Trip report #4: Art is business

In my trip report of an Art Museum I decided to visit the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which is one of my favorite art museums. It must be one of the most visited museums in New York, and it hosts the most impressive collection of modern art I have seen. My experience and trip report is related to the exhibition itself, the way people approach the collections and how the institution works to make people feel more connected to the institutions.

Space

Something I really like about this museum Is its space and architecture. The building has wide and light rooms with modern style; nothing too complicated in shapes or decoration so the focus in the art itself. It has 6 levels. Levels 4 and 5 host the Painting and Sculptures Exhibition, and Levels 3 and 6 host the Special Exhibitions, so these are the floors with most visitors. Level 2 has a Contemporary Collection as well as books and a Café. In level 1 you can find public areas like the Lobby, Restaurant and Book Store. The museum complex also has three theaters and an Education Center, which is actually part of a different building, and a Design Store across the street from its main entrance at 53rd Street. There is one main circulation area that connects all the levels through a set of escalators and elevators. There are also emergency staircases in different parts of the building. As a part of the museum there is also a Sculpture Garden facing 54rd Street, which is open to the public, and different activities and performances are held occasionally for the visitors. I appreciate this element in particular, as it helps to open the museum’s activities outside of its walls into the community.

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Exhibitions

According to their website, MoMA’s collection contains almost 200,000 works of modern and contemporary art by over 10,000 artists. This is the main reason of why the museum is so widely popular and has so many visitors throughout the year. It has important pieces by Picasso, Van Gogh, Pollock, Rothko, Matisse, Monet, etc. For me this is an inspiring place, and I could spend hours just watching these pieces. It was really impressive for me the first time I visited the museum, and at the same time I thought is was almost unfair to have them all in the same place.

Overall the collection is well organized, especially in the permanent collection of floors 4 and 5. The different artworks are categorized by art periods and each room presents captions that help to understand the pieces in a chronological an social context. However, the collection is so big that the museum sometimes seems to have an identity problem. Most of the works are from European and American artists from the fist half of the XX Century, which is the period often called as modern art, but it seems that lately they have included contemporary pieces as well, which may seem out of place. This issue is evident id floors 2 and 3 and sometimes through the special exhibitions. During my visit, there was an exhibition on artists from Latin America and Eastern Europe and I couldn’t understand the real relationship between them.
The second special exhibit was about Picasso’s sculptures, which was well documented and organized specially considering how vast and diverse is his work.
One of the thoughts I had during this visit is that in order to have such an impressive art collection a museum in a way must act as a business institution. The ticket to this museum is not particularly cheap, and it is usually full of visitors from across the globe. I can imagine the institution works with large amounts of money to keep their exhibitions and organize new ones. Unfortunately this doesn’t necessarily means that all the exhibitions will be well designed or thought, but it does mean that they will usually have impressive pieces to show.

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Interactivity & People

This time I am referring to both aspects together, since I want to write about one specific element. The museum really lacks of any interactive content –at least in the sense of having hands-on exhibits or touch kiosk-style captions. But something very important that I have been referring to in my last trip reports is the connection that the museum as an institution seeks to have with its visitors, in order to create a community, educate people and provide them an experience that goes way beyond the art work. In this sense, I understand “interactivity” here as a dialog between the museum and its visitors, allowing the people to feel a part of the institution and participate in its activities. The museum does a really great job in that field: they constantly host lectures, readings, performances or movie screenings, and also courses and group visits. They also have special programs for different community organizations, at least according to their website. The Sculpture Garden is an important architectural element that helps to give this sense of ‘open doors’ to the museum’s surroundings.
Another interesting element, which is actually very hard to find, is the Education Center. This room is the only place with a hands-on approach, where children and their parents can learn from some of the artists in the museum from a different perspective, through games, drawings and other didactic activities.
MoMA has managed to become a brand that people want to be a part of, almost like technology products or design brands, which is also why many tourists leave the museum with one or more bags from the book or design store. This feeling of connection with the museum by the means of marketing strategies is linked with the idea of the museum being an art business.

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Website & App

The website has plenty of information about the museum’s exhibitions, showcasing one by one many of the pieces in their collection. As I mentioned, they also have a wide section dedicated to special activities and events. I think it is interesting when the design of the museum website matches in a way the feel o the building itself. In this case, it has a minimal and simple design with white background, black typography and some red elements, where the focus is in the visual content like photographs and art pieces.
I decided to take a look at the mobile app as well. It has a very similar design and content, but its main purpose is to guide the visitors during their visit to the museum. If you search information about specific pieces in the collection, the app will provide interesting facts and expand the knowledge on each exhibit. This app, as a companion for the experience in the museum, replaces the need of having lots of unnecessary screens in the museum itself, which in my opinion is a good decision.

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