By Jennifer DePrizio, director of interpretation; and Jim Engelmann, exhibition designer
ArtLens Exhibition is an experiential gallery that uses innovative technology to put the visitor into conversation with masterpieces of art, encouraging engagement on a personal, emotional level. The new installation of ArtLens Exhibition explores a central, overarching theme: “What can art be?” Visitors are invited to interact and connect with 21 artworks from across the CMA’s collection through state-of-the-art technology including gesture-based 3-D artwork models, the ability to scan all artworks for more information through ArtLens App, and visitor-generated content on the digital beacon.
In the Q&A below, learn more about this reinstallation from two of the principal CMA staff members involved in the project: Jennifer DePrizio, director of interpretation; and Jim Engelmann, exhibition designer.
Q: From an interpretive point of view, what is new in ArtLens Exhibition?
JD: For this reinstallation, it was important to articulate a theme — a framework to shape the way we would interpret and present these artworks from across the CMA’s collection. After much discussion within our cross-departmental team, we arrived at the theme “What can art be?” With so many possible answers — art can be symbolic, decorative, functional, devotional, to name just a few — such a broad question provides multiple entry points into thinking about and engaging with a diverse group of art objects. We provide one answer in the exhibition, but given that art reflects the full scope of the human experience, a single artwork can mean different things to different people. We invite and encourage everyone to experience the new ArtLens Exhibition, consider the works of art on view, and see what personal connections they can make.
Q: What is unique about the experience visitors will have with works of art in ArtLens Exhibition?
JD: One unique aspect about ArtLens Exhibition is that it offers an opportunity to look at and consider connections across time and place. We can create dialogue among works in the collection, through both the installation layout and the digital interactives, that does not happen anywhere else in the museum. Unlike in most galleries in the museum, in ArtLens Exhibition visitors can find artworks from vastly different historical periods alongside each other, such as the pairing of a vessel from ancient Greece (mid-500s BC) with one from Mesoamerica (600–1000). Although separated by approximately 1,000 years, both artworks feature significant myths, illustrating the ways in which artists in different times and places depicted such important cultural and religious imagery on functional objects.
Q: How and why did you select the works of art?
JD: It was quite an undertaking to find a range of objects from across the museum’s collection that would fit well within our given footprint. After exploring all collection areas with our curators, we generated a list of more than 100 objects — which had to be reduced to approximately 20. One important factor was to prioritize artworks that would be accessible to a broad range of audiences, particularly first-time and nontraditional visitors, in keeping with the intent of ArtLens Exhibition. We also considered how we could offer our members and regular visitors new ways to think about objects that they know well. How could we surprise and delight all of our audiences? Another important consideration was to find excellent examples of artworks that support the already established themes of the digital games. In the end, we selected a group of objects that we think encourage slowing down, looking closely, and discovering the unexpected while having fun learning about art through digital interactives. Some works of art may be familiar, such as Wild Things by Haim Steinbach, which had been hanging in our contemporary galleries. But others, such as the Javanese Piggy Bank from the 14th or 15th century, had been in storage, affording us the chance to expose visitors to more of the breadth of the museum’s world-class collection (I predict this adorable boar will become a crowd favorite).
How has the interpretative question “What can art be?” helped to inform the design of the space?
JE: We designed the space and arranged the objects to present interesting comparisons between style, materials, and function. For instance, a 19th-century French mirror is shown with a pair of 17th-century Nepalese earrings. The objects are both decorative and functional, but what is most striking to me is how the pieces share similar shapes and lines. Although separated by centuries, in a way they feel like they could have come out of the same studio.
Other juxtapositions exist between the respective decorative metalwork techniques used to adorn both a piece of armor and a microscope, and between the monsters depicted in Haim Steinbach’s contemporary artwork and in our renowned Tea Service from about 1907 by Carlo Bugatti. There are plenty of other examples, some that we designed and others that just happen when great works of art are exhibited next to each other. Through close looking at the art objects and exploring art ideas in the games, our hope is that visitors will find many other connections in this gallery and throughout the museum.