Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Pop-Up Satellite Museums? Why Not?

Le Voyage dans la Lune
Georges Méliès
Hello Everyone:

Pop-up places are here to stay.  Stores, showcasing established and unknown clothes designers, randomly appearing at your local mall.  Kriston Capps of CityLab has a great idea, why not pop-up satellite museums?  Why not indeed?  His recent article, "Why Every Art Museum Should Launch a Pop-Up Satellite," elaborates on a good way to bring the ivory tower museums to out-of-the-way places.

The Underground Museum in Los Angeles, California is an example of a museum, randomly appearing somewhere in the city. The museum, located on Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles recently featured an animation installation by William Kentridge titled 7 Fragments for George Méliès.  However, as Mr. Capps writes, "...but that's not the reason people should be pumped-or not the only one.  No, what's so great about 7 Fragments is that it's a Museum of Contemporary Art-featuring an artwork from the Museum of Contemporary Art collection-that's not on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art."

Veils at the Underground Museum
Los Angeles, California
Let Carolina A. Miranda clarify.  Citing a Los Angeles Times, Mr. Capps writes, "she details the unlikely collaboration between the Underground Museum and MOCA that made 7 Fragments possible."  MOCA is one of the bold faced institutions in Los Angeles, by comparison, the Underground Museum is practically non-existent.  Ms. Miranda wrote,

For the next three years, the Underground will feature a series of exhibitions curated by [founder and painter, Noah] Davis, that will be drawn from MOCA's permanent collection-placing important works of art in a largely working-class black and Latino neighborhood at the heart of Los Angeles.

What city would not reap benefits from placing a non-museum space for showing off the collection(s) from its established museums?  Museums should be jumping at the chance to expand their reach and audience.  Pop-up museums would be an ideal place to show case work by unknown and emerging artists.

Expanding the cultural reach 1994-2008
Last year, Ms. Miranda was writing about Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and other civic leader's push to lure a museum that would hold George Lucas's art collection.  Several cities specifically: Chicago, San Francisco, and L.A. were locked in a heated light saber battle to see who would give away most for the great Jedi master's support.  Ms. Miranda was not among the padwans, mainly, according to Mr. Capps not so unbiased opinion, "...because Lucas' art collection sucks."  Like a true rebel, she launched the #WhyLucasNOTinLA campaign.

Alright, Los Angeles does have plenty of museums-as do a lot of other cities.  The above map shows that over the past two decades, the United States has undergone a record cultural building boom.  Citing Joanna Woronkowicz, D. Carroll Joynes, and Norman Bradburn in Building Better Arts Facilities, Mr. Capps explains,

...most metropolitan statistical areas have erected new facilities within recent years.  During one narrow window (2000-2002), 87 percent of MSAs with a population of 2 million or more launched new cultural buildings.  About one-third of small MSAs (population 500,000 or fewer) did the same...Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago

"Cost of Projects by Year (2005 USD)"
However, not every cultural institution projects have not always served their host cities well.  The big issue is the cost of building museums, theaters, and performing arts centers, which have increased in the years leading up to the dot-com bubble burst.  Since then, the costs have eased (Mr. Capps notes, no data was available), Mr. Capp writes, "...the costs for building museums outstrips almost any other kind of building project.  And in the wake of the recent recession, the construction industry as a whole is smaller, meaning construction cost in the U.S. are rising."

Rising construction costs aside, there is a case to be made for pop-up satellite museums, instead of adding expansions.  This particularly true for contemporary art museums.  Whatever museum you can think of has more artwork than they can possibly put on exhibit and the challenge is to reach various communities.  The answer is very simple: take the work out of storage and to the people.

Museum of Modern Art P.S. 1
Queens, New York
Photograph by Matthew Septimus
Pop-up satellite museums may be something that traditional brick-and-mortar museums need to embrace.  Restaurants have learned to compete with food trucks, in some cases launching their own fleet.  The venerable Museum of Modern Art in New York City, which boasts some 200,000 works of art in their collection, is an example of this need for new thinking.  In 2000, MOMA absorbed MOMA P.S. 1 in Queens but is hoping that its midtown location will attract an audience.  Other museums are not so fortunate.  Los Angeles can lead the way by putting together an eager curator, a disused space, an unserved community, and unrecognized artwork.  This can work in other cities.  Why not?

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