diverse viewership. In today’s follow-up, we’ll talk more about the specific topic of art experience and technology.

Several questions plague museums whose focus is not period specific but rather are trying to incorporate a wide variety of modern and old-master works. For instance, how do we display art that is theoretical and not object-focused, and how can we do this alongside and in-comparison-to object oriented works? The exhibitions space needs to be flexible and smaller with greater engagement of educators, and the ability to include text and other materials suitable to specifics objects while not imposing too much textuality on the inherent visuality of the works. Also, how can we allow art of the moment to interact with the great works? The need for engagement and knowledge of contemporary and living artists, art communication and conversations is imperative. At the same time, museums must have the ability and environment to preserve great works, and the financial and institutional wherewithal to borrow historic pieces. These two qualities are extremely difficult to bring together in one institution, some might say impossible, and really, were a single institution to attempt both, they most likely would be unable to maintain both missions simultaneously. Hence the need for collaboration between art spaces large and small with a variety of missions, I believe Los Angeles, especially with PST, is at the forefront of this kind of collaborative effort.

Additionally, how do we allow viewers greater control and the ability to interact with their environment while still emphasizing the object-hood of art works? Smaller and more exhibition-focused spaces can be manipulated and maneuvered in different ways by different viewers. The ability to converse and educate within the space is aided by fewer visitors as a time. Many large museums have established web interfaces to encourage individualized exploration of the collection, but relying solely on a web-presence diminishes the object-hood of the works. Institutions must allow the exhibition to be the focus, rather than the individual works, allowing the viewer to navigate based on a conceptual focus rather than on the traditional flow imposed by Cartesian works would encourage an individualized experience within the space itself. Unfortunately smaller exhibition spaces are often more focused on the commodification of the works, galleries, etc. and can’t have the same breadth of focus as traditional museums, therein lies the need for the Kunsthalle.

Alongside the object nature of works of art, ideally the museum supports a community of creators (of meaning as well as visual material) rather than purely imposing meaning on objects. The best museums encourage a community around the museum space. Events focused not only on the works and the exhibit, but also on aspects of the exhibit that will draw a diverse and engaged audience that will be able to and encouraged to share their varied expertise. Where are the limits and boundaries of art works? Can we engage science, anthropology, literature, film, cultural or linguistic theory? Viewers should be addressed as active participants in meaning rather than empty vials to be filled with knowledge from the all-hallowed canon of art history. This is a major break with the tradition of the museum but it is essential in today’s world. Meaning negotiation is a far more effective tool for community engagement than lay viewership. This is aided by exposure to works produced in a period of interactivity and extreme shared experience alongside works produced within an era of Cartesian perspective.

Can we do all of this in a way that is not overwhelming to the viewer and to the individual works? Again, the key here is to work on a smaller scale. The fewer objects that are directly in contact with one another, the more easily the viewer can make connections and meaning and the less likely it is that the works will conflict with one another as we move beyond the purely visual into areas of multi-sensory experience. This luxury of experience is only available when the museum’s mission moves beyond the collection and toward the community, and that can only be done in collaboration with smaller and less object-stagnated exhibitions spaces such as Kunsthalles. In our next installment we’ll discuss the Kunsthalle and it’s place in today’s interdisciplinary and interactive art world.


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