Talk To Me


of an Exhibition

by Eric Siegel

Published on November 06, 2011, Modified on November 11, 2011

  • Description:

    Paola Antonelli, who created Talk to Me at MOMA, broadcasts on a different channel than I can pick up with my antennae. Her last exhibition at MOMA, “Design and the Elastic Mind” infuriated me because of its self-congratulatory tone, its incoherence, and its absolute opacity to anyone who did not already speak her hermetic language.

    Those same characteristics permeate Talk To Me (which is closing monday november 7, tomorrow as I write this), which had gotten considerable positive buzz among the digerati and others in the know.

    The web site declares “Talk to Me explores the communication between people and things.” I had assumed that this describes two way communication, in which people and objects interact with each other (the words “dialogue” and “interactive” pervade the text panels) The exhibit was almost entirely devoid of interactivity, and while many many screens talked to me (over headphones) virtually none of them listened to me in any way. The only interactive component of Talk to Me was web site called “Wilderness Downtown,” a brilliant site created by Aaron Koblin, which everyone should visit and show to their friends at work. To have it in a museum is completely missing the point of the personalization of Aaron’s work, and to have it as the only interactive piece in an exhibition devoted to interactivity between people and technology is a sad joke.

    I have included a few shots of labels for the exhibition, which again are so navel- gazing and incoherent as to be actually funny. I really did find myself laughing at them.

    The design of the exhibition was unattractive by any measure, with random size video screens dominating virtually all of the spaces. The drumbeat of “do not touch” in labels tricked out to look like 8 bit graphics highlighted the painful lack of interactivity in the exhibition. Even a small display devoted to alternative musical interfaces designed to withstand the pounding of musicians was covered in glass. To top it all off, there was no available bandwidth in the museum on this thursday afternoon, so the QR codes could not be accessed, nor could the online audio tour that was advertised.

    I have many qualms about the lack of soul of many of our science museum exhibitions, and have often wondered, written, and done panels about how we could learn from art museums. In this instance, MOMA is completely at sea in the world of digital tools and interactivity, and could have learned a tremendous amount from science centers and other informal spaces.

    To go back to the beginning, Ms. Antonelli is broadcasting on a channel I don’t receive, but many others do seem to be drawn to her vision. I wish I could have written this review earlier so that others would have a chance to visit the exhibition and push back against my lack of comprehension. There is a lively web site that is worth checking out.

    On the other hand, the deKooning retrospective upstairs at MOMA is profoundly beautiful and not to be missed. His work changed as much over his life as matisse’s and I had never seen his late work-as he headed toward profound alzheimers disease—in the context of all of his work. But that is another review for another website.

Latest Comments (3)

thank you Eric

by Kathleen Mclean - November 14, 2011

for a very thoughtful and provocative review. I hope members of ExhibitFiles who DID see “Talk to Me” (which I didn’t get a chance to see) will respond with their own experiences here.

And Eric, regarding the deKooning retrospective, yes, another review, but ON THIS WEBSITE, please. K

Felt the same way about other contemporary art museum exhibits

by Maria Mortati - November 28, 2011

I’m disappointed to hear that Antonelli isn’t getting it right… again. That’s a huge opportunity missed. I felt that way with a number of SFMOMA design exhibitions. Just don’t think they have the skill and the game has changed very quickly under their feet in terms of compelling exhibition design. Not to mention how awkward some of the high end finish can look against the economic backdrop of today.

Thanks for taking the time to inform us and also make the case- love the wall tag shots. Says so much.

As for your comment about de Kooning, where else might you be posting your review? The NYT?

Didn't see this exhibit but...

by Daniel Spock - November 29, 2011

I did just see Wilderness Downtown in another art museum exhibit, this time at the Walker Art Center called “Graphic Design: Now in Production.” This exhibit was very good, had a range of media represented and, yes, had some limited interactivity. My favorite bits were related to the new infographics revolution.

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