The Future of Museums in an Online World

by Rani Molla 11 months ago Filed Under: Design

With the likes of Google Art Project and the cooperation of museums worldwide, entire art collections are headed online to be perused in ways that are more comfortable, more accessible and sometimes more interesting than they can be in real life. These programs pose a severe warning to traditional museums to become more relevant. People now can view world’s art from home, so museums can no longer simply rest on their laurels. Like print, movies and other media, museums have to make a good case for why one should care to see their exhibitions instead of the digital alternatives.

After the Museum: The Home Front 2013, an exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design,  raises many questions about the future of the museum industrial complex, but stops short of declaring definite solutions.

“Permanent Loan” by Project Projects displays famous artworks that have been replicated as black-and-white reproductions or as 3-D printed objects. This exercise suggests the democratization of once singular objects wherein famous pieces aren’t bound to the museums in which the originals reside. Similarly, Keetra Dean Dixon and JK Keller’s “Museum As Manufacturer,” a tiny mass production line that would recreate art objects, wonders about a time in which authenticity is no longer necessary.

“On Display,” by Superscript, HAO and Neil Donnelly, is an evolving presentation of people’s comments on architecture and design. It questions how far the interactivity between artist and viewer will go. “Cavity” had Charlie O’Geen carve a hole into the museum’s wall, exploring the museum’s history but, more importantly, meditating on the museum space itself. Does the wall make the museum? How does that space contribute to one’s viewing of art?

Snarkitecture’s “Bend,” winding foam and vinyl furniture on which one is actually allowed to sit, suggests that museums of the future will be a lot less stuffy. (The title wall for the whole show encourages photography, which most museum guards don’t usually meet with approval.)

After the Museum raises the above issues because they’ll likely be a part of the conversation about the future of museums. The  challenge is to present artwork in ways that makes museumgoers go to the museum and not just stay home.

Heretofore, many efforts by museums to become more like interactive playplaces has seemed like an afterthought, too little too late. In the future, museum curators will need to make their exhibitions as fun and interesting as a BuzzFeed list — and ultimately (hopefully), more rewarding. They will need seamless mobile interactivity and compelling multimedia that is considered during the development of the exhibition, not after. They will also need  to focus on the museum as an experience — one that can’t be duplicated with jpegs.

Fortunately for museums they have a number of things the internet lacks: centralized governance, institutional backing (read: money), the bona fide art itself, and many smart people who know everything about it. They also have physical space in which the art can be explored, in its true scale and unpixelated glory. It’s time to capitalize on what can’t be found elsewhere.

After the Museum: The Home Front 2013
Museum of Art and Design
Through June 9

Photos by Rani Molla.

Rani Molla has a digital media master’s degree from Columbia Journalism School. She’s a journalism reader, writer, photographer, videographer, data visualizer and general doer. Follow her on Twitter