Lasorda Exhibit

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Review

of an Exhibit

by Chris Schroeck

Published on March 10, 2013

  • Museum: National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame

  • Visit Date: February, 2013

  • Description:

    From the street, a bright red vertical Indianapolis 500 car grabs your attention and beckons you into the museum, but you had better know what you’re looking at. This museum is not for the uninitiated sports fan. To understand this museum, you have to be well-informed on the heritage of Italian-American sports and athletes.

    Initially skipping the entrance of the Lasorda Exhibit, which occupies the entire first floor, I went directly to the vertical car I saw from the window to investigate it further. It turns out that the vertical car is actually one of the display pieces and was indicative of how a given artifact is displayed within the exhibit and is a strong analogy for much of the composition of the museum.

    As I approached this massive, hulking beast on the wall, I noticed a tiny sign; a black and white picture and white background with black type located off to the side of the car. (Figure A :: The Approach) My first thought was that it was quite nice that the sign was as small as it was, as this forced me closer to the car, however the text itself was quite confusing, indicating that it was 1 of 2 possible cars in a race from another year than that which the title of the piece indicated. Further to that, the mechanicals of the car were all covered by the car panels – so it was a similar view to that which you would have looking down on any other car. Simply put, before me was a large, fascinating, eye-catching object but I had little in the way of information to tell me anything about it.

    It was only during my approach that I spied a smaller sign lower and to the left, with exactly the inverse coloring of the first sign (a black sign with white text) which quoted Mario Andretti (the previous driver of the car) and his experiences with A car, which may or may not have been this one (see confusion above). (Figure B :: Second Sign)

    After this first display, I was struck with several thoughts that would plague me throughout the rest of the exhibit and the museum as a whole; Why? Why is THIS car here? Why are the labels different colors? Why is Mario Andretti here? Who is he? What did he do? Why are the signs so small? Why are they so hidden from view? Why are these signs placed in such an unusual way?

    As a designer, I am particularly aware of how people engage with things, and museums are full of things (this one in particular is densely packed). However, in analyzing my engagement with this particular object I left only with questions and the few bits of information I did receive were from small and partially obscured signs. I have a bit of background knowledge on this particular athlete, but throughout the exhibit, the only time I really understood why someone was in the museum was because of the previous knowledge I brought – not through any knowledge I gained. On top of that, the designer in me wanted to fix every sign and rearrange everything to create a better flow to better reflect how people will engage with these objects when walking through.

    In walking into the Lasorda Exhibit gallery I was struck with the overwhelming sense that there was a great deal of stuff here, however the space was laid out in no particular order. It was simply a rectangular room with cases that lined the walls and several round tables in the center portion.

    Within the cases, the confusion continued, as there was no continuity of articles in the case. Within the same case, you may find articles from professional women’s tennis mixed with articles about the WBNA, a male Olympic track star, an IIHF women’s hockey, and a disabled male Olympic skier. (Figure C :: Exhibit Case) While the articles shared the Italian-American heritage, there was little else I could discern that these articles may have in common. This confusion continues throughout, running the gamut of sports including professional wrestling.

    To add to the confusion, there were substantial, beautiful counters, occasionally interrupted with a small button and speaker grill, but when pressing the button, nothing happened. (Figure D :: Button Press) The only indication of what the items were (aside from their visual appearance) was a small, hard-to-read sign that indicated what the article was and which athlete had used it. Some signs included date information (of when the article was used), but even that was not consistent.

    After seeing so many historical artifacts, I was struck with a myriad of questions: Why are these athletes here? What is the qualification to be included? What determines who makes it in here vs who doesn’t? What makes Italian American athletes better than other athletes? Did Italian-American athletes have to overcome more adversity than another nationality of athlete?

    While there is no doubt that there is much here to celebrate, as the museum very clearly has a substantial amount of artifacts for viewing, but without any semblance to the organization or information about the objects or the athletes, why they are in the museum, or what it means to be an Italian American athlete, the materials are difficult to relate to. This museum is clearly intended for well-informed audiences of Italian-American athletes, but with the quality of items they have, some modification of the layout, and some additional information on the athletes and artifacts, this could be a truly unique experience that helps establish the role of Italian-Americans in the storied history of athletic achievements over the ages.

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