Small Worlds

Review

of an Exhibition

by Jennifer Christensen

Published on March 20, 2012

  • Description:

    As a native Toledoan, I grew up going to the Toledo Museum of Art and as fabulous and extensive as their permanent collection is, the Small Worlds exhibit is a breath of fresh air. The temporary exhibit runs from November 18, 2011 to March 25, 2012. The artists in Small Worlds explore familiar scenes through the use of scale and proportion often making the viewer feel either very small or like a giant. Since the exhibit is temporary, I was surprised by how much effort was put into using technology especially considering how little technology is used elsewhere in the museum.

    I heard ahead of time that the exhibit relies heavily on QR (Quick Response) code; so, I prepared myself by downloading a free QR reader to my phone before visiting the museum. Upon entering the exhibit, which is free (as is admission to the museum), a prominent sign explains the nature of the exhibit to the visitor. The exhibit is developed into three parts: the exhibition artwork, a printed catalogue and an online catalogue. The visitor is then told that the online portion can be accessed by smartphone through the use of QR codes or by using the in-exhibit kiosk. I am impressed that the signage recommends free QR reader apps; however, I was hoping the museum would offer free Wi-Fi.

    Since it was my first time using a QR code, I was not entirely sure what to expect, but I was surprised at how easy they were to use and by how much information to which I quickly was given access. Each of the five artists had a panel near their work with an individual QR code that led to a map-like site. The sites include artist biographies, interviews, explanation of their works in the exhibit as well as other projects on which they are working. This was a great use of technology to enhance the physical exhibit space. The QR format allows the museum to offer significantly more information to the visitor than could ever be expressed on text panels. The mobile sites also enable the visitor to extend the experience beyond the walls and timeframe of their visit by returning to the site at a later date.

    The Toledo Museum of Art made the content accessible to all visitors by including the computer kiosk in the exhibit. The desk and computer were placed in an unused corner of the space, but it was not hidden. Its placement, along with two comfortable chairs, make the desk a comfortable and inviting place to sit down and further explore the pieces without being in the way of other visitors. Also, all of the technology seems to be working properly. The only other visitors at the time I was there did not use the QR codes or the kiosk, but one guard told me that the QR codes are commonly used by younger generations who visit the exhibit. I also wonder if the QR codes are used more by individual visitors who might need more prompting to have an interactive museum experience than social groups.

    Small Worlds also included technology in the actual art piece by artist Tabaimo danDAN. Tabaimo’s animated film of a Japanese home projects onto three screens, which are connected but tilted at different angles like a tri-fold board. The video and audio installation runs on a continuous loop and is shown in a pitch-black room with two benches along the wall for visitors. When I entered the room, a multi-generational family was intently watching the film. I overheard the mother say to the grandmother, “it’s almost too much to look at at once”; yet, she and her family remained in the room until end of the video. Outside of the room, a sign explains that the “darkened room and the specific shape and setup of the three-screen video installation allow the viewer to inhabit for a time the small world that Tabaimo has created”. This installation was engaging for the visitors as I witnessed the two women comment back and forth on the video content as well as the screen set-up.

    Overall, the technology in the Small Worlds exhibit seems appropriate and effective. The information is accessible to all audiences through individual smartphones or the exhibit’s computer kiosk. Also, the visitor can return to the information later by checking the” history” on their phone or by going to the museum’s website. The exhibit set-up also allows for free-choice by the visitor. One can linger and listen to artist interviews or move on to the next piece at their own pace.

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