Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Zoo Habitat for the Art Museum

A few years ago the SFMOMA built a garage behind the museum. Instead of putting more cars on the roof, they did something terribly smart. They built a rooftop garden, installed sculpture and added an enclosed cafĂ© space. It’s a great space and good place to rest and recaffeinate in the middle of a museum visit. One accesses the rooftop via a glass walled passageway from the fifth floor. Or, if visitors are meandering through the fifth floor galleries, they end up in a glass walled room a few steps elevated above the rooftop garden. This is where I found myself on Saturday.

As I gazed through the glass into the garden I had the feeling that I was in one of those modern zoos — the kind where you look through the glass at various habitats. It reminded me of the type of habitat display where monkeys or lions enjoy a fairly undisturbed recreation of their natural homes while we all peer in. This room at the SFMOMA that looks into the rooftop garden feels just like one of those spaces.

Would the SFMOMA be so daring as to let me curate this big window with the sort of signage that marks this as a habitat? The signage could explain the typical and varied species of museum visitors. For example, the exhibit would include the art student, the visiting mom from Kentucky, the Eurotourist, the all-in-black art aficionado, etc. I saw them all on Saturday.

Visitors to the rooftop garden might not even realize they are part of the art — especially if they bypassed this room on their way in. My intent would not be to mock visitors, but rather explore how the public interacting with and viewing art becomes part of the experience. There may be an occasional museum visitor put off by being put in a “zoo” but is this idea any more invasive than art installations that capture visitors with video cameras?

Conceptual art can be as simple as installing fictitious signage to an architectural feature.

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