Monday, February 21, 2011

CAA New York

Last week I attended the 99th annual conference of the College Art Association (CAA) in New York. The main impetus for my attendance this year was an invitation to participate in a session on technologies used for teaching art and art history called “Digital to Analog: Changing Technologies.” My fellow presenters were Cherise Smith, from the art history faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, and Wendy Redstar, a studio art professor at Portland State University. My paper gave an overview and evaluation of the Georgia Museum of Art’s use of technology for education, as well as our presentation of new media art. Items I covered included our new website and some of its in-the-works additions; our forthcoming smart phone apps; the Second Life version of our museum; our Kress Project and its potential for new media submissions; our collections database and our plans to upgrade it; the digitization of our Pierre Daura finding aid; digital didactics I’m considering for our galleries; and our new media and time-based exhibition programming in our Alonzo and Vallye Dudley Gallery (currently featuring a video by Anthony Goicolea). The audience seemed duly impressed with our many initiatives, and I’m pleased to say that my paper was very well received.

More important, my solicitation for other ideas on how to use technology to further our mission was met with enthusiastic feedback after the session. Perhaps the most exciting idea I heard was from Matthew Lewis (London Metropolitan University), who told me about an iPhone app developed by the Learning Technologies Research Institute, London. This app offers a real-time/real-space digital overlay of what various historic building components looked like in the past and/or their interior construction. One way this might be applicable to us would be to use it for our Menabuoi altarpiece reconstruction in our Kress Gallery, where there is currently a wall drawing that suggests the original ensemble. Building on our wall drawing and incorporating the dismembered Menabuoi panels, such an application might begin by providing information about typical trecento iconographic programs (the placement of saints, for instance). It could then show you images of some of the elements of the altarpiece that have been identified and explain how their exact placements are uncertain (e.g., the three-quarter-length saints in the second register, or the roundel figures at the top). Then you could decide where you think these elements should go: You would hold your iPhone or similar device up, and, on your screen, you would see what the whole thing might have looked like as you move your phone around in front of you. How cool is that!?

This year’s conference offered many other useful sessions, and I was especially gratified to see that more museum-related topics were offered than in the past. Of particular interest to me was one entitled “Making Museums Matter: Integrating Collection and Exhibition Programs with College Curriculum.” Colette Crossman from the Blanton Museum of Art at UT Austin discussed ways to engage chemistry, studio art and art history majors in the galleries through conservation studies programs, which included unframing paintings in the gallery to allow students to further their understanding of technical and stylistic issues. Carin Jacobs (Graduate Theological Union) focused on faculty use of museums’ collections and ways to encourage repeated visits and sustained close looking. One of the best suggestions I heard was to solicit extended label text (the descriptions that sometimes follow the basic label information) from professors in multiple departments. That way, a single work of art might have two, three, or even more labels addressing connections to a wide range of different academic disciplines, all with the authors’ information given. According to Jacobs, this method helps break away from the single, authoritative, institutional voice common to this type of text.

Another particularly relevant session for me was entitled “Recurating,” in which one of the topics was the recreation of historical exhibitions. As I am currently preparing something of a re-creation of the 1930 exhibition of the group Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square), Reesa Greenberg’s discussion of similar projects involving El Lissitzky’s 1927 Cabinet of Abstraction offered valuable insights about the issues involved in such undertakings. Another noteworthy session (although there were many others of scholarly interest to me) was called “Beyond the Slideshow: Teaching the History of Art and Material Culture in the Age of New Media” and was a good complement to my session. David Jaffee discussed the Digital Media Lab at the Bard Graduate Center, which is a wonderful model for using technology for teaching. Its use of wikis for course materials was especially inspiring. Donald Beetham from Rutgers University presented art-historical uses for Second Life, where GMOA was used as an example of what museums are doing in the virtual world.

In other College Art Association news, Georgia Strange, director of the Lamar Dodd School of Art, was elected to the CAA Board of Directors. Congratulations, Georgia! We're all glad you'll be helping lead this important organization. On a historical note, Lamar Dodd himself was the 1954-56 president of CAA.

Of course, being in New York City, it would have been criminal not to see some art too. I visited some galleries in Chelsea, where the most impressive show I saw was Christian Marclay’s “The Clock” at Paula Cooper Gallery. It’s a 24-hour montage of scenes from different Hollywood movies in which a clock appears. All of the times that appear in Marclay’s video correspond to the actual time the viewer is seeing them. The exhibition has been the rave of the New York art scene, and as Marclay is someone I’ve been following for years—I know him through his interest in music, sound, and visual art--it was great to see him get this kind of recognition.

I managed to make it to MOMA (or at least their second, fourth and fifth floors), the Met (albeit far too briefly), and the Guggenheim for its exhibition “Art in Upheaval: Modern Art from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910–1918," which was also right up my alley. I do have to say that my past adoration of these venerable institutions was diminished somewhat now that I compare every museum to our own newly renovated and expanded facility. We really do have a world-class building and collection! I had hoped to visit the Frick Collection and the New Museum while I was there, but when in NYC, there never seems to be enough time. At least I’ve always got reasons to go back!

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