Decisions, Decisions: Curatorial Decisions...

I took an amazing trip to Baltimore with my favorite. We went to a few museums, but the main attraction was the National Aquarium. My father’s family is from Maryland, so I visited the aquarium in childhood. It was really great to go again and see how my view of things have changed.
too excited for the Aquarium

Because of my previous experience, working in the curatorial department at the Studio Museum, and even during my short stints at both the Coleman Burke gallery and Canvas Paper and Stone, I have a strong interest in curatorial decisions. Even my dissertation for my Master’s was about  how curatorial decisions play a part in audience development. Nowadays, whenever I go to a museum, no matter what kind, I look at how each exhibit is set up to see how information is conveyed to the viewer.

This deffo happened when I was visiting the Aquarium, and the Baltimore Museum of Art as well as the Baltimore Museum of Art. I know that the aquarium is a different kind of institution but, museums are generally set up for education of the masses, and that was the aim of these two places.

National Aquarium!
The aquarium, like art museums, had different exhibits; each floor featuring a different kind of habitat. Tanks punctured wall text, filled with the fishes written about in detail on the walls, accompanied by pictures, and sometimes too scientific descriptions. I found that many of the people skipped reading the volumes of wall text, describing fishes, habitats, as well as some of the social and environmental issues plaguing us today. There were too many words for the young kids in attendance. I, even, had to give up. The texts were too technical, too small and too high up. Unfortunately, it was the fishes, with their short memories and limited movement, that held the attention of the audience.
The whole time I was wondering why there were so many words for a place that seemed to be geared and attended by a lot of children. I suppose all the words are necessary, along with its language, for those who are above the age of 10 (or 23 even) or for those who are extremely passionate about fish (eep). The lighting was dark, the better to see the fish, but made reading difficult. The architecture and its layout was amazing for the set up of the aquarium, and was perfect for the information it was hoping to pass along. Each level was a new ecosystem or area where marine life can thrive. This division, made for almost manageable bite sized chunks, like wings in a museum. Like any other educational institution, there was too much information to cover in too little time, at too high a price (nearly $30 for basic adult admission).

The Baltimore Museum of Art, was a different kind of institution, but really the same story. Too many words, too much information, but the price was right. FREE!
Baltimore Museum of Art
This is a big museum, with paintings from the greats and visual goodies for adults and children alike. The Aquarium though, had a larger amount of youth visitors, and the art museum was a bit quieter with a more mature audience.

Like any museum, the rooms and wings were sprawling, maze- like and almost confusing. To me the rooms were set up well, by artistic era and style, but somehow this organization got lost in its greater layout. The wall text was at times lengthy, which deffo caters to the connoisseurs and those who want to learn more, not those with short attention spans (me). The language was not entirely difficult, but sometimes the concepts were esoteric, creating boundaries barring those who are art new comers. This is unfortunate, as I am an adamant believer of access to the arts, where museums are supposed to have a major responsibility in dispersal of knowledge and art information. That becomes impossible if people do not understand and identify with the words of the wall text (ooo, don't get me started).

It was apparent that some exhibits attracted more visitors, who stayed longer in those rooms. My favorite, even though I am an art lady and there was some great Impressionist and Post- Impressionist works, was this room where they recreated little rooms and store fronts, on an extremely small scale. Each window had a diorama, depicting a very specific time and location, giving the audience access to the era through doll sized dollops. The appeal to children was its size and the connection between that size and the toys they encounter daily.

The moral of the story is, curatorial decisions influence greatly what a visitor leaves an institution with. Sometimes it's the great experiences of finding all the fish in the tank pictured on the wall, without really knowing what those fish do or where they are from. And sometimes its discussing paintings with someone with little to no art history background. These curatorial decisions and wall text have the ability to grant access, and let people into a world that could be completely foreign to them. Only sometimes these decisions create boundaries and divisions.

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