We drove out of the city about two hours to get up to the museum. The drive was easy enough (coming home, another story and four hours…) and incredibly beautiful. Heading out of the metropolis and on the Taconic definitely gives you a good idea of what’s to come.
There is also an option to take the train up there, and a shuttle will take you out to the museum, which i would be interested to try in order to save some travel time coming home next time.
You can check in and buy your ticket at the café and bookstore, or at the entrance to the museum, which is not connected. The museum is built into an old Nabisco box printing factory. The outside is cold and unassuming, but opens into clear white, bright, and naturally lit gallery spaces.
The space reminded me of a grown up Pioneer Works, which seems an obvious connection as Beacon pioneered the transformation of industrial spaces into art spaces.
The art on display caters to people who are already familiar with the contemporary minimalist movement. There’s a lot to see, but also a lot a lot of space to contemplate. They offer quite a bit of seating and space to sit back and observe the work. I appreciated that. (I like to go to museums to write or meditate) It’s so welcoming to be able to sit in a relatively open space for a long time surrounded by beautiful or strange things.
The museum is also catering to groups of people who are already familiar with
museum etiquette. The signs with instructions for touching or not touching the work were hilariously tiny, and seemed to have only been placed to fulfill some legal obligation.
Although there weren’t any lively events happening on the day that we visited, I know that they offer programming for local students, dance performances, and other openings. I would be curious to see how the space feels with more people bustling about.
We interacted with a few of the guards and employees, but most of the visitors seemed content to give each other space to view the work; having small discussions with friends about various qualities, standing silently before moving on, shushing their kiddos, etc.
The space definitely caters to silence. The building is huge and echoes, so even though you might be in the building with 200 other people, it seemed rare to hear anyone talking.
Technology Field Observations
The museum does not offer any sort of tech accompaniment to your visit. Instead, posted under the name of each artist, they have these small white boxes filled with laminated sheets about each artist and the piece that you are viewing. It is not always explicitly clear which laminates go with which piece, but they draw out a little map so that you can orient yourself in space. I think the museum tends to cater to visitors who are already familiar with the artists and might already know whose work they are viewing, so the map isn’t prominent.
There are a few more interactive exhibits that incorporate technology, and they all seemed to be situated in the basement gallery space. Bruce Nauman’s studio videos were the most visually interactive pieces in the entire museum, but even then there wasn’t an ability to interact with cause and effect. You are just given multiple view points and the ability to enter into a space so as to feel that you are actually inside of his studio.
There is a timeline on the wall that outlines each sound that is heard throughout the piece, organized by camera angle, but that was the only assistance that was offered to anyone who is hard of hearing.
Potential Issues or Areas of Improvement
Accessibility is definitely an issue here. While they are making strides towards improving accessibility (there was a small group of curators walking through the museum discussing potential solutions to many of the problems that Drew and I were seeing), it seems that some of the issues in mobility come from the actual design of the pieces that are on display. The entrance to a few of the Serra pieces is intentionally designed so that you have to turn sideways and feel squeezed to enter, there’s no way to make that wheelchair accessible without sawing away part of the sculpture. Obviously, that’s not necessarily an issue that the museum can fix. Even a few of the Flavin pieces include spaces meant to make you feel intentionally claustrophobic, but, again, that’s on the artist, not on the museum.
I didn’t see any doors with a mechanized opener, as we arrived someone on crutches had to stop and ask us to open the door for him. I know it’s not required, but if you aren’t going to have someone posted at the doors to open and close them, you should provide another alternative to help people get inside.
The most obvious issue, to me, was accessibility for the blind. The museum does not offer an audio guide, and we were told “never will”. (heavy eye roll) I guess it’s not their thing… austerity above all else. I appreciate the aesthetic. I value its incredible cleanliness and blank white space. It’s an incredibly visually appealing space, and people have their phones out constantly. Why not create an audio app with a small map attached? (I get it, I get it… I’ve studied art history, but for the sake of this project…) Or at the very least, offer a set of laminated information cards in braille. We were told that if requested someone will walk around the museum with you and verbally explain what is in front of you, but that offering isn’t made clear, and I didn’t see any staff members that were set aside explicitly for that position. The cards that are on display are already very visually descriptive, it wouldn’t be difficult to translate that into braille, or to have someone record it word for word, and it wouldn’t need to be done very often as pieces in the museum tend to stay there for at least six months and many pieces are permanent.