Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art
As the school year progresses, I keep thinking more and more about how we can better deploy Web 2.0 tools to increase interactivity and give voice to students. More and more interesting approaches are being used outside of education and could inspire us to think about applications in school. Thursday’s New York Times has a fascinating article about how blogs are being used with a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition to look at how costumes are being interpreted. Reporter Eric Wilson writes:
In the … new exhibition, “Blog.mode: addressing fashion,” the wall text accompanying a Helmut Lang dress … written by … the chief curator of the Costume Institute, says that its chiffon layers and horsehair details combine references to primitivism and Greco-Roman classicism, “the two precipitating strands of the early modern movement.”
Next to it, there is a note from Mr. Lang, who says otherwise: He was influenced by Central and Eastern European culture, and several elements were derived from local folkloric costumes.
Like fashion criticism, curatorial interpretation is subjective by nature. The observer’s reaction to a dress may be the opposite of what the designer intended. But that does not mean that the observer is wrong, which is what Mr. Koda is trying to explain by including his own false readings in the show.
“Blog.mode” invites the audience to give its opinion on 65 costumes recently acquired by the institute, using computers next to the displays, or online at www.metmuseum.org, through April 13, when the show closes.
“We have left the examples of my being loosey-goosey with readings because we are hoping that people will feel liberated to express their own ideas,” [the curator] said. “The least interesting part of this exhibition is the show.”
Perhaps it is a result of fashion’s ability to immediately reflect the cultural zeitgeist that the exhibition looks as if it were taking place at a Kinko’s. Several designers, weaving between 19th-century underdresses and computer terminals at an opening party on Monday, said they were eager to read the interpretations of others.
“Anything that makes a museum more interactive is essential,” said Kate Mulleavy of Rodarte, standing near one of her dresses. “I’m not scared.”
There are so many intriguing things about this article. (And boy, do I wish there were a photo that showed me what the exhibit space looked like!) First, it elevates the viewer’s perspective into one equal of the creator and curator. That’s pretty revolutionary from one of America’s most revered art institutions. Is my personal perspective really of equal/similar value to that of an expert? I’m not sure. If I say that the photo in the illustration that accompanies the article looks like a filter I’d get installed at Jiffy Lube (I’m intentionally controversial here to make a point — as a former costume shop seamstress, I admit that I adore the pleating), should my amateur opinion really get validated?
Think before you answer … because if we say YES to me, don’t we have to say YES to the kids who say, “That’s dumb”?
At the same time, which exhibition would excite my students more? One that just has the costumes, or one that uses blogs to create interactivity? Isn’t it the one that intentionally draws out their opinion, which might make them look more closely at the work of art and stimulate a more meaningful reaction?
And what can curators learn from the blog? Here’s what Walter10021 said about the 200 year-old costume “Incroyable” (“Incredible”):
Here’s a question — where has this costume been for the last 200 years? Can you all outline its provenance for us?
Walter10021 is empowered here to influence the kinds of exhibitions he wants to see in the future. And if curators know what its visitors want and craft the exhibitions they want to see, won’t their patrons become more loyal? And how cool is it to get to communicate directly with curators of such an esteemed organization?
And what if we switch roles and have the students be the artists? How could their work as designers develop as a result of more feedback, which is captured in a way that allows them to return to it and reflect later?
I used to work with a guy who grew up in rural Minnesota. With no access to dance performances, he developed a passion for modern dance … from video. The Met’s online access help costume aficionados around the world gain access to the Costume Institute’s collection and to those who preserve that work.
There are some powerful ideas at play here … it just might take me a while to sort them out.
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So … help me out … what can we take away from this project and bring into our schools?
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