On September 28th, I was able to take advantage of class being cancelled as I happened upon the Keeper Exhibit at the New Museum which had been extended for a few days.
The New Museum began as an idea in the mind of founding Director Marcia Tucker. As a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art from 1967 through 1976, Tucker observed firsthand that new work by living artists was not easily assimilated into the conventional exhibition and collection structure of the traditional art museum (New Museum, 2016).
The New Museum has evolved into a rotating gallery-esque space that operates within museum-esque wall. While they continue to display mostly contemporary work, they also showcase alternative forms of artwork and feature artists that are lesser known.
The Keeper exhibit focused on collections of all types and the people behind them. The main focus of the exhibit was a huge collection of over 3000 images of people with their teddy bears. The gallery space was specifically built out to house all of the images. A widow’s walk brings you to a second level of images that are frame to frame on the wall. Readable materials, bears, and additional ephemera were housed in victorian style glass and wood cases in the centers of each room.
This space worked well for browsing slowing in a relatively empty space, but I can imagine it being overwhelming if the room were crowded. Because of the height of the ceiling and the amount of metal (circular staircases and metal scaffolding for the widows walk) sound traveled quickly, and when a few people walked in on cell phones it was very distracting. Luckily the security staff asked them to move into the stairwell to finish their conversation.
The security staff at the New Museum is great! I had so many great and hilarious conversations with them about the artwork. It is obvious to me that they love being there and being able to soak in the work as much as the museums’ visitors do.
There is an audio guide that is available via headset or neck loop. The material of the audio guide can also be accessed from the New Museum’s website via a smart phone. The content of the audio guide matches the descriptions of the artists and their process that is written on the walls. The audio guide walks you through the gallery spaces describing the artwork in great detail. I accessed the audio guide from my phone and found it to be very helpful. I often that at the New Museum the display of artist information on the walls tends to lead to a lot of people crowding around a small space, and I always wind up feeling like I’m in the way and moving on before I finish reading. Their descriptions are very well thorough and thought out, so I felt grateful to be able to listen to it while walking through the gallery space.
I definitely noticed people reading the wall plaques which doesn’t always happen in
museums. I have consistently noticed that this happens at the New Museum. I’m not sure if its due to the content of the work that they carry that draws people to wanting to learn more, perhaps it’s both. The amount of description and background they include in their
explanations of the work remind me of taking an art history course. The information is concise and very thought provoking. I always seem to find that the pieces that I love most are by artists that are somehow connected to theosophy and the occult. I once worked for a shop that had been part of Madame Blavatsky‘s apartment in Philadelphia, and it always leaves me with the feeling that she is trying to say hello and remind me of home.
For these exhibits there were very few interactives. It was definitely more of a quiet contemplation space. People move slowly through the gallery space reading all of the background and information on the pieces. Asking politely if they are allowed to photograph certain exhibits. I’m sure this would look very different on a busy weekend, but it felt nice to be in a museum of museum-goers.
There are very clear markers on wall displays for pieces that can not be photographed, but no marker for things that can which leads to some confusion. The space was so visually appealing it was very hard not to want to photograph everything.
One thing I did notice about one of the projection displays within the museum was that there wasn’t anywhere to sit or stand comfortably to watch the videos without being in the way, or right next to the stairwell. Another projection on the other side of the same floor had two benches and a little more room to stand without being in the way. Maybe this was just an issue of space that the one video was jilted.
The layout of the museum caters to a line of movement. You either get off of the elevator and work your way around back to the stairs, or take the stairs and work your way back to the elevator. I like this back and forth movement. It allows for the galleries to be organized in a forward or backward path so that you never feel like there is a designated beginning or end.
Overall, the New Museum does a great job of creating an inviting, thought provoking, and accessible space.