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Artnet News
Aug. 27, 2009 

We have seen the future of the museum, and it involves. . . lots of people on their phones. All across the land, museums are trying to figure out how to take advantage of new internet-enabled "smart phones" in their programming. Just this week, the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Oh., launched a "mobile" version of its website, specifically optimized for iPhone (see The Wexner went so far as to offer a special tutorial to other institutions looking to follow suit. Meanwhile, in the heart of Silicon Valley, the San Jose Museum of Art has ventured into similar territory, also offering "interactive audio and video guides" for museum visitors on iPhone and iPod Touch (see

The craze reaches into the most exalted echelons of the art world. Back in July, MoMA’s digital marketing hand Victor Samra posted a question to the venerable institution’s Twitter feed, asking fans, "What features would you like to see in an iPhone app for a specific museum?" The outpouring of responses certainly signals a hunger for such a thing. (The correspondence is archived at Fluid Project, a website dedicated to community software development.) Based on the responses, museums would do well to provide at least three services to its visitors via the iPhone: 1) a convenient calendar of events, i.e. "something that describes upcoming exhibits and gives member preview dates"; 2) multimedia tours of the museum and its works, i.e. "use GPS/compass to show my location on floor plan and which art I’m standing near, click on art for text/audio/etc. about it!"; and 3) a way to buy admission tickets in advance.

Other suggestions were more adventurous, or whimsical. A user named MataHariMeow suggested the museum set up a site for viewer comments on individual artworks. Soysaucyy called for a MoMA app "that brings you on a scavenger hunt through the museum," while Irasocol irreverently suggested a "free admission app."

However, MoMA -- and most other institutions, for that matter -- are being left in the dust by the forward-thinking Brooklyn Art Museum. It launched the first real museum iPhone app, the Brooklyn Museum Mobile Collection, back in May (it was developed for free for the museum by an outside designer, Adam Shackleford, using the museum’s "open collection API"). Truth be told, it’s nothing to write home about -- it offers a page dedicated to visitor information, the ability to browse the collection by keyword or artist name, and -- perhaps the major point of interest -- a "randomize" feature that allows a user to call up random artworks from museum holdings. (With 17 ratings, the "Mobile Collection" app is currently hovering at 2½ stars in the iPhone App Store ratings.)

But leave it to Brooklyn not to rest on its laurels. In MoMA’s Twitter dialogue, one of the most intriguing ideas was for a system whereby your phone would recommend what else you might like, based on feedback you gave regarding specific works (a bit like’s recommendations). And this, as it happens, is precisely what the Brooklyn Museum launched yesterday, announcing BklynMuse, a program of new "Smart Phone Customized Gallery Tours." The program generates itineraries for visitors based on initial selections of works that interest them, allows them to access information as well as to "annotate" objects, and create tours that can be shared with others. "Through the aggregation of data provided by many visitors and their individual tastes, the guide is designed to grow more intelligent as more visitors use it and more data is supplied," a press release says.

Unlike the "Mobile Collection" app, BklynMuse was developed in-house by the Brooklyn Museum’s intrepid technology team, whose buzz words are "visitor-friendly" and "community oriented." According to the museum’s chief of technology Shelly Bernstein, this mission also means that they wanted to make something that was not "platform-specific," that is, that worked on all smart phones, not just the trendy iPhone. However, she did say that in the fall, they would be working on integrating it with the pre-existing "Mobile Collection" app.

A final thought: One of the more useful things to come out of MoMA’s Twitter brainstorming session was a persistent drip of comments that museum-specific applications were inherently limiting, and that what was really needed was something that aggregated info from many different museums. The Public Radio Tuner app (now Public Radio Player), which allows users to access content from various public radio stations, was listed as a model. Someone should get on that.

New National Endowment for the Arts chairman Rocco Landesman came out swinging after his Aug. 7 appointment, logging a feisty interview with the New York Times, where he made the sensible suggestion that art funding should be distributed to places that had the best art, rather than following the politic, but backwards, method of distributing it equally to every Congressional district [see Artnet News, Aug. 11, 2009]. However, in making this point, he made a dismissive reference to the theater scene in Peoria, the Illinois berg synonymous with middlebrow taste in showbiz speak. And this, in turn, prompted a fiery response from the theater community of Peoria that has already put him on the defensive.

Now, Landesman is in full apology mode, and has scheduled a symposium later this year in Peoria on arts issues, including both locals and representatives from the legendary Goodman or Steppenwolf Theatres in Chicago, to which Landesman had unfavorably compared the smaller town’s theaters. Kathy Chitwood of the local Eastlight Theatre has already dubbed the soirée the "Lemonade Stand," a play on Barack Obama’s recent White House "Beer Summit." "We take lemons and make lemonade," Chitwood explained.

Not everyone has rushed to pile on Landsman, however. Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones, for one, defends the comment: "Yes, Peoria, there is a difference between an Equity theater company -- or a leading symphony orchestra -- and avocational community groups. Yes, Peoria, the people’s money should support art with artistic merit at a higher level than art that is replicable in numerous communities nationwide."

This fall is going to mean still more Charles Saatchi, if that is possible. The indefatigable British art collector, museum director and website innovator has two major projects up his sleeve. Ostensibly debuting sometime this fall is the BBC’s new reality series, Saatchi’s Best of Britain, a kind of televised talent search which is to feature six avid artists competing for a show at the Saatchi Gallery in London; precise details of screening time on British TV only, of course, have not yet been announced.

Due out in November is a sensational book from Phaidon, titled My Name Is Charles Saatchi and I Am an Artoholic: Everything You Need to Know about Art, Ads, Life, God and Other Mysteries -- and Weren’t Afraid to Ask and priced at a very reasonable $9.95. The book includes 200 questions Saatchi has been asked over the years, as well as his answers. And though the art-world cynic can expect a certain amount of self-serving pablum, the book is filled with plenty of insights, both amusing and valuable.

Regarding his treatment by the press, for instance, Saatchi thinks it isn’t fair, but says that "if you can’t take a good kicking, you shouldn’t parade how much luckier you are than other people." He confesses that moving his museum from the airy spaces of Boundary Road to the small oak-paneled rooms of County Hall was "stupid, stupid, stupid," and admits, when it comes to his personal collection, that "my house is a mess, but any day now we’ll get round to hanging some of the stacks of pictures sitting on the floor."

Among the various scandals swirling through his history, he addresses the widespread if gossipy accusation that he "dumped" paintings by Sandro Chia and Sean Scully, damaging their careers, with dispatch, saying "I only ever owned seven paintings by Chia. One morning I offered three of them back to Angela Westwater, his New York dealer, where I had originally bought them, and four back to Bruno Bischofberger, his European dealer, where, again, I had bought those. Chia’s work was tremendously desirable at the time and all seven went to big-shot collectors or museums by close of day.

"If Sandro Chia hadn’t had a psychological need to be rejected in public, this issue would never have been considered of much interest. If an artist is producing good work, someone selling a group of strong ones does an artist no harm at all, and in fact can stimulate their market. As for Sean Scully, I did own about five of his works but as his paintings now sell for $800,000+ at auction, I don’t think it sounds like I’ve destroyed his market completely."

Fun though it was, the Bridge Art Fair was always one of the humbler entries into the Art Basel Miami Beach week festivities. Now, it is set to get a radical makeover -- sort of.

After expanding Bridge to two locations last year during Art Basel Miami Beach, in what many saw as overreach, Bridge honcho Michael Workman was compelled to dissolve the non-profit that oversees the fair earlier this year. Now, he has launched the Verge Art Fair to take its place. Verge bows at the Catalina Hotel in Miami Beach -- a locale that happens to be Bridge’s old haunt. "Verge," incidentally, was also the name of a subsection of Bridge focused on "artist-run spaces and projects," a concept that "didn’t get used well" at Bridge, according to Workman, and is now being channeled in the Verge Art Fair’s focus on "new and emerging art." The new affair promises 30 exhibitors, rather than the 60 showcased by Bridge last year.

If all this sounds dubious, Workman has enlisted a team that gives the undertaking credibility. He has ceded directorial control to Brooklyn-based artist Edouard Steinhauer (a frequent Bridge exhibitor), while fair participants are being chosen by a team consisting of curator Dan Cameron, collector Beth Rudin DeWoody, Yale School of Art associate dean Samuel Messer, Artforum critic James Yood, and Steinhauer. "It’s more like the way you select things for a biennale," Workman says of the process, adding that the "orientation of this show itself is a radical departure" from Bridge. For info about the new fair, including prices for would-be exhibitors, see

The Menil Collection and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston are teaming up next month to present a major overview of the Latin American modernist theorist and neo-Plasticist artist Joaquín Torres-García (1874-1949). "Joaquín Torres-García: Paintings in Houston Collections," Sept. 6-Nov. 29, 2009, showcases a dozen paintings at the Houston MFA, while "Joaquín Torres-García: Constructing Abstraction with Wood," Sept. 25, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010, boasts over 80 constructions and appears at the Menil. Both shows are organized by Houston MFA curator Mari Carmen Ramírez. The sculpture exhibition travels to the San Diego Museum of Art, Feb. 20-May 30, 2009.

The notion of the "wild thing" is a lot older than the 1966 British cover band The Troggs -- or so says the Royal Academy of Art. The venerable London museum presents "Wild Thing: Epstein, Gaudier-Brzeska, Gill," Oct. 24, 2009-Jan. 24, 2010, a show devoted to "celebrating the radical change that transformed British sculpture. . . over a period of 10 years (1905-1915)." The show contains more than 90 works by the three artists -- Jacob Epstein, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Eric Gill -- who are shown together in this context for the first time. The exhibition is organized by Richard Cork and Adrian Locke, and focuses on themes of "sex, fertility, the human condition, the machine age and the impact of war." The title of the show is taken from Ezra Pound, who described Gaudier-Brzeska in 1913 as "a well-made young wolf or some soft-moving, bright-eyed wild thing." 

The Denver Art Museum unveils its new Asia gallery on Sept. 26, 2009, with "Shape & Spirit: Selections from the Lutz Bamboo Collection," a presentation of more than 200 bamboo objects. Selected by Ronald Otsuka, the museum’s new Dr. Joseph de Heer Curator of Asian Art, the show features works from China, Japan and Korea from the Lutz Bamboo Collection of more than 3,000 objects compiled by Walter E. Lutz (1910-2003) and his wife and daughters.

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