Author Archives: Sébastien Magro

Visitors comfort and interpretation at the National Gallery of Denmark

I am currently travelling in Scandinavia, in Copenhagen, Denmark and in Stockholm, Sweden to meet some of my colleagues from other European museums. Here is a first blog post about visitors comfort and some of the in situ interpretation/education installations at the Statens Museum for Kunst, the National Gallery of Denmark, in Copenhagen.

Visitors comfort

A lot of efforts are made by the SMK to offer a quality welcome:

  • some very comfy sofas were installed in the entrance hall, and freely usable catalogues are proposed (they aren’t wired, but only bear a ‘SMK property’ sticker)
  • free wifi is offered, with a direct connection and no portal (which might not be a great choice for legal outcomes, but I don’t know about danish law on the matter)
  • every part of the museum is accessible to both wheelchairs and strollers
  • visitor can have a sit in a lot of rooms (at least, all of the larger ones), which is also a good way of appreciating danish design.
Hall d'accueil du Statens Museum for Kunst, Copehnhague

Hall d’accueil du Statens Museum for Kunst, Copehnhague

Interpretation installations

Drawing room

A drawing room was created in the ‘Danish and Nordic Arts, 1750-1900’ department. Visitors will find everything that is required to draw: sheets of paper and pencils, light wood boards to put the sheets on, comfortable chairs and even pencil-sharpeners. Many statues are on display, they are either originals or copies from Danish and European sculptors. Once finished, visitors can put their drawings in a box and, from time to time, employees from the museum pick some that are displayed in this very room.

Board games with 17th c. paintings

At the center of a large room dedicated to large format 17th c. paintings are tables and benches. The tables display board games: a picture of one of the paintings that is hanging on the walls of the room, an abacus to count points and cards bearing pictures of nowadays daily life objects. Each player picks a card and has to tell a story related to both the object on the card and the painting depicted at the center of the table. Players then vote, and the one who has the more votes wins. Bonus line: the museum adopted a non-sexist grammar on the instructions!

Board games with 17th c. paintings, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Board games with 17th c. paintings, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Interactive tables

Visitors can access further information on selected works from two interactive tables, the one in the ‘Danish and Nordic Arts 1750-1900’ department, the other in the ‘European Arts 1300-1800’ department. Visitors can then browse through fIlmed interviews of curators, art historians and other academics but also contemporary artists who are commenting this selection of works of art. The interviews are in Danish, but English subtitles are available.

Table interactive, Statens Museum for Kunst

Interactive Table, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Travelling through the Ages

In the ‘European Arts 1300-1800’ department is an installation about 18th c. Grand Tour, when noble men from Europe travelled accross Italy on the search for artists and thinkers from Antiquity and the Renaissance. A portrait of a young noble man is diplayed, facing an audio installation that allows visitors to hear about young Danes in their twenties giving their views about travelling nowadays. Personal experiences are varied, from a young woman who did a world tour to a young man who never left Copenhagen, sharing thoughts about globalization. Audios are in Danish, but card boards with English texts are available.

‘I went to SMK and…’

Last but not least, close to the exit in the entrance hall, is an installation inspired by New York MoMA, ‘I went to SMK and…’. Small cards allow visitors to write about their experience at the museum, and then to put them in a box. Simple but efficient, this is the kind of installations that give another form to the usual visitors books.

'I went to SMK and...', Statens Museum for Kunst, Copehnhague

‘I went to SMK and…’, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

What about PokémonGO in museums? A French example

The Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac has ethnographic collections, but it also has popular art artefacts in its collections. For instance, among our recent acquisitions are masks from Thailand that were made by contemporary artists, working with recycled material, who also happen to merge tradionnal iconography with a Manga-related style.

Thai Masks, musée du quai Branly.

Thai Masks, musée du quai Branly.

Exhibitions and events also show interest in pop culture, as the museum aims to cover modern times. In 2014 and 2015, we had a 18-month tattoo temporary exhibition that is, for the time being, our most visited exhibition ever. It showed how tattoo is both an artform and a cultural trait shared by many, many different people around the World, not only in the Pacific Ocean (by the way, it is currently at Royal Ontario Museum, if you happen to visit Toronto or if you live there). This Spring, we had an exhibition called Matahoata, dedicated to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, ending with contemporary marquesian art : for example, an artist who introduced Mickey Mouse in traditional marquesian iconography. And, we currently have a long term exhibition called Persona, which shows a lot of pop culture references, among them: Pokémons (see header image)!

While museums are always better when using their own collections, exhibitions and shows when publishing on social media websites, I do believe using pop culture and references can bring people not only to get interested in the museum (which can lead to a visit), but I think it can also help them understand our collections and our themes by showing we are not that distant from their daily life. Up to now, I posted 4 tweets (I don’t count answers) that I believe are four good reasons to post Pokémon-related content for a cultural institution. Here they are, with some comments as well:

1.  One of our exhibition displays Pokémons

[There’s no need for Pokémon GO (app) to catch’em all the ‘Persona’ exhibition, you only have to find the ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’.]

As I said earlier, there are Pokémons in a Jerome-Bosch-liked painting by artist Wolfe Von Lenkiewicz. Persona explores how human people deal with non-human entities and how we have them become ‘people’. How could I resist tweeting a joke while we do have Pokémons in one our current shows?

2. We also have Pokémon-related content in our collections

[Did you know that tanukis were at the origin of Pokémon (and Totoro)?]

The second tweet, I had it ‘on the side’ for a while, since a colleague who is a curator for Asia collections once told me about tanukis, who are traditional Japanese mythical creatures who inspired both Pokémons and some of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies such as ‘My neighbor Totoro’ and ‘Pompoko’. Quite a right time to tweet about these little devils!

3. A journalist made a Pokémon-related joke implying the museum

[Breaking news: ’20 Minutes’ tells you about some rare Pokémons’ hiding at the museum, at Centre Pompidou and at Palais de Tokyo]

A journalist of the French version of subway paper ’20 Minutes’ did a clickbait paper, pretending to reveal rare Pokémons hiding at musée du quai Branly, Centre Pompidou or Musée Picasso, while in fact luring people to discover our summer exhibitions. As it was quite nicely done, I tweeted a link to this paper, using Twitter’s code for breaking news.

4. The museum is, as others, a Pokéstop

[Our cat, our ducks and our moorhens have compagny… Why don’t you come and help us got away with them?]

That is the only tweet that really was about the app itself. Some colleagues from the Education Departement told me the museum was a Pokéstop and we had some Pokémons inside. Note that I chose not use any hashtag, nor did I mention Pokémons, and I limited to pictures of the garden.

About #jourdefermeture

Note: this is my first blogpost in English, I hope readers who do not read French will enjoy it, and I’ll do my best to translate some of my other major articles (such as Qui sont les #museogeeks ?), as well as publish original content in English. In the meantime, I suggest you may use Google Translate, which usually allows to get the main idea. Thanks!

#jourdefermeture at Montreal's MAC

In the beginning was the hashtag

Back at the end of summer 2012, some French museums were chatting on Twitter about what usually happens in their premises when they are closed to the public. What was a mere answer to a visitor’s question about opening days became an online interpretation tool.

Here is a short explanation about the #jourdefermeture initiative and how some museums use this hashtag. Translation note: I find it quite difficult to translate jour de fermeture, which literally means ‘closing day’ or ‘day(s) the museums are closed to visitors’. Some museums tweeting in English use #closingday, but I understand it doesn’t cover the full meaning of the concept.

Basically, #jourdefermeture is a hashtag that French-speaking museums use on Mondays and Tuesdays – depending on their closing day – to invite visitors backstage. Cultural institutions mainly share photographies of the mounting and dismounting of exhibitions as well as traveling exhibitions, permanent collections re-arranging, and any kind of info related to what is going on at the museum while it’s closed to visitors.

How is #jourdefermeture used by museums?

The hashtag serves for interpretation and educational purposes, even with only 140 characters. It also serves one of the main missions given to museums: providing visitors with information about how the institution works, about the collections and the conservation of the works of art, and about other fields of interests such as PR, funding or security at the museum. While satisfying the curiosity of visitors, #jourdefermeture also helps to answer questions asked by frustrated visitors who cannot access the premises¹, and helps reducing the gap between museums and theirs users.

From a PR point of view, this simple hashtag has a potentially powerful reach when museums join forces in a common movement. But there are also drawbacks: as often, big popular museums tend to be over-exposed. Pictures posted by the Louvre, the Palace of Versailles or the Pompidou Center get more visibility than “smaller” museums, thanks to their numerous followers. Nevertheless, other non-museum institutions tend to adopt #jourdefermeture like @forumdesimages, for instance, which is an cinema and TV-oriented art center in Paris.

As for technical aspects, this initiative is a light project for teams dealing with social media: a smartphone with a photography functionality is sufficient (but many museums prefer browsing their professional photographies when they have such a database). And it is flexible: no compulsory participation, and museums are free to participate when they have relevant content to publish on Mondays or Tuesdays.

Thanks to social media (and community managers friendship on an international level), #jourdefermeture is now used by french museums, from the smaller ones to the internationally renowned, both in Paris and elsewhere in France, as well as a growing number of Swiss museums (e.g., @MAHGeneve) and French Canadian museums (among them are @pointeacalliere, @mnbaq and @mcqorg) – no Belgian museums has joined the movement for now. Thus, #jourdefermeture opens the way to new collaborations between cultural institutions, sharing their most precious asset: their collections.

Elsewhere, in the UK and the US, it seems like such an initiative wouldn’t be as popular, since many museums are open 7 days a week in London, among others, and several New York based museums recently decided to do the same. If you live in a city and/or country where museums never close, I’d be glad to read your thoughts on the question, feel free to comment!

Further reading (in French)