From spectator to participant: artist commentary on museum experience

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Zachary Alexander Rogers (Creator)
Western Carolina University (WCU )
Web Site:
Morgan Kennedy

Abstract: As traditional museum dynamics have shifted from primarily visual engagement with artifacts to a multisensory experience, the interaction between the viewer and the object has changed. On the part of museums, the goal has been to move away from previous conceptions of the institution as an elite environment where touching was forbidden and people spoke in whispers to an inclusive place of exploration and discovery. This has opened up possibilities for more active engagement with the objects, which has encouraged the visitor to become a participant, rather than a spectator. Artists have become increasingly interested in the changing practices of the museum. By incorporating in their work the traditional methods used by museums for archiving, display, and storage, artists such as Hamilton’s Between Taxonomy and Communion (1990) and Toren’s Safety Regulation Painting No. 10 (1999), use creative means to comment on the changing approach of the museum to the visitor’s experience, providing a fresh take on the institution and the role of the visitor. The research presented in this essay examines how, historically, artists have commented on and critiqued the practices of museums in their work, particularly with found object installations such as Dion’s Cabinet of Curiosities for the Wexner Center for the Arts (1997) and Fontcuberta/ Forminguera’s collaboration in Fauna. (1987/90) The subject of my research is intimately linked with my own creative work, which uses humor and social commentary as a bridge to connect with a diverse body of viewers. The purpose of the work is to explore how fabricated artifacts along with an invented narrative, when displayed using the techniques employed by museums, might be accepted as authentic due solely to their manner of presentation, which confers legitimacy on the artifacts regardless of whether the work is displayed in a public place such as a museum or library or in a private setting such as clubs or parlors. The research presented in my thesis as well as incorporated in my body of work underscores the need for awareness of the role played by the museum: even when the changes to the visitor’s experience are positive, the decisions made by the museum still influence the viewer’s assessment of the cultural and historical value of the artifacts on display.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2018
Artist, Gallery, Material, Museum, Sculpture, Spectator
Art -- Exhibition techniques
Museum visitors -- Psychology
Museums -- Philosophy

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