Monday, August 07, 2006

Gallery Guides at the Guggenheim

The New York Times had an article yesterday about the Guggenheim Museum's gallery guides -- people whose job it is not to guide tours, but to hang around and engage people with the art. It's a great idea, especially when the art isn't engaging.

“Some people are really angry at contemporary art,” said Alison Stephen, one of the museum's eight guides. “Modern art baffles,’ said Jim Fultz, another guide. “It alienates. It frustrates. But part of what we do is make them feel comfortable with it. A lot of people are afraid to ask questions. They don’t want to seem dumb about something they already feel is elitist.”

What the guides do is talk to people about the art and as another guide said, convince visitors to slow down and take a better look at art:
“At the [Daniel] Buren ["Eye of the Storm"] exhibition the European tourists were like, ‘Where’s the artwork?’ ” said Dan Tsai, a 24-year-old with a philosophy degree who has been a guide for a year and a half. “Some of them got angry and wanted a refund. I said: ‘Slow down here. Besides seeing your reflection in these mirrors, what else do you see?’ ”
Yeah, I still might want a refund -- taking a closer look doesn't always make the art more interesting, but it's a start. The key is that the museum has decided to work to become more “visitor-centered rather than object-centered.” That's essential if museums like the Guggenheim want to flourish, much less survive.



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