It started at a job interview, actually.
Someone asked me a very simple question: name some exhibits you've seen that you thought were particularly good. And as I hemmed and hawed, I realized: I've been in the business for a dozen years. I've been going to museums all my life. I've sat on not one but two committees that have tried to define Excellence in Exhibition, fer crissakes. And I had no ready answer. Not simply no theory of what makes a good exhibit; but not even any standard examples that I kept in the back of my head as benchmarks. This can't be good, I thought.
(I got the job, nevertheless. I must be one hell of a smooth talker.)
The second inspiration for this page came when I was invited to speak to the Intro to Museum Studies class at Michigan State University in October, 2001. The instructor asked me to illustrate my talk with slides. That I could do. I have quite the collection of museum photos. I've gone to at least one museum conference a year since 1990, and I almost always bring a camera. I've visited museum friends in other cities and toured their institutions. Plus, I'm the kind of geek who actually goes to museums while on vacation.
Now, my photos were all prints rather than slides. So I scanned them into my PC and did a computer-based presentation. Afterwards, several students, and even some faculty, asked if they could get copies. I realized that not everyone gets to work in museum-rich towns like Chicago or the Twin Cities. Not everyone gets to travel to see museums. So, as a professional service, as a way of giving back to the museum community, I'm posting some of my collection on this web site.
None. Not really. Certainly nothing formalized, no grand theory of informal education underlying these selections. Just one, simple, ruthlessly-applied yardstick: did I like it?
That's a weakness, I know. If I can't articulate why I like it, how can it be used as a guide to future exhibit development? And even if I can, I'm just one visitor.
On the other hand, I am a visitor. As idiosyncratic and inconsistent and unpredictable as any who walk through our doors. And, like a visitor, I don't come with some preconceived theory to be fulfilled. Just an expectation or two: to make good use of my time. To receive value for money. To be interested and engaged. To see some cool stuff, do some cool stuff, think some cool stuff.
Maddeningly vague, isn't it? But as Nietzsche or one of those dreary German philosophers said, out of chaos comes order. Putting together these slides forces me to think: what do I consider to be a good exhibit? And why? It's the first step towards formulating a guiding theory, and reproducing that quality in my own work.
Think of it as a scientific experiment. Instead of starting out with a preconceived idea, we are simply gathering data. Here are 100 or so exhibit components, elements, displays, galleries, etc. that, for whatever reason, I liked. Now that they are gathered all in one place, what commonalities can we find? What theory can we build?
And if it helps me, it may help you. This list is neither complete nor comprehensive. Neither is it definitive. It's just one guy's opinion. You have your own. Do you agree with my picks? With my reasoning? Do you disagree? Do you think I'm full of hot air? That's all fine. Those who know me know that I have absolutely no fear of being the only person to hold a particular opinion. (Some might say I seeks the unpopular opinion just for the thrill.) I just want to get the ball rolling.
What do you think? Do you think these are good exhibits? Do you think they're crap? Why? Let yourself respond, and see what you come up with.
If this collection leans heavily towards natural history and science centers, it's because I do, too. If there seems to be a lack of photos from art museums, well, most of them have pretty strict prohibitions on photography.
And if the photos look muddy, unfocused, underexposed - well, my photography skills cost me my last six jobs. What can I say?
With one or two exceptions, these are NOT photos of exhibits I worked on or had anything to do with. Modesty forbids. Actually, my early stuff is, well, my early stuff - not something I want immortalized on the Web. Since I hit what I consider my stride (opinions differ) around '97, most of my work has been temporary shows. Many disappeared before any incriminating evidence could be accumulated. A lot of work has been done long-distance -- I've never even seen some of it myself.
Depending what response I get, depending how bored I get, I may update and revise these pages from time to time with new photos, as the fancy strikes.
UPDATE: As it turns out, I am continuing to post updates. But trying to shoehorn my new photos into pre-existing categories is burdensome. Plus, it means every time I visit one museum, I have to update a half dozen pages or so. Forget that! So, starting in 2004, I'm just going to post pages from each museum. I think the thematic pages are fleshed-out enough so that you get a sense of each topic. The museum-specific pages lets you see the components in situ. Or at least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Wanna see another site with lots more museum photos, and lots less sarcastic commentary? Then visit Dave Taylor's Museums Page.
I'm only just learning HTML, so I don't know how to do a guest book or a discussion page. But if you feel so inclined, you can send me a message by clicking on the link on the comments page. If I can figure out how, I'll post some of them. If you don't want your comments posted, or would prefer them posted anonymously, please indicate such. Otherwise, it's all fair game.
Thanks for stopping by, and enjoy the show!(This page updated on July 3, 2005)