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Studying Abroad: Where Museum Personalities Clash

Posted on August 2nd, 2017 by

By collections intern Amy Swartz. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

A few weeks ago we were tasked with reading pieces of John H Falk’s Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience. For our weekly blog post that week, I wrote a bit about my initial reactions to the piece. However, while reading parts of the book I was really struck by his museum visitor’s model as I myself have inhabited those many models at different points in my life. This past spring I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark and had the amazing opportunity to visit many European countries. As someone who loves museums so much that I want to work in one for the rest of my life, all of my trips included some type of museum visit. During these museum visits, depending on which museum I visited and who I was with, my identity flipped and flopped.

Falk’s five identities are explorer, facilitator, experience seeker, professional/hobbyist, and recharger. I am most often an explorer. I go into museums seeking to discover, I pick and chose what I spend my time on, and I often have some background knowledge. When I am with my friends, who are often experience seekers but sometimes explorers, I often am in a semi-facilitator role. I want them to learn and enjoy their visit so that we can actively discuss it. However, while in Europe my identity was in flux. I found that in my experience there are two types of museum experience for those who are studying abroad and traveling: the explorer and the experience seeker.

A ship in the Viking Museum, Oslo, Norway

A ship in the Viking Museum, Oslo, Norway

The explorer traveler finds museums in new cities and decides that a museum visit would be a good way to learn about the city or country’s culture. They go simply because they think it would be a cool experience and are more likely to go to a museum that is either free or has a museum discount rather than an expensive museum. My time in Oslo fits this description. My sister and I did not know what to do in the city, especially since it was rather rainy our whole trip and the city is quite expensive. We bought a museum pass, which was a great purchase and visited the Fram Museum and the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, among others. I approached each visit solely as an explorer. I came in without any expectations or assumptions and simply enjoyed myself and learned a lot.

One of Monet’s Water Lilies Paintings in the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

One of Monet’s Water Lilies Paintings in the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

The experience seeker finds themselves at museums while abroad for the great or well-known works housed inside. They often operate on a limited schedule and work to check certain things off their bucket list The best example of this was my time in Paris. While at the Louvre, my best friend and I saw a lot but we narrowed down our visit to the greats: the Mona Lisa (an obvious choice), the Nike of Samothrace, and the Venus de Milo. We quickly went to the Le Musée de l’Orangerie next, only glancing in some galleries in order to get to Monet’s Water Lilies.

Me and my host sisters in the Kusama exhibit at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark

Me and my host sisters in the Kusama exhibit at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark

Other museums I visited brought out both personalities. While in Denmark I visited the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art with my visiting host family. Majority of my time there I was an explorer, hungrily consuming information. The Louisiana has an amazing collection and while there I actually saw a lot of works I later learned about in my Women, Art, and Identity course. However, I was also an experience-seeker as there was a well-known exhibit by Yayoi Kusama called Gleaming Lights of the Souls. In that moment I had to see it just to see it and have that experience – it was worth a bit of a wait, which turned out to be nothing based on the wait at the Hirshhorn Museum which had hours long wait lines.

I’ve found that one’s identity at a museum is very dependent on the circumstances of the visit. That’s why it is always beneficial for a museum to cater to multiple identities – which JMM does very well through its various educational programs, exhibits, and lectures.

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Response: Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience

Posted on July 27th, 2016 by

Further thoughts on last week’s Intern Readings!

Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience by John H. Falk details the five types of museum visitors, facilitators, professionals/hobbyist, rechargers, explorers and experience seekers. I thought it was interesting to try and place myself in any of these categories and see how I fit in. I came to the conclusion that I am both an explorer and a professional/hobbyist depending on my mood.

As someone who has been a part of the art community for quite some time now, I tend to gravitate towards art museums. As an explorer, if the exhibit is too linear and too controlled I tend to get bored. Sometimes I feel like I have to read everything so when there is basic summaries before entering the exhibit I tend to get more out of it since I am able to apply what I just read to what I am seeing. I think Falk is correct in saying that explorers tend to arrive with a group, but then want to go off on their own, I feel I am the exact same way.

Being by myself in a museum allows for me to take my time and really appreciate what is in front of me, which leads me into how I fit into the Professional/ Hobbyist category. If I am in “art mode” then chances are I will want to stare at a piece of art for 10 minutes. I will want to jot down notes of random thoughts that pop into my mind about personal and symbolic associations that happen because of my connection with that piece. Moreover, I will more than likely want to sketch out what it is that I am seeing to better understand the piece, and I don’t think none-artists would like to stick around for that, so sometimes it is just easier to be alone. Being in art school has taught me the importance of discourse, which is why I enjoy discussing art more so with people who understand it.

With that being said, I also love talking about it with my non-artist friends, because they see things that I would’ve never seen. They make their own connections from their own knowledge base and it is always very interesting.

With that being said, I also love talking about it with my non-artist friends, because they see things that I would’ve never seen. They make their own connections from their own knowledge base and it is always very interesting.

Falk, has a good understanding of the different kinds of visitors that go to museums, and it was very interesting read about. I always thought that there was one way to visit a museum and that was to not read the labels and to just use your own interpretation and I think that stems from my traditional art school understanding, but I now see that there are many ways to enjoy an art museum, and you don’t have to be an artist to appreciate it.

06.06.2016 Interns (17)Blog post by Education and Programs Intern Rachel Morin. To read  more posts by and about interns click HERE.

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